Jim's Journalism Blog

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Location: Osterville, Massachusetts, United States

I am a professor at Cape Cod Community College and and a member of a Buddhist order. After a 30-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor I became a full-time professor in 2001. I am the author of the textbooks "The Elements of News Writing" and "The Elements of Academic Writing." I enjoy running, hiking and camping. I have two grown sons and two grandchildren.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Under-reported story: Human Rights Watch

My friend and former student Bethany sent me an email asking why American papers generally ignored an important story.

She provided a link to the Al Jazeera report on the Jan. 18 story, which said:

The United States has a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects
during interrogation, Human Rights Watch has said in its annual report on abuses
in more than 70 countries.

Based mostly on statements by senior administration officials in 2005,
the human rights group said the reassurances of President George Bush that the
United States does not torture suspects were deceptive and rang hollow.
"In 2005 it became disturbingly clear that the abuse of detainees had become a
deliberate, central part of the Bush administration's strategy of interrogating
terrorist suspects," the report said.

Bush's repeated assurances that US interrogators do not torture prisoners
deceptively and studiously avoid mentioning that international law prohibits
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, Human Rights Watch said.

This is what I told Bethany:

That Human Rights Watch story should have been front-page news all over America, in my opinion. I did read about it in the Christian Science Monitor, but I don't think it was in the Cape Cod Times. I did a Google News search on the subject, and you are absolutely right, it was largely ignored. A lot of mainstream papers did follow the New York Times report of secret CIA bases in Europe, and all I can think is that they decided that was enough "anti-American" news for one week. I know it is not one big vast conspiracy. I guess a lot of individual editors are scared of offending too many readers and advertisers by appearing anti-American.

I think that it is important for U.S. news media to report on the American image abroad so Americans can make intelligent decisions about the causes of anti-American violence. If people abroad think the United States tortures people, they are less likely to be friendly to the U.S. and more likely to attack us, both verbally and with bombs.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gene McCarthy and the Cape Cod Times

The Cape Cod Times printed an obituary of Former Senator Eugene McCarthy with the other obituaries on Page F8 of Sunday's paper. Recognizing that his passing was more newsworthy than the others, an editor chose to make a reference to it on Page A1. Unfortunately the Front Page reference described him as "sardonic" and "acid-tongued." Those adjectives do not belong anywhere near a story about Eugene McCarthy. As the obituary from the Associated Press accurately noted, he had a witty, erudite speaking style. I agree with his son that the good senator was "thoughtful, he was principled, he was compassionate and he had a good sense of humor." He was a poet and an author and he spent a year in a monastery. As a former "clean-for-Gene" volunteer, I am saddened that the Times would make such a terrible mistake on one of its last references to a great, and kind, American statesman.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Jack White

My old friend Jack White died Wednesday. Jack was the dean of Rhode Island journalists. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his story uncovering the fact that President Nixon had not paid his income tax. I had first met him in 1970 when I was a young cub reporter and he was Newport bureau chief for the Providence Journal. Later -- after my four years in the Navy and his Pulitzer Prize -- we both ended up at the Cape cod Times, where I often edited his Sunday columns. If I ever had any suggestions for changes in his columns -- and that was rare -- he always thanked me for caring enough to suggest changes. he was a real pro. The Associated Press story mentions that he was a mentor to many younger reporters, and I like to hink I was one of those. He was a wonderful reporter and a kind and compassionate gentleman. Everyone liked and respected him. I kept meaning to call him in recent years, but I never got around to it. Now it is too late. I am saddened by that, but I an happy I had the chance to know Jack White.

I probably shouldn't reproduce the following copyrighted material from the Associated Press, but very few people read my blog, and I am just doing this for academic purposes, so I trust the AP will not prosecute me.

Here is part of the Associated Press story about him:
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jack White, 63, exposed Nixon tax fraud
By Eric Tucker The Associated Press
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Jack White, a reporter whose story on President Nixon's underpayment of income taxes won a Pulitzer Prize and prompted Nixon to utter the famous line, "I am not a crook," died yesterday at 63.
Mr. White died at his Cape Cod home, said WPRI-TV in Providence, where he was a reporter.
He was working for The Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin in 1973 when he found that Nixon had failed to pay a large portion of his income taxes in 1970 and 1971.
Nixon ultimately agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, and Mr. White won a Pulitzer for national reporting.
At an Associated Press Managing Editors convention the month after the story ran, one of Mr. White's colleagues at the Evening Bulletin asked Nixon about his income taxes, and the president replied: "People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook."
Mr. White's scoop on Nixon almost didn't happen. The night he was prepared to write the story, the union representing reporters voted to strike. He later recalled rolling the story out of his typewriter.
"I was dreading the information I had was going to get out there. Every day I was checking out-of-town newspapers," he later told The Providence Journal.
The strike ended 12 days later, and the story ran on Oct. 3, 1973.
The story revealed that Nixon and his wife paid just $793 in income taxes in 1970 and $878 in 1971, and received a tax refund totaling more than $131,000 for those two years. Nixon ultimately agreed to pay $476,000 in back taxes.

The AP also collected commetns about Jack form various people who knew him:

Comments about Jack White
By The Associated Press October 12, 2005
Here is what people are saying about the death of WPRI-TV reporter Jack White:
-- "He was my best friend in the business. If I had any success, it's because of Jack." -- Jim Taricani, reporter for WJAR-TV.
-- "He was a great family man. You could not talk to Jack for one minute without him talking about his wife and kids." -- Taricani.
-- "Jack was a street reporter. TV gave him the vehicle to do what he wanted." -- Jim Hummel, reporter for WLNE-TV.
-- "It was never about Jack. It was always about him getting the story." -- Gary Brown, news director at WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn., and former news director at WPRI.
-- "Besides being a great journalist, he was a great person." -- Brown.
-- "Jack was a friend, and a professional, and a gentleman. ... It's a true loss to everybody." Tom Connell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Rhode Island.
-- "I get calls from reporters every day, and it was always great to get a call from Jack, because you knew it was worthwhile." -- Connell.
-- "He lived for two things: the news and fishing." -- Connell.
-- "Jack was absolutely wonderful reporter and a total straight-shooter." -- Providence attorney John "Terry" MacFadyen.
-- "Over the years, criminal case after criminal case, the ones that hit the headlines, Jack reported on all of them." -- MacFadyen.
-- "A world class journalist, Jack was a truly humble man who also made time to help anybody who needed him. The loss of Jack leaves a huge void in our newsroom and an even bigger one in our hearts." -- Joe Abouzeid, news director, WPRI-TV.
-- "Jack White embodied the highest standards of integrity and social responsibility. ... I believe he will be remembered as one of the great newsmen and great gentlemen in Rhode Island history." -- Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
-- "Jack White was an outstanding reporter who made significant contributions to journalism by exposing corruption and wrongdoing. I knew him as someone who asked tough, but fair questions, and got the story right." -- Gov. Don Carcieri.
-- "Jack White was a giant in his field who devoted his life to truth in the public interest." -- Providence Mayor David Cicilline.
-- "Jack was not only a consummate professional, but also a kind and decent man. ... He wasn't afraid to ask the tough questions, but was never unfair." -- Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty.
"I will remember him as a man who loved his family, the business of gathering and reporting the news, and his retreat on Cape Cod. He leaves a legacy of fair and responsible journalism." -- Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.
"Whenever we spoke, I could trust that my thoughts and feelings would be portrayed accurately." -- Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.
"His reporting skills were extraordinary, and the same can be said about his life." -- Secretary of State Matt Brown.
"Jack embodied the essence of professional journalism, a decent man with no personal agenda who always sought to share truth without bias." -- Sheldon Whitehouse, former attorney general and candidate for U.S. Senate.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Judith Miller case

8 a.m.: Yesterday I noticed a comment that was posted on Wednesday's entry from a blogger in England. He challenged met o post something more substantive and journalistic, instead of when I woke up and how far I ran. I shall try to do that in the future, although it doesn't come naturally. That is strange, since I am a professional journalist and professor. I spoke at great length in class about the Judith Miller Case. Judith Miller is the New York Times reporter who spent nearly three months in jail for contempt of court because she refused to reveal a confidential source to a grand jury. As a journalist, I support her point of view that journalists should not be compelled to reveal sources, although I always urge my students to refrain from using confidential sources unless it is absolutely necessary. Journalists are in the business of providing information, not keeping secrets. I particularly admire Miller because she got the information (that the wife of a Bush critic was a CIA spy) and chose not to print it. Knowing the identity of a spy does not help the public in this case; it only served to end the career of the spy. Finally yesterday, Miller was released form her pledge by her source (Dick Cheney's chief of staff), and she testified before the grand jury. My hope now is that the grand jury indicts the Bush administration officials who leaked the identity of the spy in order to punish her husband, who had the audacity to point out that there were no weapons of mass distruction in Iraq. The most important role of journalists in American society is to provide a check on the abuse of power by the government. I hope the Bush administration officials responsible are severely punished for their abuse of power and that no more journalists are not punished for doing their jobs.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New watershed

I was listening to Christopher Lydon's new show on NPR tonight, and he had three guests who seemed to agree that we are witnessing this week the emergence of the newest mass news medium in the form of blogs. They said Hurricane Katrina has been reported faster, better and more accurately by bloggers than other media. They particularly cited craigslist and nola.com. as places where the real story is emerging. I have already noticed that in recent years such transitions often occur in times of national crisis. In World War II, radio became the primary source of news. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, TV became the primary source of news. Some say that the 9/11 tragedy was when many people first turned to the Internet (Web sites) for news. And now we may see another transition at a time of national crisis. I don't know if it is true, but the concept is exciting.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'll miss Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings was a fine journalist, and his loss is a loss to the world of journalism as well as a loss to his family, friends, colleagues and viewers. Former President Clinton made some excellent observations about how intelligent his questions were.

Once again, I would question the Cape Cod Times story judgment. The story of his death ended up on Page 2, instead of Page 1, where it belonged. I wonder if the person in the slot on Sunday night didn't want to change the pre-planned layout when the news of Jennings' death broke late Sunday night. Having been in that situation, I know those are tough calls to make. I made plenty of wrong decisions in my time in the slot.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Cape Cod Times story choices

Thursday night, Aug. 4, there were two big explosions at Camp Edwards in Bourne. We heard it all the way in Dennis. People were shocked and surprised by the noise from the explosion. In Friday morning's Cape Cod Times the story was buried on an inside page. I thought it should have been the lead story on Page 1. It affected a lot of people on Cape Cod. The next day --Saturday, Aug. 6 -- the Times ran a follow-up story, and it was, indeed, the lead story atop Page 1.

The Sunday Cape Cod Times, Aug. 7, included AP coverage of the British rescue of the submariners aboard the stranded Russian submarine. Because the Boston Globe's deadline is much earlier, all the Globe could report is that the rescuers were "racing against time."