The Obama administration is quick to point the finger at foreign regimes that persecute truth-telling journalists, but slow to own up to its own repressive policies. From David Carr:
Last Wednesday in the White House briefing room, the administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney, opened on a somber note, citing the deaths of Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, two reporters who had died “in order to bring truth” while reporting in Syria.
Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for ABC News, pointed out that the administration had lauded brave reporting in distant lands more than once and then asked, “How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?”
He then suggested that the administration seemed to believe that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.”
Fair point. The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance “whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,” has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers…
What happened recently at the Hershey candy factory, in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, has to be considered one of the weirdest and most outrageous labor stories of the new year.
First the outrageous part. According to a story in the New York Times (February 21), Exel, the logistics company hired by Hershey to oversee its Palmyra operation, was found guilty by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) of intentionally failing to report 42 serious injuries in the plant over a period of four years. Those 42 accidents constituted 43-percent of all such injuries that occurred during that period…
… And now for the weird part. According to that NYT story, many of these employees were student workers here in the U.S. on an “international cultural exchange program,” recruited by SHS Staffing Solutions, the subcontractor hired by Exel (the contractor hired by Hershey), to man up the operation. Apparently, Exel was using hundreds of these foreign workers to do the heavy lifting.
Which raises several questions. For one thing, what sort of “international cultural exchange program” involves the participants doing manual labor in a factory? What is so “culturally beneficial” about heaving cases of Kit-Kat candy bars on the graveyard shift at a Hershey plant? And if it’s an “exchange” program, does this mean it’s a two-way street? Are an equal number of Americans traveling to foreign countries to do this kind of work? Are American students volunteering to spend summer vacations working in Ukrainian salt mines? If so, it’s the first we’ve heard of it…
Robert Reich started a recent column by looking on the bright side: “Economic cheerleaders on Wall Street and in the White House are taking heart. The US has had three straight months of faster job growth…” He then inched his way down to the real lede of his piece: “The negative wealth effect of home values, combined with declining wages, makes it highly unlikely the US will enjoy a robust recovery any time soon.”
A new ethics handbook released by National Public Radio seems to indicate the network is reacting in a positive way to persistent criticism of its “he said, she said” approach to the news. According to Jay Rosen of PressThink, the new handbook bluntly states that “a report characterized by false balance is a false report.” It calls for reportage that rejects false balance in favor of reportage that’s “fair to the truth.”
Rosen reprints two key passages from the new handbook:
In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.
At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.
Fair to the truth — what a concept! New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued for the same approach to the news back in July while criticizing the corporate news media:
News reports portray the [major political] parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of ‘centrist’ uprising as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides. Some of us have long complained about the cult of ‘balance,’ the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.”
Is there a trend in progress? Will mainstream media outlets begin printing stories that are fair to the truth rather than constructed to present opposing sides of a story as equally true, regardless of what the facts indicate?
Probably not, but NPR is at least fighting for reporters who value accuracy over the “spin” that publicists and propagandists always prefer. Think how far the George W. Bush team would have gotten in pushing for a war in Iraq if the corporate news media had been fair to the truth. Imagine all the lives that might have been saved.
“Marcus Hook is a town teetering on the edge of destruction. Last year, Sunoco Oil announced that it would shut down its refinery in Marcus Hook. This refinery has employed residents for generations; it provides a tax base for the community, and directly funds part of the school district. As horrible as it is, I wish this were an isolated event; but Sunoco is also closing its south Philadelphia refinery, and ConocoPhillips is closing one in nearby Trainer, Pa. In total, 2,500 Pennsylvanians will be laid off, and thousands more will see their livelihoods affected as more residents struggle with unemployment and the tax base disappears. Continue Reading »