In the public's eyes, just about the only folks struggling with believability issues more than the Bush administration are journalists.
And journalists largely have themselves to thank for that.
This week, newsrooms nationwide are observing Ethics in Journalism Week, and they have a sorry state of affairs to consider.
Since the mid-1980s, Americans have been increasingly skeptical of the information they receive from the news media, and no major news outlet has escaped the trend, according to The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Last year, only 19 percent of people surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said they believed "all or most" of what they read in their daily newspaper, a drop of 10 points in eight years. Another 40 percent believed only "a good deal" of what they read in the paper.
The loss of public trust should come as no surprise. Journalists have been caught making up stories (Jayson Blair, formerly of The New York Times, and others); rushing stories into the public domain ("Al Gore is our next president.
No, make that George Bush. No, make that ..."); accepting payment from the government in exchange for news coverage (three journalists formerly at El Nuevo Herald in Miami, and others); plagiarizing (too many culprits to name here); and juicing their stories with loaded language and sensational imagery (again, we don't have enough space to start naming names).
Business agendas are also getting in the way of good journalism. What else would explain an ABC reporter's "story" about a medical procedure that just happened to play a starring role in the episode of Grey's Anatomy that aired right before the newscast? What happens to local news coverage when hundreds of reporting positions are cut to satisfy investors' expectations, or one corporation owns hundreds of news outlets?
Good journalism is at the heart of our democracy. Like it or not, a free press -- warts and all -- is what creates an informed citizenry that can hold business, government and the institutions that affect our lives accountable. This nation is great because it has a free -- albeit noisy and messy -- news media.
The easy thing for a cynical public to do is watch passively as journalism reels from its self-inflicted wounds, or bash the news media until they deliver nothing of substance or value.
The media most certainly need to win back the public trust they've lost. That trust starts with a commitment to ethical news production, which is, above all, accurate, fair and independent of special interests. Many news organizations, (including UTW, if our readers would like us to) publicize their ethics policies online.
The Society of Professional Journalists' code is widely considered the gold standard of the industry and can be found at spj.org. SPJ members routinely debate journalism ethics online and encourage the general public to join their conversations.
Rather than tune out, readers, listeners and viewers should hold news organizations and the companies that own them accountable for their news coverage and the business decisions that undermine responsible journalism.
Write letters, send e-mail, make phone calls or blog. We'll all be better for it.
Tatum is national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation's largest journalism advocacy organization, and an assistant business editor at The Denver Post.
The media these days are beginning to take note of the condition of debt ridden college graduates who have tried to do what any ambitious person would. They have paid attention in school, gotten good grades and tried to get themselves admitted to the best universities that money can buy. The only problem is that there are scarcely any grants or scholarships available and so when the euphoria of the acceptance letter wears off and the reality of finding money to meet the ever escalating college costs hits, they are confronted with the fact that their only means of payment is through giant loans which most will find impossible to pay on their meager salaries.
If this is what the American Dream has come to mean, we scarcely have a future in this country because engineers and doctors and professionals in other countries are graduating in much higher numbers and without the debts that suffocate our young people. And while Sallie Mae execs are reporting super incomes and while colleges are working on growing humongous endowment funds and while text book publishers are showing great cash flow, the graduates of America are being saddled and bridled with thousands of dollars of debt that they have no way of retiring.
Now I try to understand issues by making the components as simple as possible. So I look back to 1971 when as a young graduate I took my diploma in hand without owing a penny. Had I decided to get a job, the worst I could have expected would have been about $10,000 a year having paid about $2100 per year with books.
I challenge you to find a private university with charges under ten times what I paid in 1971 and then I urge you to find a job for a young college graduate that pays him or her ten times what I could find in 1971. At the same time grants and scholarships have not kept pace with the cost of a college education and the system of loans can honestly be termed highway robbery. And the fact that a gentleman or lady who jumps higher and runs faster that the average person can get into any school free of charge while a person with an above average SAT score must fend with huge loans is an indication of just how sick our priorities are in this country.
The need for specific and immediate action to remove this albatross from around the necks of the working poor in our society who happen to have paid for a college education that does little to place them in high earning jobs is strong. Increasing Pell Grants by a few hundred dollars is insulting and useless. Real solutions that will assist those who have already been shaken down by the system must be found and the expenditure of the Universities that depend on loading debt on America's students need to be examined.
Young people in India and China and some Third World countries are graduating in higher numbers and without these huge debts and we are being pushed back into the Stone Age rather being one of the leaders in education for the 21st century. This is unacceptable and it must stop.
Colin T. Bent
Oil Fuels Human Progress
In ancient times, the rate of human progress was so slow as to be indiscernible. People lived and died as their ancestors had done. Their outlook was pessimistic. In the second century AD, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote that anyone who had lived for 40 years had seen "all that is past and future."
Human beings did not begin to develop a more optimistic outlook until the sixteenth century when Francis Bacon recognized that "by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science is that men despair and think things impossible." The principle of progress was developed and embraced by eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophers. In 1768, the chemist Joseph Priestly predicted "whatever was the beginning of this world, the end will be glorious and paradisaical."
Priestly's prediction was fully realized in the Industrial Revolution, a transformation that continues to sweep through the world today. In the last 200 years, the productive capacity of the American worker has increased by a factor of 36. By 1970, the diseases of diphtheria, polio, malaria, smallpox, typhoid fever, and whooping cough had virtually disappeared from the U.S., and life expectancies doubled. Since 1850, the length of the average work week in America has decreased from 66 to 35 hours. In 1997, the United Nations noted that world poverty had fallen more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500.
As our prosperity is increasing, the quality of our environment is improving. Since 1970, air pollution in the U.S. has declined by 53 percent, even while our energy use increased by 48 percent. Over the same period of time, the concentration of water pollutants in the US declined by 80 to 90 percent.
Human progress depends on abundant and inexpensive energy from fossil fuels, including petroleum. Fossil fuels provide 85 percent of the world's energy, and oil is the largest single source. Since the large-scale exploitation of petroleum resources began in the nineteenth century, the world has consumed a trillion barrels of oil. But the resource is far from exhausted. In the last 10 years, geological estimates of the size of the ultimate petroleum resource have grown from about 2.5 trillion barrels to 5.5 trillion barrels. Human beings are discovering new oil resources at a rate 10 times faster than we are consuming the resource.
There is at least enough oil to provide for the world's energy needs to the end of this century. Ultimately, however, petroleum is a finite resource that will be unable to power human civilization indefinitely. No technology is sustainable; all are bridges to greater human achievement. But at the present time all alternatives to fossil fuels have severe deficiencies. These limitations are not due to a lack of political will, but to the laws of chemistry and physics.
Finding new energy sources will require decades of research and development. The technologies of the future are being developed today at the University of Oklahoma, where visionary president David Boren has fostered an intellectual renaissance. But impoverished societies cannot fund scientific research or afford clean environments. To create the future, we need to continue the development and utilization of fossil fuels. Indeed, much of the funding for education and research at OU comes directly from the energy industry.
Human progress is sustainable only if we maintain an optimistic attitude, continue to increase our prosperity and energy utilization, and invest in education and research. The greatest danger to human civilization today is not environmental degradation, but a return to the ancient plague of pessimism.
The Beauty of Tax Cuts
In a recent "Wizard of Id" comic strip, the king informs his subjects, "I'm pleased to announce that I've balanced the budget." One subject then asks another, "What does that mean?" The all-too-true (and thus only mildly funny) response is: "He spent every dime we gave him."
This is a dead-on accurate description of how the Oklahoma budget process works. The state agencies, teachers, state universities, and all the other tax consumers first spend weeks holding teary press conferences describing the millions of dollars worth of unmet needs. These figures, when you add them all up, far outstrip any estimate of the money available for that year. When the money comes in, it surely all must be spent -- and generally is -- because no matter what we have we will never meet the needs of those dependent on government.
Well, the horrible cries you have been hearing from the vicinity of 23rd and Lincoln these last few months are coming from these tax consumers and their political patrons. They have discovered that we have less money to spend than they had hoped for. It turns out that, strangely enough, recent tax cuts may have played some role in the reduction of the pie. The Tax Commission estimates that the tax cuts passed the last two years may have reduced the spending pie by as much as $300 million -- and these permanent spending cuts will increase each and every year.
These developments should go a long way to settle an intramural debate among Oklahoma conservatives. Some conservatives have been arguing that reducing spending is more pressing than cutting taxes -- or at least one should invest as much political capital in trying to cut government programs as in cutting taxes.
Others of us have argued that the only way to cut government spending is to cut taxes. Unlike with the federal government, the state requires a balanced budget -- if you cut the revenues, you have to cut the spending. Now if you had tried to cut government programs directly, the tax consumers would have trotted out the poor child, the teacher, the rural firefighter, or the correctional officer who would be hurt by the cruel cuts, and you would find yourself on the losing end of the political stick.
If, however, you cut spending by reducing taxes, all that will appear in the press is an announcement that revenue has dropped -- or, as is the case this year, that it hasn't gone up as much as projected. The whining and wailing of the tax consumers that their money has been stolen by the greedy taxpayer causes no stir at all.
So if you a hear a House or Senate leader tell you we have to cut spending before we can cut taxes, keep in mind that failing to cut taxes guarantees that we do neither.
I find it a bit interesting how I have watched J. Inhofe be so rude all the time. By all the time I mean when I see him on CSPAN channels. Since 2000, I have seen his pattern, so I know that this specific example is not a one time "bad moment" (see attachment)
Open Letter to Sen. Inhofe
23 March 2007
Senator J.M. Inhofe,
I am extremely displeased with your mode of questioning when Mr. Gore was before the Senate this week.
It IS irregardless as to whether you agree with climate change and the role humans play in it. The very foundation of "public" hearings - and any hearings is to "fact find". Note this is different from tailoring questions to manipulate the answers given. Any federal representative should avail themselves of all the info. and then evaluate appropriate actions. Furthermore, I expect as a citizen in this country, that Senators and Congresspersons will always conduct themselves with grace, modesty, courtesy and openess. This was a poor display entirely unbecoming of you, and the American identity.
We have many serious and compelling problems and issues to contend with, and none of us ever will place ourselves in an ideal position to address any of it, if the only way we probe an issue is with a "yes-or-no-answers" mindset. It is only a disservice to us all.
Understand, this is not about Gore, Democrat, Republican or conservative. I am speaking of conduct and honest intentions to problem-solve. Regarding party "b.s." I'll only say the Republicans can ill afford to have snippy and combative people leading them at this juncture (not that it is EVER appropriate anyway).
Thank you for your attention. Let me close by asking two things: 1) did YOU take the eco-pledge? If you didn't, then your attempted point, to Gore, is voided; 2) Help me understand how you have shown role-model leadership by being a part of a Congressional body which only met a mere some 105 days for 2006...was the state of our union so blissful to only require such little time devoted to working for the public?
Scott T. Shier,
College student &
Flying Under Radar--Until Now
I am writing to introduce your readers to the Fraternal Order of Eagles, I have been involved with the Fraternal Order of Eagles for more than 14 years and beginning in July of this year; I will be serving as the Membership Chairman for the state of Oklahoma. I am writing today to raise awareness of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and all the great things we are doing for our local communities, our state, and our country.
The Fraternal order of Eagles is an international non-profit organization with more than 1.1 million members worldwide. We are known throughout the United States & Canada as "People Helping People." Together, we donated more than $100 million to our local communities, charities, medical research, families in need and many more.
Oklahoma is the home to six aerie and auxiliaries, 1989-2007 we have raised over $400,000.00 for charities such as, diabetes, heart, cancer, spinal cord, child abuse, etc. 1989-2007 we have given over $460,000.00 in grants for medical research across the state including, The LaFortune Cancer Center, St. John's Health Systems, Oklahoma Health Science Center, funding research for kidney, diabetes, spinal cord, and Alzheimer's.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles, founded in 1898, has had seven United States Presidents as members, it was through the Eagles that the concept of Mothers Day was started, we sponsored America's first Workman Compensation Law, and played a major role in the fight for Social Security.
I encourage community members to reach out to your local Fraternal Order of Eagles aeries & auxiliaries. Together, we can work as one to continue being "People Helping People."
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