Sunday, September 12, 2010

HuffPo update: A snapshot

Arianna Huffington thinks newspapers have no future but web sites like hers do. If this is true, pardon my coarse language, we're screwed.

Three of today's top five stories on Huffington Post feature the delightful Ms. Huffington on various TV shows. On the other hand, today's five most popular posts on HuffPo are (drum roll please):

1. Quran Burning Story: This Is How The Media Embarrass Themselves. OK, this one's legit and actually important. The media has overplayed the Quran burning story. However ...

2. Sheyla Hershey Has World's Biggest Breasts Removed (VIDEO). With video!

3. Teri Hatcher Shows Off Triathlon Prep (PHOTOS). I looked at this one myself, several times (because it has PHOTOS!). Teri Hatcher is TOTALLY cute and has big, um, well, breasts, and tiny little coltish legs. Busted (pun TOTALLY intended.)

4. Are You An Empath? (VIDEO). Apparently I'm not, because I haven't a clue what this one is about. I probably should read it to see if I am.

5. Claire Calzonetti The 11 Funniest Tweets By Dictators. I'm confused by this one, because everyone knows that dictators are a hoot ...

The people behind HuffPo are very clever. Most of the material is "aggregated" (stolen) from other places. There's no, repeat, no, original journalism. There is a big slate of celebrity bloggers who do it for the publicity (my take, not necessarily provable fact), plus some serious bloggers who Huffington proudly notes are unpaid. I go to HuffPo often because it's entertaining and slightly naughty.

Journalism it ain't.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Journalism and black helicopters

Sometimes a person with an opposing view from your own can unintentionally make your case for you.

I wrote in the Post Register (and on this blog) recently about the difference between journalism and most of the dreck posing as reliable information. To borrow from the Post Register’s editorial page editor Corey Taule, a good share of the stuff on the Internet is about as credible as the entertaining but completely loony information you’ll hear on early-morning a.m. radio.

After my column ran today, I received a courteous note from someone whom I won’t name, simply because there’s a small hope that someday he’ll be embarrassed by what he wrote. Here’s a snippet:
“For example, the 9/11 Twin Tower disaster has been proved conclusively to be an inside job. The evidence is overwhelming.Yet when has the mainstream news investigated or reported this rather than to say that it is just a conspiracy theory? If you doubt it, I have the evidence to prove it.”
I cling to the hope that this belief still falls under the category of black-helicopter conspiracy, but it’s hard to say any more. I wonder what percentage of Americans believe this? As many as think the sun revolves around the Earth (19 percent)? My writer went on:
“The mainstream news maintains that “President” Obama is a natural-born citizen. Then why has he spent over a million dollars to prevent the release of his original birth certificate instead of the certificate of birth that he has posted on his website ?Why have numerous legal cases been brought against Obama to demand proof of natural birth which the courts have refused to hear? Are we to assume that the lawyers who bring these cases against Obama are idiots?”
Not being one to miss an opportunity to shoot fish in a barrel, I must say of the last sentence: "No, I have never seen any attorney ever file a frivolous lawsuit in my life." But I digress -- back to my letter-writer. Of course, if one is a birther, then one also must reject Obama’s claim to be a Christian. To wit:
“The mainstream news maintains that Obama is a Christian, yet we know that this is absolutely false because Obama has lied numerous times, and if you tell a lie, you are definitely not a Christian.(The same goes for George Bush.)”
Finally, however, he gets to the crux of my case:
“For the past twelve years the government has been involved in a massive spraying operation over the United States and thirteen other countries of the world -- called “chemtrails.” The purpose of the operation seems to be to prevent global warming by spraying aluminum and barium into the air. Yet when has the mainstream news investigated this? (Do a search on “chemtrails” on the Internet.)”
In other words, if you can Google something, it has been verified. And now, dear members of the jury, I rest my case.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Net neutrality from a voice more articulate than mine

Here's a great explanation why net neutrality is silly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Idaho State Police and the need to know

(Published in the Post Register Sept. 2, 2010)

The Post Register spent the better part of a year and thousands of dollars to gain access to police reports about an incident in which a suspect shot at four Idaho State Police officers (see the story on today's front page).

Why would we bother? The cynic might respond, "To sell papers." It would take a lot of papers at 75 cents apiece to recoup our investment of money and time on this one. No, there's a simpler and less sinister reason: We believe it is your right to know what is in those documents.

The details of this story are reported on today's front page by Joelyn Hansen, so I won't repeat them here. The ISP didn't say anything publicly about the incident until, acting on a tip we had received from elsewhere, a Post Register reporter inquired about it in April of 2009 -- three months after the incident. From that point, information began to dribble out -- some from the ISP, some from the Lemhi County Sheriff's Department, some from other law enforcement sources.

In July of 2009, then-Sheriff Sam Slavin provided some additional details, referring to the shooter as "a man of mystery." Six weeks later, the ISP released the name of the man it said owned the property where the shooting occurred -- Adrian John Hannaford.

Finally, in October of last year, the ISP released more details after the Post Register's request for copies of the written reports on the incident was denied by an ISP attorney. Shortly thereafter, the Post Register appealed that decision in District Court.

That court process took nearly nine months to play out, but in August, the judge ordered a slightly redacted version (some names were blacked out) of the reports to be made public, sealing the decision for 42 days to allow the state to appeal. That time expired last week with no appeal.

The newly released documents fill in some blanks but do not reveal any sort of scandalous behavior or add significantly to the information the ISP had provided late last year. In fact, they raised more questions than they answered, such as:
Why did ISP officers attempt to enter the building without a warrant?

Why, when a suspect fired more than a dozen shots at officers, wasn't this incident immediately made public? Did this inaction put the public at potential risk?

Why did the ISP and the Lemhi Sheriff's Department insist, as late as nearly six months after the incident, that they didn't know anything about the suspect -- including his name -- when the documents clearly indicate otherwise?

Were proper procedures followed, and were any procedural changes made as a result of this incident?

And finally, what is the status of the search for the suspect whose gunfire sent police ducking for cover?
The ISP has a long history of being open and cooperative with the public and the media. When that changes, it raises suspicions. Had the ISP gone public with details of the incident when it happened instead of waiting until the Post Register inquired three months later, this would have been a straightforward story and much time and effort could have been reserved for other pursuits.

Four ISP officers were fired at and at least one said the shooter "was firing at us to kill us." That deserved better handling by the ISP and shouldn't have required court intervention to get the information the public should have known from the start.