October 22, 2013

Free Press or Ministry of Propaganda?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:44 pm

An interesting mural in San Francisco made for a good feature photo shot.

After the negotiations in Oakland collapsed and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) strike was resumed, we heard an odd item on KCBS radio.  They informed listeners that they should not be alarmed if they saw BART trains running on the system.  The reporter explained that the trains were being run to keep the system and the equipment in running condition in anticipation of the resumption of service after a settlement.  There was something about that bit of news that caused a small skeptical reaction for us but we didn’t pay close attention and ignored any implications that heads-up for the listeners might have.  On Saturday, after we took a one day excursion to San Francisco on the AC Transit Bus System (which is under a 7 day strike delay cooling off pause), we heard a news report that two people had been killed that afternoon by a BART train and immediately our internal alarm system sounded.

Usually the news coverage of a major strike includes video or still photos of some equipment sitting idle.  We know this from personal experience because in the late Seventies the photo desk at AP in Los Angeles called us at home and asked if we would take a stringer assignment to go down to the Long Beach area and take a photo of some California Highway Patrol cars sitting in the area headquarters parking lot.  A photo of cars parked in a symmetric pattern isn’t very dynamic but it does illustrate the concept of “sitting idle.”

So why was that BART train running during the strike rather than sitting idle?

If the public is to believe the KCBS explanation some member of management must have come in on the weekend, just to run the train during a period when one of the local papers ran a headline indicating that negotiations between the workers and management were not being conducted.  The implication was that the public’s inconvenience was going to last a long time.

So why was that BART train runnin’ down the tracks on a textbook perfect example of a Indian Summer Saturday afternoon?

Was the Bay area mainstream media missing a big story?  They couldn’t have been testing the equipment because a settlement was close.  It seems unlikely that some member of management had come in to take his kid on a joy ride.

The death of two people is a tragedy but wouldn’t there be a much greater amount of news value to it, if (subjunctive mood speculation in lieu of a concrete explanation is covered by free speech rules) those two folks were killed by a scab worker who was being trained to be used as strikebreakers?

The KCBS Saturday afternoon story completely ignored the question of who was running the train and the possibility that there would be any police charges used against that person.

At 5 o’clock Pacific Time the CBS network news said that the two people who had died were not union members.  This contradicted something we had heard on the same station moments earlier.  When the all news all the time resumed local coverage, they said the two victims were union members.

The next morning, the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle used the Saturday accident for the lead story with a banner headline.  The sub-head informed readers that the train was operating on the status of “on maintenance run.”  In the 13th paragraph the readers learned that it might have involved a training lesson.

On Saturday night, it was announced that the National Transportation Safety Board would be the lead agency conducting the investigation.

By Monday morning, the Bay Area section of the Chronicle was headlining the Matier and Ross column with “Insider:  BART training workers when 2 died.”

By Tuesday morning, the strike was over and service had been resumed.

Over the weekend, the World’s Laziest Journalist started to do some fact checking for a news story from Alaska that seems to have gone missing.  Do a Google News search for Governor Parnell and Cook Inlet.  We saw an interesting story via such a search over the weekend.  The story seems to have vanished from the Internet by Tuesday noon Pacific times.  If it isn’t every day that a judge speculates that the governor may have broken the law, doesn’t that make it a news story for the various National desks in NYC, if they can find it?

We have repeatedly made references to the case of the Los Angeles County assessor in our columns.  We have done Google News searches and found a few scant details via links to some information provided to the public by the Los Angeles Times.  We have not been able to augment those few facts with any other information from any other source.

Usually, if there is a scandal developing in Los Angeles, the newspapers in New York pay almost as much attention to it as they would if it were happening in New York City.  To the best of our Googling ability we have not seen a single mention of the assessor’s case in the “Great Gray Lady” (AKA the New York Times).

If, during the age of austerity budgets and small staffs, the World’s Laziest Journalist can come up with three stories that should be getting coverage in the mainstream media but are not; isn’t it time to hold the wake for America’s Free Press and admit that Journalism in the USA is DOA.

If the World’s Laziest Journalist actually were as young as he claims (a happy-go-lucky, irresponsible lad of 28?) then one might jump to the conclusion that he is a driven man who is determined to come to the attention of a top notch assignment desk in New York City and subsequently climb the ladder to fame and fortune in the journalism game.  The truth is that the World’s Laziest Journalist runs around San Francisco taking photos and looking for nuggets of information to use in a weekly column and skims through various Internet web sites not as a desperate career establishing effort but simply to fight boredom.

We have been accumulating images of “slap art” and wondering if someday our coverage of the early phases of this story will be regarded as “historic.”  We have wondered if someday some art museum (in New York City?) will hold an exhibition of T-shirts.  In a book on the topic we learned that the fad may have originated with some silk screened undershirts from the Pacific Theater of World War II.  Why, we have wondered, if the New York Times in the past (yeah, you know that’s code talk for “in the Sixties”) printed a list of books being published that day, then why doesn’t Amazon spark impulse buying with a daily blog featuring posting of a list of new books of possible interest to the pop culture reports elsewhere on the Internet?

Recently, when the Project Censored team appeared at Moe’s Books in Berkeley CA, this columnist suggested the L. A. assessor story to them.  They replied that if the World’s Laziest Journalist wanted to write the story up and submit it to them, they would look at it.

To get the necessary details we would have to go down to L. A. and revive our police beat reporting skills (which have been dormant for many moons).  We are not about to subsidize a fact finding trip and work on that story on a speculation basis.

If we are able to successfully pursue a whimsical quest for a press credential for covering the Oscar™ Awards Ceremony that will be held early next year, we might rationalize the possibility of turning such a jaunt into a twofer.  We could grant our self a cash grant that would cover the costs of staying an extra two days (week?) to poke around and see if we can get the details about the assessor’s arrest and incarceration, and any future court appearances or trial.

The fact that no one will do the story if we don’t front the costs of doing the fact checking should be enough evidence to  validate our contention that the Free Press in the United States is now just a mainstream media mirage.

While the story of the BART strike and accompanying tragedy was unfolding, we learned some history of the “fair and balanced” tradition in Journalism.  We read in Volume one of Robert Heinlein’s authorized biography by William H. Patterson (on page 179) that while Upton Sinclair was running for governor of California in 1936, the Los Angeles Times’ political editor Kyle Palmer, in response to a question from a New York Times reporter, had said:  “We don’t go in for that kind of crap you have in New York of being obliged to print both sides.”

Rather than putting in the effort to write a column that will get a low amount of hits because it sounds like a goddamn term paper, the World’s Laziest Journalist would much rather be doing the research for a trend spotting story about the pizza at the Golden Boy in San Francisco’s North Beach area or doing an innocuous bit of rumor mongering by saying that we are trying to verify some facts surrounding the possibility that a new album of protest songs by a reunited famous rock band.  Apparently, after getting some legal advice, it will be titled “The Byrds get Angry” rather than “Angry Byrds.”

This column was posted early so that some maintenance work can be done later in the week.

[Note from the photo editor:  This column mentions the fact that the World’s Laziest Journalist would rather be combing San Francisco for feature shots (such as the one of a mural on the Ameba Records store) rather than taking grizzly accident photos.]

In his campaign to become the California governor, Upton Sinclair said (ibid page 182):  “The issue of this campaign is:  can they fool you with their lies, and get you to vote in their interest instead of your own?”

Now, the disk jockey will play us out with:  “Turn!  Turn!  Turn! (to everything there is a season),” “Eight Miles High,” and “So you want to be a Rock’n’Roll star.”  We have to go compose a letter to the Press Relations dept. at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science and find a copy of the seventy-five year old Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast.  Have a “ . . . and the winner is . . .” type week.

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