Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

This has been updated to add a response from NPR at the end.

Jay Rosen does an excellent job of parsing NPR’s comical gymnastics to avoid using the P-word in its reporting on Melania Trump’s plagiarism last week.

I won’t go into the detail that Jay did, but I recommend reading Jay’s post. I’ll concentrate on one point: whether plagiarism must be intentional, as NPR reporter Sarah McCammon argued:

McCammon also argued that professional journalism standards are somehow different from academic standards:

I don’t know where McCammon learned ethics, but she couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve spent decades longer in journalism than in academia, and I never recall a newsroom where intent mattered one whit. If you stole someone else’s material, that was plagiarism, period. (more…)


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Donald Trump’s obviously phony pandering to evangelical Christians, and his strong showing among them in polls, continue a decades-long tradition of Republican exploitation of conservative Christians.

Journalism has not often done a good job of covering the intersection of religion and politics, partly because the he-said-she-said story form and the tradition of “objective” journalism hinder journalists from calling bullshit on the hypocrisy and exploitation that many journalists see. And religious extremists wouldn’t care what journalists say anyway.

But here are some facts and observations from my decades of covering religion and politics as an editor and reporter, as well as many years when I had different journalistic duties, but still have watched in fascination as a voter:


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Do we really need to discuss race in 2009? Isn’t it time, with a man of African heritage in the White House, that we can lay this issue to rest?

I wish. Without question, the strides this nation has made on race have been huge. And last year’s election did topple a major barrier. The conversation has changed, but it’s not over yet.

If you’d like to continue that conversation, join The Gazette’s panel discussion on race this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. I will moderate a discussion with at least four community leaders about how race remains an issue in our community and our country.

The discussion is part of Linn Area Reads, a program of the Metro Library Network. The program has encouraged people in the community to read two books that explore themes of bigotry: Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas, set in a Colorado town outside a World War II relocation camp for American citizens of Japanese descent; and Harper Lee‘s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, set in Alabama in the 1930s.

The institutionalized barriers described in those books have disappeared today, but we still have plenty of bigotry. Though debates over immigration and same-sex marriage involve valid policy issues, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find some ugly examples of hatred toward people who are different. And while we didn’t herd Americans of Arab heritage into relocation camps after 9/11, we saw disturbing examples of individual violence and discrimination.

Certainly Barack Obama’s election as president represented a huge symbolic milestone in our nation’s struggle with racism. And the facts that his first victory came in Iowa and that he easily carried this state that’s 93 percent white showed that voters are increasingly looking past race. While I received many letters and emails with subtle or blatant racial overtones during and since that campaign, the simple fact is that those voices of hatred and ignorance got drowned out in the election.

But triumph at the top levels of society doesn’t translate into equality everywhere. In Iowa, the median household income for white families is nearly twice as high as it is for black families. The percentage of people in poverty is more than three times as high for blacks. Whether you examine health, family, education, crime, housing or economics, statistics continue to show a discouraging difference between life for black and white Americans.

The disparity starts at birth. Black babies in Iowa are more than twice as likely as white babies to be born to an unwed mother or a teen mother or to die in infancy.

Native Americans and Hispanics also lag far behind in most measures. Among racial minorities, only Asian Americans, the group featured in Tallgrass, now live a life that’s statistically comparable to the lives of whites.

Yes, while we celebrate progress, we still have plenty to discuss about race in our country and our community.

In Thursday’s panel discussion, Derek Buckaloo, chairman of the Department of History at Coe College, will start with an overview of race in America and why we have such a tough time with the issue.

Hazel Pegues, executive director of Diversity Focus, will discuss Iowa’s increasing diversity and the  challenges and opportunities it presents.

Karen Brown, director of diversity at Rockwell Collins, will discuss diversity issues in the workplace.

Christian Fong, chairman of the Next Generation Commission and head of AEGON’s real estate capital markets division, will offer a young professional’s views on race and diversity.

Dale Todd, former City Council member, will offer observations about race and diversity in Cedar Rapids and, in particular, his experiences in leading the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association and his service in city leadership.

After opening presentations, I will ask the panelists questions. I’d like your help in choosing questions to ask. Through emails, letters, phone calls or comments on my blog, I invite you to send questions about racial issues. Please include your name, daytime phone number and your own racial or ethnic heritage with your questions. I will use some of them in Thursday’s program.

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Reluctantly I must tell you that Leonard Pitts was clueless when he wrote about Twitter.

One of the highlights of 2008 for many of us in The Gazette newsroom was the October day when Pitts visited. He was speaking in Iowa City and I asked him if he would swing by Cedar Rapids and spend some time with our staff, talking about writing and journalism and the issues of the day (it was the week before the election). He graciously agreed and we had a delightful time. He has long been one of my favorite columnists and I now consider him a friend — the way you call someone who was friendly to you a friend, even if you only met once or twice (I actually met Pitts earlier at a conference in Wichita).

So it is with some regret that I write here that Leonard Pitts didn’t do his homework when he dismissed Twitter as a waste of time. (more…)

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Leaders at all levels are failing Cedar Rapids.

We need to get tough. We need to get mean. And we need to do it now.

I remember after last June’s floods, I got tired of all the e-mails I would receive, both from Iowans and from people outside the state, who found some sort of virtue in comparisons between gritty Iowans who weren’t begging for federal handouts and the pathetic people from New Orleans who did.

That was balderdash then and it’s way past balderdash now. The federal government and the state government have an obligation to help in disasters. Iowa leaders at the local, state and federal level need to be loud and insistent about meeting that obligation faster and stronger than anyone has so far.

This is no handout we need. No community can absorb a disaster without help. Iowans’ tax dollars have supported federal relief for disasters ranging from hurricanes to earthquakes to terrorist attacks. We shouldn’t be begging for a handout, but insisting on justice.

B.J. Smith of Cedar Rapids runs a pleasant blog called “Iowa Nice,” celebrating how nice this state is. That’s an admirable trait to our culture, but let’s not forget that Meredith Willson also described us in “The Music Man” as “Iowa stubborn.” We need to put Iowa Nice on the shelf for a while and turn Iowa Stubborn loose on Washington and Des Moines. Along with Iowa Furious and Iowa Indignant.

At the local level, we are leaderless. From the day the waters hit, people have been asking where Mayor Kay Halloran was. Some council members have been more prominent than she has in responding to the challenges of the flood. City Manager Jim Prosser is an administrator, but the city has no strong leader.  

The change in city government is no excuse. Leadership is not a function of structure but of the ability of the leaders and how they respond to challenges.

County supervisors are not in as strong a position as city officials to lead in this disaster response, but they certainly have enough power that someone could fill this vacuum.

Gov. Chet Culver and state legislative leaders sounded downright timid in their explanations about why the Legislature did not meet in special session last year to address this problem. They feared that making state money available would mess up our chances for federal aid. Or maybe a swift state response, accompanied by strong leadership demanding a swift federal response, would have underscored the urgency of the problem.

Instead, nearly eight months after the floods, the Legislature last week approved less than 1 percent of the need.

Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley have more than a half-century of experience combined in the U.S. Senate. What good is that experience if they can’t deliver better federal aid more swiftly than they have following the worst natural disaster in their state’s history?

President Barack Obama (and for that matter, President George W. Bush before him) got his launch to the White House from Iowa. Both of them visited flood zones and flood victims. Was that a photo opportunity rather than a call to action?

Editors normally don’t like it when their bosses get involved in community affairs. It makes us uneasy because people might think that involvement will skew our coverage. The Gazette Company CEO Chuck Peters joined a trip to lobby Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in Washington last month and Publisher Dave Storey will be in Washington this month to lobby with other Chamber of Commerce members.

That doesn’t bother me right now. I can deal with any conflicts and perceptions their involvement might create. Mostly I hope they get something accomplished. This leadership shouldn’t have to come from the business community. But it’s about time it came from somewhere.

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