Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Friday, May 30, 2008

60 years of Palestinian hell

Israel is rejoicing over the recent 60th anniversary of its founding but for the Palestinians it is nakba, unmitigated catastrophe.
The Israelis have usurped Palestinian land, illegally established a Jewish state, imposed a brutal occupation and systematically destroyed the infrastructure of Palestine.
As Henry Siegman, director of the U.S.-Middle East project in New York, wrote in a Nation editorial: “Israel’s occupation is maintained by Israeli Defense Force checkpoints and barricades, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, targeted assassinations and military incursions…it is unrelenting violence against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians.”
Many Palestinians have been exiled from their own land in an unspoken ethnic cleansing. Israeli continues to build settlements on Palestinian soil. It has reduced many Palestinian villages to rubble. It has erected a wall of separation.
Israel chokes fuel supplies in Gaza. Its military strikes are violations of international conventions. It blockades 1.5 million people.
It has established more than 500 West Bank checkpoints that divide Palestinian land and make Palestinian lives hellish.
One Palestinian living in the West Bank, an emergency room doctor, now has a two-hour trip to his hospital, a trip that took 30 minutes before the checkpoints were set up.
Israel has, in effect, imposed apartheid, once roundly condemned in the American South and in South Africa.
Israeli historian Benny Morris has painted a grim picture: “Like all occupations, Israel’s was founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers and daily manipulation, humiliation and manipulation.”
Despite all this horror, the European Union and the United Nations remain frighteningly silent.
Israel does not want peace. It will not negotiate without preconditions as Jimmy Carter has urged, rendering all so-called road maps to peace worthless.
Israel does not want a Palestinian state. And it will not grant one as long as America gives its mighty and unstinting support to Israel. The United States is backing the gross injustice of land theft. It supports the fragmentation of the land Palestine does occupy.
America has established military bastions in Iraq, protecting Israel and threatening to attack Iran, the archenemy of Israel,
A case could be made that the “Jewish cabal” of Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and Richard Perle, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, urged the war so that a Saddamless Iraq would recognize Israel.
The cost of that war: Iraq destroyed and more than 100,000 Iraqis killed, more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead and thousands maimed in body and mind, expected expenditures of $3 trillion and destruction of much of the world’s belief in America.
Former President Carter had the courage to write a book recently, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” urging the legitimate rights of Palestinians. He had the courage to meet recently with the exiled leader of Hamas, militant Islamist group.
It was the same courage he showed to broker the Israeli-Egypt peace accord in 1978 and the courage to return the Canal Zone to its rightful owner, Panama.
The shameful treatment of the Palestinians raises a profound religious question. How can Israel claim to be a religious state yet treat the Palestinians with total disregard of religious values, morality, decency and humanity?
It cannot.
The occupation is endless. The war of the Israelis against the Palestinians will never end as long as the United States continues to pledge allegiance to Israel.
Nor will that allegiance change no matter who wins the presidency in November. The powerful Israeli lobby and the craven pro-Israeli politicians in America guarantee that. Example: Hillary Clinton vows “massive retaliation” and obliteration of Iran if it threatens Israel.
This inhumane treatment of Palestinians has a lengthy pedigree. In 1969 Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir denied that a Palestinian people even existed.
Another Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that a Palestinian state was incompatible with the historic Jewish right to Palestinian land and the concomittant Israeli right to security.
Such attitudes make it clear that these two bitterly opposed peoples can never live in peace.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

U.S. mired in racism, double standard

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
--Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun”

It’s already the 21st century yet much of the nation is still mired in ancient racism. Lately the racism is coming from an astonishing source: Hillary Clinton.
Politics has always been a dirty business, using incredibly foul means like the Swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004. But to have Clinton stooping to conquer through gutter politics is unbelievable.
She says Barack Obama’s support “among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans,” is ever-weakening. (See, Obama is black.) Earlier Clinton used the ethnic gambit. Asked if Obama is a Muslim, she replied: “Not as far as I know.” (See, he’s a closet Muslim.)
Now here’s John McCain, Mr. Rectitude and Mr. Integrity, gleefully noting that Obama has been endorsed by Hamas, the radical Islamic group in power in Gaza. (See, Obama is a virulently un-American. In contrast, Hamas will find that he, the Great McCain, will be its worst nightmare.)
America is a country where innuendo and symbols are far more important than substance. (See, Obama is not wearing a flag pin. At best, he is unpatriotic, at worst, a terrorist.)

Feminists like Gloria Steinem contend that men do not want a president wearing skirts. True of some men.
But the problem is not a woman in the White House. The nation needs to shatter women’s ultimate glass ceiling just as it needs to end the black presidential taboo. Clinton, however, is the wrong woman.
She and her husband Bill Clinton sold out the liberal soul of the Democratic Party. Their triangulation was reprehensible, stealing Republican programs and adopting them as Democratic measures.
Abolishing welfare “as we know it” was not the Democratic way. Neither was pushing trade treaties that benefited only corporations. Neither was promising to abolish the bar to gays in the military but cravenly caving in to the Joint Chiefs,
Bill Clinton kept cruel embargoes on Cuba and Iraq. He spinelessly signed the Defense of Marriage Act. He fired a surgeon general who told the truth about sex. He repudiated the head of a civil rights unit who had written a scholarly article about proportional representation.
But back to racism. America is a land of double standards, one for whites and quite another for blacks. It is a double standard that blacks know all too well, many having faced its grim consequences.
Examples abound.
Patricia Williams, The Nation columnist, points out how blacks like Rev. Jeremiah Wright are derided as over-emotional preachers yet a madman white preacher endorses McCain and McCain gets a free pass from the media.
Wright, once Obama’s pastor in Chicago, says “God damn America” and his words are run constantly on TV, reinforcing American racism. It is guilt by endorsement. Wright is angry about America so Obama must be too.
Obama’s wife, Michelle, relates her pride in America. The remark is either ignored by the media or she is asked tendentiously: how long has she been proud of America?
But when the Rev. John Hagee of a Texas megachurch backs the Sainted McCain the pundits utter not a word and TV virtually ignores Hagee’s wackadoodle remarks. Such as: God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its sins, particularly for scheduling a gay parade.
A double standard also operates in politics. As Democrats, Obama and Clinton are subject to constant judgments from right-wing pundits. But the talkmeisters never note that the Republican Party has 245 senators and representatives in Congress. Not one is black.
One in 100 American adults is in jail. The rate is skewed along racial lines, with one in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, behind bars.
James Fellner of the Human Rights Watch notes: “Most drug offenders are whites but most of the drug offenders sent to prison are blacks.”
Other examples of racism: schools are resegregating. More than half of the elementary schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina, once a model of court-ordered racial balancing, are 90 percent black or 90 percent white…Redlining, wherein banks refused to lend money based on a borrower’s neighborhood, is staging an ugly comeback. The mortgage policy now is to charge borrowers higher fees if they live in minority neighborhoods…Police in New York City bullet-riddle unarmed blacks. They torture blacks. They harass them with unnecessary stops in racial profiling…And the cops in Philadelphia recently beat three black shooting suspects.
Racism is hardly something from the dim past. Blacks still suffer the “crime” of being black.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bosses need ethics, not J students

To the foundation of a school for publishers, failing which, no school of journalism can have meaning.
--Press critic A.J. Liebling
Idealistic students at the University of Nevada, Reno, have developed an ethical pledge that all journalism graduates will be asked to sign. The key part of the oath is to “uphold and apply the highest standards of integrity and ethics.”
Fine idea, noble idea. But one enormous problem: media bosses themselves often do not have ethics.
Journalism history abounds with ethical bounders. Hearst and Pulitzer indulged in gross sensationalism and wild fakery during the Spanish-American War.
Will Irwin began a 15-part series for Collier’s in 1911 taking an in-depth look at American newspapers. Irwin’s muckraking series denounced yellow journalism, revealed that advertisers exerted baleful pressure on the press and found the Hearst papers guilty of running articles boosting their advertisers.
Over the years there have been a spate of articles in journalism reviews, newsletters and books detailing ethical shortcomings of the media.
The great press critic George Seldes noted as long ago as 1938 the unholy alliance between advertisers and editors to keep articles linking smoking and cancer out of magazines.
A.J. Liebling, another great press critic in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote two memorable truths: 1) “The function of the press in society is to inform but its role is to make money.” 2) “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
In recent decades we have had many outstanding media critics. Among them: A.E. Rowse (“Slanted News”), Ben Bagdikian, Noam Chomsky, Robert McChesney, Norman Solomon, Michael Parenti and Richard McCord (“The Chain Gang,” a devasting exposé of Gannett).
The classic case of ethical blinders locally concerned the conflict of interest that Sue Clark-Johnson brazenly displayed in 1994. She served on the board of directors of Harrah’s while she was publisher of the Reno Gazette-Journal. She was badly compromised although she refused to admit it.
Her case shows why ethics classes in journalism schools are worthless unless publishers and station managers have ethics. Media bosses should be like Caesar’s wife: above suspicion. They should not serve on community boards or work with any organization they cover no matter how worthy.)
The UNR students who proposed the oath mean well. One of the leaders of the ethical movement, Cortney Maddock, is an earnest young woman. She is engrained with the highest ethical standards. She wants to engender her spirit in all journalism graduates.
Although she will not be a media problem her bosses may be. The day may come when she will discover an ethical lapse in her boss. She may be faced with the dilemma that so many journalists face: resign on principle or continue to work for an unethical boss.
Journalism graduates, fired by the idealism of youth, will one day discover sadly the truth of the dictum of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast: “Policy strangles individuals.”
The New York Times repeatedly killed the columns of Sydney Schanberg for not hewing to the paper’s editorial policy. It sent reporter Ray Bonner to Coventry because he told the truth about a massacre in El Salvador. It fired reporter Sydney Gruson at the behest of the CIA. It sat for one year on a story about spying on citizens ordered by President Bush. Then, it allowed the White House to edit the final version.
The Portland Oregonian suppressed a story about financial problems of one of its key advertisers. A column by Rollie Melton was killed by the Reno Gazette-Journal because it criticized a city council decision to demolish the Mapes hotel. The Washington Post fired columnist Colman McCarthy because he refused to honor the “sacredness” of the marketplace.
These are just few of the many examples of media lack of ethics.
J students will also discover another truth: Wall Street comes before Main Street, newspapering a distant second to commerce. Worship of mammon has long since supplanted Pulitzer’s reverence for newspapers. (The gargantuan profits of the Gannett chain is a profound ethical question. It should have been the first thing journalism students discussed in ethics class.)
J students will also learn of the self-censorship of the media. They will learn of the cheerleading of Fox’s so-called newscasts, which once sanitized, distorted and slanted a story about Monsanto chemical. They will learn about media deference to power, the general gutlessness of newspapers.
Their glorious vision of newspapering will vanish into cynicism and despair.