The danger in our ignorance

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Firefighter watches as a car is set ablaze in Ferguson. Credit: Associated Press

I remember May 1, 2011.

It was the day of what was suppossed to be the May Day protests, to raise awareness on workers rights and immigration. But what caught the attention of the national media was the self-proclaimed anarchists that went around downtown, dressed in clad black, smashing windows of prominent capitalist businesses.

This was when I was in community college still, working for school paper there. It was in Bremerton only an hour ferry ride away from the emerald city when I caught wind of the news. A photographer and I went there as soon as we could.

By the time we did got there, the action had settled and the window smashers had already been taken into custody. But there were still plenty of protesters around. What I noticed from these “anarchists”, though, was that their all black attire was speckled in the very logos and emblems of the capitalist giants they supposedly hated so much. All I could deduce was that perhaps they were complete hypoctites or that perhaps they didn’t understand what true anarchy was and only knew the sort of media take on what it is.

Although the actual protests took place, they were much overlooked by the earlier damage that was done, and many people by that point seemed to be more focused on the chaotic sort of demeanor rather than the actual focal point of workers rights; the media across the nation did the same.

What was apparent, that year and the year that followed, was that despite what the message was supposed to be, it’s so often easily lost among the masses.

Earlier tonight, a St. Louis grand jury brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson ploice officer that shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, back in August.

What started off as tense but peaceful protests, escalated into riots, with already a significant amount of damage done to the area.

There are photos coming in from Ferguson (and now even from Seattle, Oakland and other cities) as we watch it all unfold, and if one were to not pay close enough attention, it could be passed off as something from Syria or Ukraine. But it’s not, this is happening on our own soil, and its because so many Americans out there have left reason and logic back home so they can bring their anger, frustration and indifference to the streets.

Unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to really lay criminal charges on Wilson. It also did not help that the witnesses had varrying and restructured accounts of what happened the night of the shooting; it did not help that social media bottled-necked any incoming reports that could have been further investigated by law inforcement officials; and it did not help that media would take any unconfirmed report they could get to at least keeo the discussion going on their networks, and further perpetuating this incident as one based on race.

And yet people right now all across the web are saying that “the system” – the judicial system – has failed. But there was no judge behind the decision to not indict, it was a jury of peers, normal Americans randomly selected to do their civic duty. The point of a jury is to objectively look at the facts and evidence that is available from law from enforcement investigation, simply put. What a jury’s job not to do is follow the popular opinion among the people and media.

Race in America has been an issue and topic of discussion now for well over 100 years and it’s true that dispite such laws as civil rights, people of color still struggle to find equality and non-bias in several areas of this country. But this doesn’t mean that everytime a person of color, especially a very young one, is killed by a white person, that race was the motivation that led to their death.

Race in our country is something that is so easy for us to get fired up about, something that is so easy for anyone to point their finger at the police and accuse, “racial bias” “malicious intent”. Because yes, this has happened many times before.

But time and time again, so many of us rather than transcend, bury ourselves into further into ignorance. Rather than ask questions, we take to the streets pointing fingers and blaming the police or the government.

We blame the police without taking thought that someday, we may gravely need their help; we burn the American flag for the death of one without taking into consideration the millions who have died for that very flag; we set stores on fire where we used to buy groceries and have small talk with our neighbors.

The combination of ignorance with double standards is a malignant mix that will bury us as a nation.

Racism still very much exists in this nation but so does ignorance, a fog that is so deep seated among so many of us that it is dangerous to this nations well being. If we’re going to progress and succeed together and as one nation, we first need to learn to take a step back before we can take a step forward.

The news that never truly was, get the facts straight

The Society of Professional Journalists ran a thread of tweets yesterday in regards to the incorrect reporting that was done yesterday on the supposed arrest/custody of a Boston Bombing suspect. 

After reports were actually confirmed that was in fact, no suspect or any arrests, this led to some backlash against many news agencies such as CNN and AP.

This prompted the SPJ to tweets quotes as well as links to their ethics code about breaking news reporting among other topics.

Transparency:

Testing Accuracy:

And my personal favorite:

The reporting was erroneous enough to prompt the FBI into treading the rare terrain of media criticism.

“Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

Whoops. The AP explained that they had used a source who provided information under the condition of anonymity, which at times, can be a shot in the dark for reporters.

Apparently the anonymous official had stood by the information even after it was disputed which prompted the AP to report the details.

I’d have to say my favorite reaction was from the likes of Jon Stewart, who just tore into CNN.

These sort of mistakes have seem to become too common. I wrote before about this topic during the Sandy Hook tragedy. And like I said in the post before, you can delete or retract tweets and statuses all you want but when you put something on the internet, you should expect that it will stay out there. And it will be seen.

And it will be perpetuated. I made the mistake of doing this on Facebook yesterday by sharing this incorrect information with my 700 friends. Luckily I was able to quickly follow about the incorrect reporting and apologized.

Only hours after that, another tragedy happened. A fertilizer plant in Texas exploded– dealing incredible amounts of damage.

And almost immediately after the initial reports of the explosion, the conflicting reports of casualties unfolded on twitter.

Within maybe 20 minutes of those original tweets, CNN was getting on the scene coverage from affiliate saying there were at least 2 confirmed dead.

Hours later AP reported that between 5 and 15 people were killed in the blast:

And right now that’s where the reports stand. They aren’t precise and they aren’t exactly confirmed.

As SPJ puts it, journalists should show good taste… and shouldn’t

Continue reading

Boston Marathon blasts, what is known and not known

Two blasts tore through runners and bystanders Monday at the Boston Marathon leaving at least three people dead and more than 140 injured.

The two blasts only being seconds apart spewed smoke about 20 feet into the air. After the smoke cleared, dozens could be seen injured, some laying unconscious and some with dismembered limbs.

An 8 year-old boy was confirmed to be among one of the three dead.

The street was covered in debris and blood after the blasts occurred around 2:50 p.m. ET.

As it currently stands, there are no primary suspects. Although there was one “person of interest” questioned. They are not in  law enforcement custody.

The Associated Press recently reported police that are investigation the explosions are searching an apartment.

Journalists, politicians and law enforcement have been careful and cautious not to jump to conclusions on possible groups or individuals.

The FBI has taken charge of this incident as a criminal investigation. The agency has set up a phone line for members of the public to call with information about the explosions. The call-in number is 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), prompt (hash)3.

Shortly after the explosions, reports started coming out stating that the JFK Library had also been hit with an explosion. It was later ruled out as a fire but wether it was related to the two explosions is not verifiable yet.

Major cities around the US had heightened security after news of the bombings had spread across the nation, including Seattle and New York.

Around 6:10 p.m., President Obama gave an address vowing, “We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts, but make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this, and we will find out who did this.”

It has been confirmed that as many as two unexploded bombs have been found by law enforcement near the end of the course, but were safely disarmed.

UPDATE: Governor Patrick said at a press meeting this morning that there was 2 devices that exploded and no other bombs or devices were found.

The Boston Marathon is one of Massachusetts oldest and most prestigious events and is held on Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Concord and Lexington in 1775.

Sequestration and what it means for Washington

$85 billion is a lot of money. And if that much in cuts from the federal budget are taken out starting March 1, there will be a lot of Americans feeling the sting of the latter.

What is Sequestration?

— A little background: Sequestration was originally used as a legal term that meant the obtainment of valuable property by the court for safekeeping while the dispute of its ownership was being resolved.

Nowadays, the term is used by Congress as Budget-Sequestration to describe a fiscal policy procedure that was part of an effort to reform Congressional voting procedures in 1985 so that the size of the Federal Budget was a matter of conscious choice rather that an automatic arithmetical outcome.

Sequestration is a package of automatic spending cuts that takes place across the board of the federal budget. It happens appropriation bills passed by Congress exceed the limits that were laid down earlier in the budget resolution and if Congress cannot agree on a way to cut back the total.

Everything that is cut is done between domestic and defense programs. There are some exemptions though such as Medicaid, Social Security, welfare and the food stamps program.

The sequester arose out of the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was supposed to serve as a disincentive for the so called “Super-committee” tasked with coming up with a plan and to be activated only if the congressional committee did not pass a legislation that would cut $1.2 trillion over the next ten years.

It didn’t happen.

And it was actually supposed to happen January 1, 2013, but was delayed until March 1, 2013, under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

The looming cuts for 2013 total to $85.4 billion.

Credit: Washington Post

Credit: Washington Post

How will Washington State be affected?

Well, there’s going to be a lot of cuts if the sequestration goes through on March 1. This includes teachers and schools, military readiness, child care, vaccines for children, job-search assistance, etc.

Federal employees who work at places such as the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard may find themselves being furloughed-given one day a week-without pay. PSNS may even have to lay off some or all of its 921 seasonal workers.

Even their big employee-of the-year awards ceremony, one that has been attended with up to 800 people, has been postponed indefinitely.

Commanding officer Capt. Steve Williamson has been keeping employees up to date with facebook posts.

Washington is looking at approximately 29,000 civilian Department of Defense employees to be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $173.4 million in total.

Some advisors predict that the sequestration would raise the unemployment rate by 1/4 a percentage point up to 7.4%.

The Congressional Schism 

Both the Republicans and Democrats want to do what would almost expect them do to.

Republicans proposed a plan called the Spending Reduction Act of 2012. The plan would have replaced the 2013 defense sequester with a variety of spending cuts, including cuts to food stamps, the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank.

In summary: Republicans want no tax increases, no defense cuts and considerable domestic spending reductions.

Democrats introduced the American Family Economic Protection Act. This replaces the 2013 sequester with $110 billion in spending cuts and tax increases, spread out over the course of a decade. One of the policies includes what is known as a “Buffet Rule“-a minimum tax on income over $1 million.

In summary: The Democrats want to put higher taxes on the wealthy and cut military spending in excess of the sequester cuts.

Integrity is what is at stake for journalism

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Where does one begin to sort out the feelings of tragedy? Is it after they conceive the reality of it? Indeed it may be hard to conceive that a young man would go to an elementary school with the intent of killing children, shooting some of them as many as eleven times. Such senseless violence is unimaginable to me.

Yesterday, every inch of my body was filled with sadness, pain and disgust. But I also felt disappointment and a yearning for reliable reporting; something that none of us received until the day was just about over. Hard news has always been something that news outlets would race to get published first but nowadays it’s just who ever can get the first tweet out there without regard for fact checking, proper sourcing or ethical consideration.

That case alone is old news. I woke up to an update from ABC that there had been a mass shooting in Connecticut and I immediately found myself on twitter and facebook trying to follow all the sources I could. What I found almost as disturbing as the shooting itself was the reports of television reporters interviewing children that had just been evacuated from the school. Children who were asked to close their eyes by the police officers as they were escorted past the carnage of their deceased school-mates.

What I had also noticed was that the media had mixed up the identity of the shooters which was caused simply by hearsay and was not solid information. It also circulated online that the shooters mother was a teacher at the school, but that was devised by the media itself and was not true. Until yesterday I followed Slate magazine on twitter because I enjoyed their combination of humor with news and politics. But that quickly changed after I realized that they really suck at journalism, I mean, they are terrible. You can delete or retract tweets and statuses all you want but when you put something on the internet, you should expect that it will stay out there. And it will be seen.

The media displayed too many gaffes in one day. And no apology could make up for that. The coverage that was done yesterday completely defeated what journalism is supposed to do – provide the facts and make sense of a chaotic event in a form that is understandable. Not add to the chaos. Yesterday it seemed as if there was no such thing as solid fact and any bit of information that was crucial would suddenly change.

It’s obvious by this point to see that I am frustrated with how the media handled this tragedy yesterday. And it is because I felt helpless, at the mercy of a media that could not get its facts straight. I understand that that at times getting information that is necessary is difficult but journalists have an obligation to seek accuracy and to maintain honest and thoughtful integrity. It is a shame that social media -despite all it’s potential – has created a niche where organizations can report mistakes and think that they can fix them simply by deleting or retracting.

Journalism needs a higher standard than that.

Misinterpreted information will be quick to spread, with innocents caught in the crossfire

Earlier today there was a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. Within only an hour or so of the news of the shooting taking place, word spread quickly that the identity of the shooter was 24 year-old Ryan Lanza. It was around 12:30 in the afternoon when I got an breaking update to my phone from ABC news informing me of this. About an hour later I saw a Breaking tweet from the AP stating that the shooter was a 20-year-old, son of teacher there; older brother being questioned. The shooter is in fact the younger brother of Ryan Lanza, Adam Lanza. This error was because a law enforcement official mistakingly transposed the brothers’ first names. This error unfortunately had some dramatic repercussions on those who were not even involved with this tragedy. Such as the Ryan Lanza that lives in Newton who just coincidently had the same name of the shooters older brother. date:modify: 2012-12-14T19:41:58+00:00

Multiple media sites such as CBS, FOX, and Huffington Post had used this mans photo and although they were quickly taken down after learning the actual facts, the Internet had already bolstered this mistake. Even his friends such as Andrew Fletcher are receiving “tons of friend requests” because of this misinterpretation. This eventually caused Fletcher to unfriend Lanza. I cannot imagine the terrible day this man must be having and this is because of misinformation given to the media and in turn, to the public. This tragedy set the stage as example of how innocent people can be caught in the crossfire when the wrong information is given out. An in today’s world, regardless if information is correct or not, it will spread across the Internet into every nook and cranny for everyone to see and further share.

Edit: As it turned out, the Ryan Lanza featured in the photo above is the brother of Adam Lanza, the shooter. Although there was a Ryan Lanza on twitter who did have the same name and had to deal with spamming from the public.

UK Media Struggling With Ethics, Should The US have a Watchdog?

media-ethicsAccording to a report that was put out this morning by the AP, Lord Justice Brian Leveson  submitted a 2,000-page report that was originally triggered over a year ago by the phone hacking scandal. In this report Leveson suggests that Britain needs a new independent media regulator, Leveson went on to further suggest that this new regulatory body should be established by law.

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the idea for a new regulator to settle disputes, oder corrections and fines. But he believes that asking for legislative backing in law will mean “crossing the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.” Or in other words, controlling freedom of the press.

As of now, Britain has what is called the Press Complaints Commission, which is a voluntary regulatory body for newspapers and magazines with representatives of the major publishers. But the PCC has been heavily ridiculed in recent years especially during the phone hacking scandal. Politicians, such as Cameron, calling for it to be scraped and replaced with something new in place.

The article states that Leveson does insist in his report, that  politicians and the government should play no role in regulating the press, which should be done by a new body with much stronger powers than the current PCC.

“What is needed is a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation,” said Leveson.

But how exactly would this new system be independent if it is put in place by legislation? Wouldn’t government ultimately have the final say with the new system’s decisions?

“The ball moves back into the politicians’ court: they must now decide who guards the guardians,” he said.

The United States used to have a volunteer non-profit watchdog organization known as the National News Council that was started in 1973 but dissolved in 1984. A short life for this org. but it lacked support from certain outlets that probably could have kept it afloat such as The New York Times. Nowadays only Washington, Minnesota and Hawaii have state-level councils. The NNC had no legal power but rather worked off of publicity, bringing bias into public attention.

I have written in the past about media bias. And here in the states it is something that has been running rampant and even more so now with the digital age where information is constantly being shared. Sometimes it seems as if media outlets take advantage of the First Amendment, never having to really worry about government involvement. But unfortunately there is no national watchdog to call out NYT, FOX or CNN on their mishaps. Sure the internet is full of hot-headed bloggers such as myself that can try to spread the word, but to have national representation could more likely put these outlets back into their place. If the media can hold everyone else accountable, who is going to hold the media itself accountable when they mess up?