Do you ever get a feeling reading the morning newspaper that it isn’t in the business of news anymore?
The news that does slip into the PD is sparse and not very tasty.
Back in the 1970s when Cleveland newspapers were grasping for ways to upend Dennis Kucinich (you may notice the Pee Dee’s addiction remains), the press critic at the Village Voice Alexander Cockburn wrote, “There is almost nothing so repugnant to humankind as a newspaper in Cleveland.”
Times may have changed; that criticism stands.
You want to ask the old hamburger ad question – Where’s the beef?
The beef has disappeared from the menu as newspapers scuffle and fumble around trying to attract the attention of non-newspaper readers with chitchat, too many worthless graphs and oversized photos. Or on the other hand, emotionally long series of human tragedies.
The paper has been failing to offer the space required for analysis of community decision-making, the information that greases the wheels of a democracy. Surely, the most important task for a general daily newspaper.
The Sunday Forum pages are a perfect example of slighting the news consumer. Some time ago, the Plain Dealer gave two Forum section pages to books. I have no quarrel with two book review pages. They just doesn’t belong in the opinion section. That space should be provided for a review and critique of the politics of the community.
A weekly exam of what has or hasn’t happened in community affairs allows for a public debate. It gets the juices going. Or should.
With the PD there’s no beef and no juice.
The lack of such scrutiny of civic discourse damages democratic involvement in the decision-making and leads to further breakdown of interest in public affairs.
I would not be surprised if it were the news hierarchy’s conscious or subconscious purpose to limit information on crucial issues. I’ve seen it happen too many times.
Reporters don’t give honest observations. You can tell that they are gun shy and won’t pull the trigger on those who need some bullying.
We don’t get the stink of official deception of public even when the elected representatives flagrantly display their contempt for the public. Reporters too often avoid the truth, except where the bosses expected it. Again refer to the treatment of Dennis Kucinich, who deserves criticism but doesn’t merit being the PD’s only political piñata.
A revealing narration of a “public” meeting of the County Commissioners on the Medical Mart/Convention Center tax issue suggests just the kind of revealing reporting avoided by PD reporters. This is from blogger and activist Gloria Ferris, not a journalist, and yet she captures the truth better than anything that appeared in the Pee Dee. Here are portions of the web entry.
The public hearing consisted of three parts: Christopher Kennedy’s 45-minute presentation on the Medical Mart although it appeared rather thin concerning specifics, but gave beautiful shots of the other Vornado Realty holdings that MMPI (Merchandise Mart Properties) manages as well as some that they do not. There was a passing reference to education and jobs in relation to Medical Mart coming to Cleveland but not much substance. The investment of $2 million for architectural and site studies was stated, plus another $3 million investment as well. It was rather vague on which private entity would be providing the private investment for the project, but basically, it worked out to $5 million.
Then Commissioner Hagan laid down the rules for the public portion of the hearing. No questions or comments were to be made concerning the Medical Mart presentation or directed to Mr. Kennedy–rather, all comments and questions needed to be addressed to the commissioners themselves.
There reads a perfect example of Hagan official dictatorial rulings, favoring those with the most to gain from a lack of debate. This behavior should be the fodder for the truth about public decision-making. You never get a hint from the PD. Ferris goes on:
It would have been extremely difficult to ask a question of Mr. Kennedy since he left by a side door immediately following his presentation. I did not see him return. I found it quite odd that 45 minutes of everyone’s time was taken up with a presentation that we could not then address or question… (Actually, it was later acknowledged that he did return, however, took no questions.)
Mr. Hagan also asked that county employees should shift their seating so that the public would have easy access to the microphones. It was interesting to note the number of people who shifted to make room for private citizens. Public comments and questions were limited to two minutes…
If the guy who wants economic help but doesn’t want to answer questions gets 45 minutes to talk, why does the public get shoved away in two minutes? Further, why all the County employees at the meeting? For intimidation purposes, I suppose, and for a “favorable” crowd to protect the feelings of the County Commissioners.
Ferris continues after some other remarks:
During this proceeding, I felt extremely uncomfortable. There appeared to be a very antagonistic tension in the air between county employees, union workers, and private citizens who came looking for answers to some very pertinent issues. The tension was palpable, and it was oh so apparent from the body language and the looks on the commissioners’ faces that we were all there because they HAD to have a public hearing. It certainly was not because they were considering anything that anyone had to say-positively or in opposition to the project. Anyone can disagree with me, but when the public hearing closed, all three commissioners spoke and the vote was immediately taken. Consideration, deliberation, done long before any public hearing was held. I had the distinct impression if they could have had no public hearing that would have been the course of action.
This final paragraph reveals the real intention of those in office but you never get the real essence of this strain between officials and the public from the daily newspaper reports. The Commissioners load such meetings with their troops, something that deserves rebuke but you will never see that in a Pee Dee editorial.
There was none of this tension reflected in the Pee Dee’s story of the same meeting. The lead of the story was the expected vote for the increased sales tax. Dimora was quoted rebuking other officials who wanted a public vote. There were no quotes from the opponents in the article by Joan Mazzolini and Sarah Hollander, who did most of the reporting on the Medical Mart issue.
The Pee Dee article about the first public meeting was similarly skewed. The article reflected the opinions of Chris Kennedy, a Kennedy family friend of Hagan’s, and his fear tactics. The story’s headline reveals the main thrust of the article: “Medical Mart executive warns area could lose out of it doesn’t act fast.”
Reporters eliminate the tensions of debate. It’s safer that way. Fewer questions by editors. The bosses like it better without the possibility of an elite’s complaint. I know that from personal experience at more than one newspaper and one of them, of course, was the Pee Dee.
It may not always be the editors at fault. Blame also goes to the reporters who restrict their reporting by providing what they believe the editors want or will tolerate. It’s called self-censorship and the Pee Dee is rife with it.
No use for a reporter to get in trouble stepping on the wrong toes.
I don’t believe this slackness by playing it safe can be overemphasized. Reporters should deliver some unvarnished testimony. Let the editors find fault and censor out what they believe to be unfair or, more likely, too tough on leaders. Or even, as editors often think, too much or too raw for the public to handle. We must be protected, you know.
Let the editors be wrong. Not the reporters telling the story. They should give the straight truth, unblemished by a soft sell.
* * *
Jackson loser in Sweeney-Lipovan dispute
Everybody looks bad in the Lipovan-Sweeney mess. Certainly Marty Sweeney, Council President, and Emily Lipovan, his chief clerk, showed poor judgment in trying to settle their differences with a settlement that could be seen as a payoff.
Marty Sweeney is the kind of guy who on the surface doesn’t want anyone to think badly of him. He’s very solicitous of approval.
Who did Mayor Frank Jackson, Sweeney and City Law Director Bob Triozzi think they were attempting a quick payoff of Lipovan to get rid of her? George Forbes?
This mess means a new Council President shortly. The upheaval could splash over on Jackson’s tenure as mayor. Certainly, it ensures Jackson, revealing another political weak spot, will have opposition for re-election.
Sweeney was never persuasive or a power guy in the Council. He’s been Frank Jackson’s creation.
Jackson made him Council president by getting the black council members to go along. Jackson trusted Sweeney to be obedient. He was. The problem with that kind of submission in a body of 21 is that it cannot last when the two sides of City Hall have different interests. They always eventually do.
Then events reveal themselves itself in unexpected ways, as it surely did.
The Council leader can’t insure for long the obedience of twenty other members, particularly if he makes a misstep.
Not much has been mentioned about Jackson’s role in the Council. However, this episode is another sign of Jackson being less than able as a leader.
If you set up a puppet, you have to be sure he can dance.