A Focus Today On News Media Performance
In Comprehensive Reporting Of The Facts

 Let’s start today with a focus on the news media and the job they are doing—or failing to do—in the sometimes frenzied political atmosphere that seems inevitable in a presidential election year.

Some comments and some questions:

Why don’t the news media point out the untruth in President Obama’s repeated statement, simply untrue, to the effect that he gave middle-class families an income tax reduction of something like $3,600 per family?  The truth:

Middle-class families fared particularly well under President George W. Bush’s 10-year program of a general reduction in federal tax levels.  Middle-class families benefitted from the general reduction in income tax levels and were given the substantial added benefit of a $600 tax credit for each child living in the home.  The reduction was from the amount of taxes normally due, not simply a reduction in the amount of taxable income.

George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, sponsored the very generous middle-class tax break.

The national news media have fallen short also in giving enough attention to the record which Obama brought with him when he began his White House-oriented campaign for the United States Senate in 2006.

What About Obama Posing As Indonesian Student?

For example:  What about the documented evidence that, using the fact that he had lived a few years in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather, after several years living in Hawaii with his grandparents under the name Barack Obama, Obama filed for a special financial aid scholarship using his Indonesian name when he applied for—and was granted—a foreign-student scholarship to Occidental University.

The story was dragged out of Occidental officials through a freedom of information lawsuit and reported by the Associated Press.  I saw no report of questions being put to Obama at the time of the disclosure of the claim that he was a foreign student.

The story is still worth pursuing, as I see it, but don’t bet on any of the national news media doing so.

And aren’t the American people entitled to know the cost of transporting a president around the country, putting the chief executive’s job on sort of auto-pilot, while he seeks political contributions and votes in states coast to coast?

Let’s Hear More About Air Force One

What does it cost to put Air Force One in the air and provide a bullet-proof limousine and accompanying Secret Service personnel for transportation within the cities where Obama is raising money and campaigning?  Are the definitely non-presidential activities of this kind paid for in whole or in substantial part by the Obama campaign?  If so, how are the costs calculated?

And how—especially intriguing question—is a bulletproof limousine made available at every stop along the way?

Such protection for the president is always appropriate, no matter the purpose of his travel.  But how is it done, limousine after limousine?

I recall reading once that the limousines are flown ahead to the airports where a presidential plane puts down.  If so, an intriguing fact.  If not so, national news people, tell us how such protection is provided at the multiple stops which the president is making across the country these days.

NY Times, Predictably, Goes All Out For Obama

An example of the extremes to which some national news media will go in their dislike—in some cases political hatred would not be too strong language—for the Republican Party:

In this week’s “Sunday Review” section of The New York Times, the front page was dominated by a simulated newspaper front page with this headline:  “REPUBLICANS TO CITIES:  DROP DEAD.”

Following the two-thirds of front page assault on the Republican Party, The Times printed a full inside page of criticism—much of it sarcastic rather than rational argumentation—of the Republican Party.

Readers and viewers, I would surmise, are accustomed to the liberal bias of media practitioners, particular those headquartered in Washington.

In the not too distant past, I can recall an example of appropriate journalistic enterprise (the type you see precious little of these days) which asked Washington-based reporters about their personal political affiliation and leanings.

The overwhelming majority reported, with praiseworthy honesty, that they leaned to the liberal, Democratic Party side of the political spectrum.

If that tilt has changed over the years, it certainly hasn’t moved towards the more moderate center where, various studies tell us, more and more of the American people are finding a political home.

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Turning The Focus To Local Media Scene

Moving to the local news media scene:

My compliments to my favorite daily newspaper for doing a good job of reporting the differences in the political philosophies of Nebraska’s two senatorial candidates, Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The differences have become increasingly clear, largely thanks to World-Herald coverage.

Fischer is a hard-line conservative and advocates a constitutional amendment to limit federal spending.  She talks about bringing “the Nebraska way” to the United States Senate and talks relatively little about winning bipartisan support.  Fischer favors repeal of ObamaCare.

Former Senator Kerrey, running as a Democrat in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 150,000, has stressed support for bipartisan cooperation, reducing the federal deficit, and reduce the level of some benefits.  Kerrey opposes repeal of ObamaCare.

Kerrey also has promoted a very far-out idea making Congress non-partisan like the Nebraska legislature.  No way, Bob, no way.

These basic positions taken between Fischer and Kerrey have been well reported in The World-Herald.

Interesting Public Opinion Polls Can Be Overplayed

Then there is the matter of public opinion polls.

To The World-Herald’s credit, the newspaper’s poll of public opinion as of mid-September ranged over a wide variety of subjects, far beyond the traditional “which presidential candidate is leading” poll.

I do continue to feel strongly, however, that polls should never be played above hard news stories.  With a margin of error sometimes as high as 7 percent, to give polls top news play increases the danger that rather than simply reflecting public opinion they influence public opinion.

And never should a poll story be written in a way that describes the poll results as an absolute reflection of public opinion generally.  Too many poll stories make this obvious (to me at least) mistake, as in a recent World-Herald story which carried this headline:  “Majority now back recognition of gay unions.”

The fact was that it wasn’t a majority of Omahans but a majority of those polled.

* * *

News Media Guilty Of Poor Coverage
Of Unemployment Figures—Obama Benefitted

Further on the subject of media performance:

The news media should have explained why the Labor Department’s latest unemployment estimate was unintentionally misleading, creating a boost for President Obama in his campaign to take credit for any drop in the unemployment rate.

Obama greeted the unemployment drop from 8.1 to 7.8 percent—an estimate, of course—as proof that his policy of re-invigorating the economy and reducing the jobless numbers is making progress.

But the so-called improvement results from this factor built into the employment/unemployment monthly estimate:  Part-time jobs are given the same weight as full-time jobs.

Counting part-time and full-time employees the same skewed the employed/unemployed figures for September, when an estimated 600,000 people tired of waiting for full-time jobs and took part-time work.

The Facts Were Readily Available to Reporters

The fallacy in the formula should have been clear to any reporter who read the second and seventh paragraphs of the Labor Department’s press release.

The second paragraph said the drop in the so-called unemployment rate resulted from an estimated 456,000 more people being counted as employed in September.

And the seventh paragraph said there was an estimated increase of 600,000 so-called “involuntary part-time workers” in September—more than enough to account for the estimated 456,000 “increase” in the September employment estimate which brought the unemployment estimate down from 8.1 to 7.8 million.

So an increase in reluctant part-timers is represented as improvement in the unemployment rate reported to the public.

This is responsible journalism?

* * *

Weekly Smorgasbord
Focus On UNL Athletic Department Leadership
And Finding A Way To Honor Tom Osborne

Today’s choice of smorgasbord items has a pigskin flavor as in University of Nebraska Cornhusker football.  The Ohio State nightmare—did they really score 63 points?—will be mentioned only as it applies to some other aspect of Cornhusker football.

–Let’s start with what was to me the most surprising news in regard to Tom Osborne’s retirement as Cornhusker Athletic Director:

Chancellor Harvey Perlman had offered—and Osborne had accepted—a contract which gave him the option of serving until 2014 and perhaps staying beyond that.

If Osborne had stayed as Perlman wanted him to, Osborne would have been nearly 78 with assurance of a maximum bonus of $300,000 if he stayed even longer.

When Osborne decided to retire earlier than Perlman proposed, Perlman’s choice of a replacement, Shawn Eichorst, who has an 18 month record as an A.D., from dealing with a scandalous mess which he had inherited at the University of Miami.

–Perlman said that there was no one in the athletic department below Osborne who was prepared to succeed  him.

One of Perlman’s first assignments to Eichorst should be to start giving administration training and opportunities to chief fund-raiser Paul Meyers and any other staff members who show promise.

–While Osborn—wisely, in my opinion—gave up the opportunity for $300,000 in deferred compensation which he would have received had he remained as A.D. until 2015 or even longer, he does not leave the Husker athletic program without substantial tangible benefits, in addition to the satisfaction of knowing that Nebraskans honor him for his leadership service over so many years.

As he leaves the A.D. job, he has the assurance of a skybox suite as long as he lives.

Then there are the continuing benefits from the $1.9 million “thank you” which he received on retirement as football coach.

Now we need to find some cause in which Tom has a strong interest as he steps down after so many years of service to Nebraskans.

Then we need to organize a campaign which will provide that cause with contributions in Tom’s name.

–In regard to the football program, Husker fans became somewhat spoiled, I think, by the 36 years of the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne head coaching.

Devaney’s Huskers won two national championships and eight Big 8 conference titles in 11 years.

In Osborne’s 25 years as head coach, the Huskers won three national championships and 13 conference championships.

I’m not saying all fans expect a return to the Devaney/Osborne level of success, but some fans and sportswriters seem to expect the Huskers to move into the Big 10 and start winning conference championships.

As a fan who has watched the Huskers’ ups and downs (many more ups than downs) for 79 years, I respect Bo Pelini and expect his Cornhusker teams will be impressively competitive in the Big 10 Conference.

* * *

Press Box Coach Goes Far Too Far

For today’s closing a comment on Husker football, I direct your attention to a World-Herald sport staffer’s long opinion piece (do sports staffer’s write anything but opinion pieces?) in Monday’s World-Herald.

At first the article irritated me, but not for long.   I decided that Sam McKewon’s long list of instructions to Bo Pelini was so specific and detailed that it was simply laughable.

McKewon’s approach, I would say, is not the way to get any coach’s attention.  Reasonable questions or suggestions in a column could be interesting and possibly helpful but not an approach that sounds like orders delivered by a drill sergeant simply won’t work on any coach.

McKewon is one of the press box coaches I have in mind when I compare them to observers who watch a battle from the hills and then come down and shoot the wounded.

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