Journalists: Protect Truth

Facts are no longer facts. Events did or didn’t happen depending on who is talking. This is our world now.  

There’s a misconception that the only journalists behaving badly are those on the right, who are knowingly amplifying false statements.  But journalists on all sides are falling into traps that make it harder to separate truths from falsehoods, and fact statements from hyperbole.

Here are some of the traps, and some proposed redress.

False equivalency; false duality

Journalists and news outlets of all stripes have covered the news about the indictment of former president Trump in tandem with the latest on Hunter Biden. Not an appropriate pairing; one is a former president threatening our democracy, the other involves lesser charges against a president’s son.

Better: one president’s son compared against another president’s daughter, son, or son in law. Treatment of Hunter Biden compared with treatment of any of Trump’s children or in-laws, including Jared Kushner, who realized a huge financial benefit from his association with Trump.

Best: no duality, just the news of the day, one story at a time.

Wiggle words where none are needed

When Trump said on social media “If you come after me, I’m going after you” it was reported by several outlets with wiggle words. They depicted it as a statement that could be perceived to be threatening or said that “some” believed this to be a threat.

No need for caveats, this was a threat plain and simple.

Best: a threat is a threat is a threat.

Continuing to give falsehoods and the people spreading them airtime and print-time without challenge

We often hear a journalist interview a person who is clearly going to make false statements without the preparation to immediately correct the record. Michael Hiltzik picks apart this problem beautifully in his LA Times column. NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviews William B. Allen, who is defending the Florida task force’s statements about slavery and African Americans. Hiltzik shows how unprepared Inskeep is, so Allen’s false statements – already well known to be false at the time –  roll uncorrected and without followup questions.

Better: Journalists need to be prepared to correct the lies and ask the followup questions every time.

In the recent Trump town hall on CNN, Kaitlan Collins tried valiantly to correct the false statements. Her struggles made clear the challenges of this approach.

Best: Limit exposing the audience to false statements.

Facts Please

A piece called “Updates on the Evacuation Efforts in Kabul” ran on NPR 8-28-21.

Scott Simon interviewed Ali Lafiti of Al Jazeera English. Asked what do we know, Latifi answered, “We don’t know very much. We just know that Biden claimed that it was on a top planner of the so-called Daesh forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar. And if it pans out to be true, which, you know, will be hard to prove, one, it seems a lot like what Bill Clinton did after his whole scandal, you know, trying to divert attention by striking a target in Afghanistan…”

With breathtaking speed a news story becomes an opinion piece. Facts please.

Forceful and Clear Language Please

The President’s call to Georgia’s elections head on Saturday should be described in forceful, direct language. Instead, media reports use language that dances around the subject. We hear the President “issued vague threats” instead of a simple statement that the President threatened this man. We hear that Trump was “pressing the official to ‘find’ winning votes” instead of a clear statement that Trump demanded the official change the vote count.

And why do we have to keep hearing about the President’s “baseless claims’ about the election? Baseless sounds like these claims are arguable. These are lies. These are false claims.

Here’s a sub-head from the front page of the LA Times. “Recorded call reveals mix of flattery, threats to reverse president’s loss in Georgia, but election chief refuses” and there’s a quote that provides an example of the flattery. Flattery is not illegal. Pressure to commit election fraud might be.

Media Coverage Undermining Democracy

Media coverage of the upcoming election is undermining our democracy, and encouraging passivity and cynicism.

Everything is part of a campaign strategy. I wrote about this recently in a letter to the LA Times . The Times treated a new attack on Kamala Harris as just one of many campaign tactics, and the fact that the attack was false and racist got lost in the shuffle.

This approach also turns plans and platforms with valuable ideas into just another campaign tactic.

When there is so much spin we lose track of reality. We lose track of the sense that there are clear differences between approaches, and that we can take action to address our challenges.

It should be possible for a reporter to write about one candidate’s plan to address the climate emergency without treating it as a strategy to get votes from youth and progressives. And it should be possible to state simply and directly that the other side doesn’t believe in facts, and has no plan.

So much coverage takes the “a plague on both your houses” slant Recently we heard that Congress could not agree on a pandemic relief bill, as if both sides were being obstinate and we didn’t need to understand the substance of the difference. So many times we hear that Congress hasn’t acted on something – without hearing that a bill to address that very problem has passed the House and has been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk in the Senate for many months.

And it’s difficult to understand why important news falls out of our attention simply because there hasn’t been any breaking news to announce, or a news analysis to roll it into. It has been weeks since we’ve seen prominent coverage on the Russians offering bounties to mercenaries to kill American troops.

No actually, I did see something about it recently- in the context of Amy McGrath’s campaign strategy.

Protecting Species in a Climate Emergency

Act Now

Since I wrote this, a study was published detailing how the waters off our coast are acidifying twice as fast as the global average. Extremely troubling.

The climate emergency puts species at risk for sudden unpredictable annihilation. We can’t control climate change impacts that are already occurring. What we can do right now is act to reduce other threats the species of the world are facing,

Birds are vanishing from North America. We can’t control how changing temperatures and climate will affect bird populations. But we can work to reduce known threats they face from human activities, such as the major threat from pesticides.

I think of a local example of the devastating effects of warmer ocean temperatures and other climate change influences on ecosystems, habitats and species. In the Santa Barbara Channel a few years ago we experienced an unusual warm water event nicknamed the “Blob.” This anomaly together with an El Nino had major impacts, including: major shifts in food webs; a massive epidemic of sea star wasting disease; many seabird and marine mammal die-offs; numerous sea lion pups dying and washing ashore; a harmful algal bloom so extensive it resulted in closure of rock crab fisheries; and much more. While this particular Blob dissipated eventually, we continue to get reports about new warm water anomalies.

Just this year, in May 2019 the National Marine Fisheries Service declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” in response to high numbers of deceased gray whales washing ashore along our coast. Theories about the causes include lack of food in usual foraging areas. This could be related to changes in water temperatures, and it’s not something we can change immediately. But we do know that container ships off our coast strike and kill whales every year.

Whether it’s whales or songbirds, controlling pesticides or ships, it’s clear this can’t be Business as Usual for environmental protection in the era of the Climate Emergency. We know enough to act now to reduce the known threats that we can control. And we must.

Distraction Politics

Outrageous statements by this president distract us constantly. Often there is no time to build the groundswell of outrage into action in one area before we have a new outrage and cause for action. Now, while we are still reeling from the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, the ICE actions in Mississippi raise so many concerns.

We are distracted. And it is hard not to get discouraged.

Perhaps the biggest distraction of all is the constant focus on this president, which makes us think the key to everything is overturning this presidency. Of course we must work for that. But we have to control Congress to implement the programs the current presidential candidates are talking about. We have to elect good candidates to the Senate. Rather than donate to presidential candidates, find a worthy Senate candidate to support. We can’t let distraction politics interfere with the End Game.

Media Gotchas and Green New Deal

A reporter is interviewing a candidate for office about the Green New Deal. The candidate offers some support, or makes a slightly positive remark. Then the question is, “But do you think these goals are achievable?” Gotcha. And we’re in a race for which reporter can be the most skeptical, and which candidate can be the most “realistic,” i.e. negative.

We have to move past this. We have to have goals. We have to think big. Media have to stop creating conflicts to feast on, and our representatives have to have the courage to say, “Yes. We can achieve this if we all work together. And if we don’t set big goals we will make no progress at all.” Senator Feinstein missed a recent opportunity to make more positive statements (see my February 26 2019 letter in the LA Times ). And Senator Klobuchar in her first Town Hall meeting on CNN worked too hard to sound “realistic” in contrast to what she called the “aspirational” goals of the Green New Deal. Embrace the goals, Senator, they are good goals.

We have to get rid of either-or thinking too that makes a false choice between instituting a carbon tax, or passing a giant bill for green jobs and investment in renewable energy. We have to do it all. Work on what we can get done right now, and still have the big goals and visions for the future.

Why March

There are a lot of people in my life who just don’t see the point of going to rallies or marches. Fortunately there are quite a few who do, so I have people to go with. The people who don’t see the point can be pretty vocal. So I am going to try to explain why I do this, and what the point is.

  1. It feels good to give support to  the things I believe in with my physical presence. It feels good to speak together with others with a full voice.
  2. While marches and rallies don’t always get much coverage in the mainstream media – especially if they don’t have the big numbers – these days everyone is taking photos and posting them madly all over social media. The word gets out. It is meaningful that these particular people showed up. If you’re worried about astroturfing, you see the pictures of people you know who were there and it’s real.
  3. It’s a great feeling of connection.  With the community, with other people and other issues.
  4. It’s a way to remind ourselves and others that there are goodhearted people in this country. People who care.

I guess the bottom line is, it feeds me. It gives me energy. It gives me a break from feeling frustrated and helpless. I recommend it.


Talking Climate Change

I want to suggest some things to keep in mind when talking climate change. See also my 8-18-18 letter in the LA Times. There’s a lot more to say on all of this, and I will keep coming back to it, but here’s a start.

  • Let’s not cover the deniers anymore, or attempt to counter invalid arguments. I’m not suggesting a monolithic universal-agreement approach. There’s plenty of room for disagreement and debate here. But it can be about addressing the problem; about what to do next and how to do it.
  • Of course we need to talk about adapting to this changing climate. But let’s continue to talk about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. How many tons of GHG emissions can we reduce with car and truck and train and ship standards?  With more renewable energy? Let’s not give up on trying to stave off the worst potential effects of climate change.
  • Let’s highlight environmental and climate success stories. My favorite lately is the story of the California Sea Star.  Imagine that a species could evolve this quickly for survival. Who knew this could even happen in this kind of a time frame? We shouldn’t overstate successes. But we do need some rays of hope to keep us going.

I loved the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins when I was in high school.  There was a quote I loved in particular:  “And for all this, nature is never spent;  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…”

These words make me wince when I see them again.  Because of course nature is spent. We are wearing nature out. But I guess we need to find that “dearest freshness” wherever we can, and treasure it.


Our California Coast


Read a great in-depth LA Times piece on the history of Hollister Ranch beach access.

Since I wrote this post, some really good news:  U.S. Supreme Court declines hearing the Martins Beach case, so the earlier ruling stands.

And the Coastal Commission has asked the state to explore all options to improve public access at Hollister Ranch. Check out this quote from the LA Times article:  Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas said “Just fundamentally, we should never give up the fight for more public access, particularly for this piece of the coastline where so much is off-limits to the public.”

Original Post:

It’s our coast in California. When we take a walk along the beach we know the only thing to stop us from going further is the tide. It’s a fabulous feeling.

I remember trying to get to the beach in Connecticut years ago. It was strange. It was as if the coast didn’t exist. There would be a postage stamp sized public beach occasionally. Rarely. I remember looking at a map just to reassure myself that I wasn’t crazy, there was coastline in Connecticut. It was just all owned and declared to be private property with No Trespassing signs.

Thanks to the Coastal Act this isn’t our way in California. The coast belongs to all of us. We will always have people fighting for public access to our beaches, and making sure we get it. We will have people exercising our right to public access. When people buy property that has beach public access and try to change that – even though they knew what they were getting into – our Coastal Commission will let them know they can take a hike. Wealth doesn’t beat us down or take away our coastline. It’s a fabulous feeling.

Until it isn’t. We’ve had some problems at the Coastal Commission. And we’ve had some issues not go our way. And now, just up the road from me, the beautiful coastline of the Hollister Ranch property is not going to be accessible. No wait. It will be accessible from the water. That will go well.

I’m about to retire. One of the things I thought I would do when I retired, is walk the California coast and see all our lovely coastline and exercise my right to public access. It could get interesting. I will post updates.