Thursday, December 30, 2010

New news


I posted a while ago about Fallow’s Why Americans Hate the Media. I was reading along in the comments that follow this story by Ta-Nehisi Coates – which I’d been doing off and on all day – when it occurred to me that that post and its comments, and another story I’d read earlier today, plus something that happened months ago pretty much summed up exactly why so many people like me have abandoned newspapers, TV news, and newsmagazines.

This is about the story I read earlier today, and this is about the thing that happened months ago.

This is TNC's original post:

'My Whole Desire Was to Choose Him for My Companion'


In 1867, Carrie Hall, a white woman, married Sandy Alexander Hall, a black man. They were, like many interracial couples, tormented by whites in fear of the fall of white supremacy. Here is Carrie Hall's appeal to the local Freedman's Bureau
.

Dear Sir,

As you are the Bureau agent of this county, I have some advice to ask of you, if you please, concerning myself and my husband. I am a White woman and my husband is a Colored gentleman. Some two or three years ago, I became very much attached to this colored gentleman for whom my desire grew stronger and stronger every day of my life, and my whole desire was to choose him for my Companion and my Husband through life,and he was the only one on this earth that I desired for a husband and I never would have been happy without him.

But of course we had to keep all of this a secret to ourselves, fearing that the white people would trouble him about me and I would not have him hurt on my account no way in this world, for my respect and love towards him was too great for anything of that kind to trouble his mind, and I would stand up in any crowd to save him from any trouble if I had it to do, or if I have it to, for it is me that is the cause of this being carried on as far as it is so, for me charging him to marry me.

We came to the conclusion some two or three months ago that we would get married and see what would be the trouble with us anyway. So he got his licenses and paid for them and we were married by an ordained minister of the Gospel, though our marriage was somewhat secret we are lawfully and honestly husband and wife before God and Man and would be one of the happiest couples in the world if it were not for this: Some of the white people have learned some or the other that we are married, or at least that I have married a colored gentleman and I hear they are making great talk of what they are going to do and my mind is in great trouble fearing they may try to carry out some of their plans.

I have no relations near me to interfere with us and besides I am an orphan and have been working for my self ever since I was eleven years of age and now I am twenty-six years of age no one has any right to interfere with me or my husband or at least I don't think they have under the circumstances as he was my choice.

And now my dear sir the advice I ask of you is this: If you please to let me know if anyone has any rights or law or Authority to interfere with us and if not will you be kind enough to give each of us, from your hand a writing that will save us from any trouble--that is, if it is in your power to do so. If it is not and you can not attend to to it for us, will you please inform me who to apply to. If you can, please give us two notes--one for me and one for my husband. My husband is living in Ala. and I am living in Ga. The reason we are not living together is he is in a contract on a plantation and can not leave until the end of the year. I left the neighborhood knowing that the white people would be against me for marrying this colored gentleman.

I am living with my husband's Uncle in Georgetown, Ga. If you can understand my trouble by this letter and can help me out, please do so as soon as you can and I never can thank you for as long as I live. I will now give you my husband's name--Sandy Alexander Hall lives near Eufala Barbour Co., Ala. My name is Carrie Hall living in Georgetown, Ga. I write you confidentially. Please answer this as soon as you can and excuse my bad writing and spelling and also the letter. I wrote it in the best of my knowledge, and hope you might understand it.,

Yours,
Very Respectfully,
Carrie Hall


The letter itself is moving, and infinitely more interesting than anything one might find on the TV. But it's the comments to this story. . . . TNC's place is famous for the quality of its commenters, but there's more to it than that this time. No spoiler here, Just go read.

There are a lot of comments. The part I'm so amazed by is near the end of them, but . . . Worth It. Definitely.

Also typical


Months ago was I found myself trapped in the waiting room at the car dealer’s place while the car was getting its checkup, etc. The TV was tuned to some cable news channel – I don’t remember which one – and the “story” was about the level of transparency of Venus Williams’ underwear. Evidently it was not opaque enough to suit someone or other, and the pretty, young, blond anchorperson was going on hysterically – and endlessly – about it. Sometimes consulting her sidekick about whether or not he agreed (which he emphatically did, of course).

Now not only was I completely uninterested in Venus Williams underwear and pretty appalled that a discussion of same was considered “news,” she really only had three things to say about it: You could practically see through it! Isn’t that Awful! And doesn’t it set a Terrible Example for The Children! So she just kept repeating those three points over and over making the whole thing excruciatingly boring on top of everything else.

I tried unsuccessfully to tune it out for about 30 minutes until I finally fled to stand out in the parking lot even though it was cold and rainy that day. Someone who worked there asked why I was standing out in the cold and rain and when I told him, showed me a blessedly TV-free waiting room that I hadn’t known about before. It was lovely.

So this is the other reason I don't watch TV news. If it's a marginally important or relevant story, they get it appallingly wrong. The rest of the time they're going on about something totally ridiculous. I don't know if they were wrong about Venus Williams' underwear.

I.Don't.Care. about it.

[posted on 12/30/10]

Typical


This is a blog post about a story that was widely reported on the TV news. Note that a local TV news channel is the source of the blog post, but if I didn't read blogs, there's no way I'd see a story done by a San Diego TV station.

Still Making An Innocent Man Look Bad
by Conor Friedersdorf

There’s a guy named Juan Carlos Vera. He worked at an ACORN office in San Diego, California. One day, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles walked in with a hidden video camera, and pretended to be a pimp and prostitute. They asked for help smuggling underage girls across the Mexican border so that they could work in a brothel. Confronted with what appeared to be a sex trafficking plot, you’d hope that someone would play along, get as much information as possible, and call the police. And guess what? That’s exactly what Mr. Vera did! Unbeknownst to O’Keefe or Giles, he called his cousin, a police officer, shortly after they left his office.

Perhaps you know what happened next. Having cut his teeth editing The Drudge Report and its notoriously misleading headlines, Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart published the ACORN videos, which fooled me at the time – I praised them, and even encouraged Breitbart to pressure attorneys general into investigating the organization. I’ve never felt like such a fool. Some of the ACORN tapes reflect very badly on that organization, but taken as a whole, they are misleading in a lot of ways.

The San Diego ACORN video was particularly misleading.

Put another way, Andrew Breitbart published videos that made an innocent man look as if he was complicit in a plot to traffic underage girls across the border. Granted, he didn’t do this on purpose. Still, it happened. And it cost the guy his job:

A man fired from ACORN’s San Diego-area office for discussing human smuggling with a fake pimp and prostitute;reported the incident to police two days after it happened, according to information released by the police. Juan Carlos Vera was fired by ACORN after a videotape was aired on Fox News showing him discussing with a couple posed as a pimp and a prostitute the best ways to smuggle underage prostitutes into the U.S. from El Salvador.


It’s better if it’s in Tijuana, Vera is heard saying in the video. Because I have a lot of contacts in Tijuana.

But police said in a press release that Vera reported the incident to his cousin, a detective with the National City Police Department. Vera worked in ACORN’s National City office. The detective contacted a federal task force that deals with human smuggling, and an officer from the task force asked for more details.

After publishing videos of Vera that made him look like a sex trafficker and costing the man his job, did Breitbart explain how the mistake happened, apologize and correct the record? Did he alert his readers to the truth? Having expressed outrage at the media on countless occasions for trafficking in serious accusations that weren’t grounded in facts, did he behave better after realizing that he’d done exactly the same thing?

Nope. As far as I know, neither an apology nor a correction has ever appeared. The vast majority of his readership remains misinformed. The San Diego videos remain posted at Big Government, misleading as ever. I’ve attempted to get Breitbart and O’Keefe to address this. No luck. But Breitbart has a habit of having long, often profane arguments with his detractors on Twitter. A guy named Frank Vayan Walton raised the subject of Vera. And here is how Breitbart responded on December 27, 2010 (brackets are my added context):

Juan Vera called [his police officer] cousin LONG after videos were filmed - when James [O’Keefe] refused to hook up w him to help girls over border. Try again!

After examining phone records and conducting interviews with two police officers, the California Attorney General’s Office reported [PDF] this about O’Keefe and Giles’ visit with Vera: "Immediately after the couple left, Vera telephoned his cousin, Detective Alejandro Hernandez, at the National City Police Department.

The report goes on:

He left a voicemail message for Detective Hernandez stating that some “crazy people” were in his office providing information. Vera did not explain the substance of the conversation and did not make reference to prostitution or human smuggling on the message. He asked his cousin to call him back. Later that day, Vera also reported the incident to fellow ACORN employee Cruz Acosta. Acosta had been away from the office while the couple was present. Vera explained to him what happened. Vera also reported the incident, either the same day or shortly thereafter, to Mar Murrillon, an ACORN board member. Vera told Murrillon that he had reported the incident to the police. (Vera Interview.) Vera eventually spoke with Detective Hernandez on August 27, 2009.

So Breitbart is factually wrong. He is also still insinuating than an innocent man was willing to be complicit in the transnational smuggling of underage prostitutes. All this seems like a story to me! Something that would be of interest to folks on the press beat like Howard Kurtz or Jack Shafer or others. And shouldn’t all the press outlets that wrote about the ACORN tapes from San Diego note this development? . . .


Well, yes. They should. But they won’t. Which is why I no longer read, watch, or listen to any of them. Note that although I already knew this part of the story (from an online source)

Let's review their story:

O'Keefe, dressed as a pimp, and Giles, disguised as a prostitute, visited ACORN offices where they asked for assistance purchasing a home. They claimed to have difficulty documenting income derived from the streets. But they had so much money! In fact, it wasn't just the two of them -- they had a whole crew of underage girls from El Salvador turning tricks for them. Hell, they had so much money, they needed help laundering it for the pimp's run for Congress.

Now let's tell the truth.

The truth is that O'Keefe never wore the pimp outfit into an ACORN office. Instead, he posed as a candidate for Congress that wanted to help a young woman caught in the trappings of prostitution. Supposedly, he wanted to help her, and her fellow prostitutes, escape the clutches of a brutal pimp by finding a place for them to live.


I didn’t know the part about the San Diego ACORN worker reporting the incident to the police. Immediately.

And even Conor, above, omits this part:

For instance, a much-publicized recording of a visit to the San Diego office, in which an employee is purportedly seeking information to help smuggle underage girls from Mexico into the United States to work as prostitutes, did not mention that the employee's 'contact' in Mexico was actually a police official. The employee collected as much specific information as possible, then contacted Mexican police, warning them of the plot.

Anyway, all that seems pretty typical of how the traditional media works. Get all hysterical about something scandalous (transparent underwear! pimps and postitutes!) and then never bother to do any actual research or follow up. And even when there’s plenty of correct information out there – gathered by others, of course, because they can’t be bothered . . . OMG there’s another scandalous thing to share with our viewers! – they never make a correction. They just let people go on believing the wrong thing that they reported in the first place.

As I said this is why I no longer read, watch, or listen to any of them.

[posted on 12/30/10]