Bill Cosby: Full Press Court

This week, comedian Bill Cosby resigned as a trustee of Temple University in Philadelphia, on whose board he sat 32 years.

Bill Cosby, 2010. Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Bill Cosby, 2010. Public domain (Wikimedia Commons)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the decision came after a petition drive and other pressure on the performer’s alma mater, which followed a flurry of news this fall on years’-old allegations of sexual assaults, for which Cosby never has been charged. The newspaper stated Dec. 1 that “at least 20 women” have accused him of drugging then having sexual relations with them.

Cosby, 77, said he resigned because “I have always wanted to do what would be in the best interests of the university and its students.”

Where do the Cosby allegations fit in journalism ethics? Media critics have noted the standard for entertainment journalism, where Cosby stories usually run, can be softer.

Yet the accusations have not been hidden. When the performer was sued, it was reported. When responsible media have published or aired general profiles of Cosby, the allegations have been included.

In November, two respected journalists have written that they wished they had placed more emphasis on this aspect when they wrote about him.

The ethics lesson here is balance but also appropriateness.

As an example, charges Bill Clinton perjured and concealed his  “relations” with Monica Lewinsky brought about his 1998 impeachment in the House and the Senate’s acquittal in 1999. General profiles on the former president in the years since devote some space to the topic. Focused journalism, however, such as interviews targeting his views on foreign relations or his nonprofit works, give it no coverage.

Neither Carr nor Coates state in their commentaries that they should’ve confronted Cosby but that they wished they had done more research. That makes the following headlines curious.

  • “Bill Cosby Stays Silent amid New Allegations,” USA Today, Nov. 23
  • “What I Wish I’d Asked Bill Cosby: How I learned that Entertainment Journalists Can Play Hardball Too,”, Nov. 20
  • “Bill Cosby Tries to Pressure an AP Reporter Into Editing Out Rape Allegations,” Newsweek, Nov. 20
  • “Bill Cosby Will Not Comment on Sexual Assault Allegations, Says Lawyer,” Variety, Nov. 16
  • “In NPR Interview, Cosby Declines to Discuss Assault,” NPR, Nov. 15

Strong reporting includes interviewing all parties involved. Yet what is Bill Cosby going to say in 2014? Yes he did? No he didn’t? Something in between? If he spoke — he only issued a statement about his Temple resignation — would readers, listeners and viewers believe him?

Ethical journalists realize the Fourth Estate has no judiciary power, although the “court of public opinion” has thrived throughout history. That body has no Bible for sworn testimony; that’s what journalistic fact-finding is for.

Reporters have to be resolute with their subjects, from crime exposes to Hollywood features. If commentators are shocked, shocked that Cosby asked to the point of veiled threats for the AP reporter to cut the scandal part of their video discussion, they conveniently forget sources at all levels try to manipulate their stories.

Solid journalism, however, means more than mike-in-the-face: What did happen between Cosby and these women? Where was law enforcement at the time? What can be discovered from the civil litigation some of the women attempted? How did media mishandle the claims when they were first made?

Coates elaborates on his essay in a 7-minute audio podcast from NPR’s On the Media. Bill Wyman asks in The Columbia Journalism Review, “Where Were the Journalists 10 Years Ago?

• • •

Note: While fin­ished Dec. 4, 2014, this Brick was pub­lished the evening of July 18, 2015.

Ethos Ethics Ethicker Ethicist

Spring for journalists marks the end of contest entry season and the beginning of conferences and workshops. Heavy thinking threatens the daffodils.

Collecting arrows at Dunster Archery competition, Somerset, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Collecting arrows and scoring at a 2009 Somerset (UK) archery competition.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ethics committees of two groups, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Online News Association, are marking this climate change with proposals. SPJ’s is revising its Code of Ethics, last dolled up in 1996, and ONA’s panel wants a new approach it calls “Build Your Own Ethics Code.”

A key difference: SPJ will engrave its code in stone and ONA plans continual updating. One similarity is prominent: How ethics (singular noun) effects Internet news.

Or commentary, for that matter. (My gang, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, has a Code of Conduct, set in 2009. Valid in any medium.)

A point by point breakdown can’t be done until ONA completes its list. Until then, here’s their links:

Even their postings’ titles (which I’ve edited for form) indicate a significant issue. Ethics has a reputation as the Law’s wayward brother — while the Law graduated with high honors and is out making a name for itself, ethics still is in school, partying with the attitude, “Whatever, Dude.”

If you can go to jail or lose a lawsuit, it’s the Law. Ethics runs into its brother and bounces off: It is the agreement we journalists have with our audience; it’s how news providers are trusted to be as complete and fair as possible in the moment and not too offensive. While the Law has exceptions, Ethics functions by its elasticity.

Continue reading

Two Tales, or Maybe One

Ethics Presentation for “News Reporting II”

(This is not a blog post per se but an outline for a talk I’m giving to a class. It’s not a PowerPoint-like slide show, although a short video is included. It’s both for my use and for students if they wish to check links etc.)

Kitty Genovese, from March 27, 1964, New York Times article, "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police"
Kitty Genovese, from March 27, 1964, New York Times article, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the PThisolice”

I. The slaying for apparently 50 years has been a topic for sermons, and teen and undergrad discussions — “What has this country come to?” and the like.

A. It’s general ethics, not journalism ethics.

B. Until 10 years ago when it moved over to media ethics. “Kitty, 40 Years Later,” by Jim Rasenberger, The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2004

C. And this month: “A Call for Help: What the Kitty Genovese Story Really Means,” by Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, March 10, 2013. Lemann is former dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

II. The story we all were told by NYT, March 27 and 28, 1964

Winston Moseley, Booking photograph, April 1, 1964
Winston Moseley, Booking photograph, April 1, 1964

Kew Gardens, Queens. 38 unnamed witnesses to fatal stabbing and rape, says police commish to metro editor, none tried to stop attack or call police. Suspect of this and other similar attacks: Winston Moseley. This victim, bar manager Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. It took him three separate attacks to kill her.

III. The uncovered story

Two attacks in 35-minute span. Witness Robert Mozer’s yells ended first attack, which is in the open; two others called police. Ambulance arrives at site of second attack, interior hall, neighbor Sophia Farrar holds a dying Genovese.

Witness Joseph Fink took a nap after first attack. Witness Karl Ross saw both attacks, called two friends to ask for advice, 2nd pal said come over then he called police.

IV. Principals – Journo

A.M. Rosenthal, 41, wrote his account Thirty-Eight Witnesses later in ’64, new edition in ’99. Main proponent of the Silent Witness angle.

NYC Police Commissioner Michael Murphy. Their lunch, March 23

Reporter Martin Gansberg. Died in 1995.

V. Principals – Real

Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, 28, bar manager, in a year-long gay relationship. Partner still alive.

Winston Moseley, 29, punch-card operator, African-American, married 2 kids. Also burglar. Confessed to this and another confirmed murder. Trial was over sanity. Eyewitnesses not called. Now 79, in prison. Escape in 1968, attacked one or two women before capture.

VI. Two books this winter

Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America, by Kevin Cook. Backs revisionist account. Says the silent, unnamed witnesses did not know what it was they heard. (Quarrel in or outside nearby bar.)

Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences, by Catherine Pelonero. Promotional site: Backs original account, though finds only 33 witnesses. Pelonero is said to argue that the ensuing outcry did so much good that using unnamed sources, if they all existed, is justified

The Christian Science Monitor also contrasts both new books. It has a link to a 3:28 local TV account about both books.

VII. The greater good

Development of the concept By-stander Effect. Defined briefly by Psychology Today and in a 2007 article in American Psychologist, noted by Lemann.

“Psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley arrived at a counterintuitive conclusion: the greater the number of bystanders who view an emergency, the smaller the chance that any will intervene. People tend to feel a ‘diffusion of responsibility,'” says the Rasenberger 2004 article.

911 emergency number — The program began in 1968. The idea had been bandied about for years. Wikipedia doesn’t mention Genovese case.

VII. Conclusions

This wasn’t good journalism, even in 1964. Ends do not justify the means. Can’t even say the exception proves the rule.

If now: Would you call 9-1-1 on your cell, and would it be before or after you shot some footage?

With Luck, a Four-way

May I predict, with perverse pleasure, the coming split of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read the Dr. Seuss children's book "Green Eggs and Ham" during his non-filibuster overnight address in the Capitol.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” during his non-filibuster 21-hour address in the Capitol.
Random House, image from University of Illinois

I am not referring to the politics as usual intra- and interparty squabbles. The GOP is as strong as ever, but it’s not without the occasional flare. Mid-month and again this week it was over the pronouncements of Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, a case of who’s more conservative.

These particular Cruz missiles likely are to be wispy memories in 13 months. But the overall point this fall is whether this man is a loner or leader of a faction.

That would be the Tea Party. Today, Gallup released a survey report indicating declining support for this far right coalition. Which could change on a Lincoln penny.

For all the posturing there is this fact: The executive branch drafted what would become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009, majorities of both houses of Congress approved it in democratically conducted votes and, last, the Supreme Court found nearly the entire law constitutional. The executive branch since has moved to implement the federal law along with all 50 “several states.”

Democrats as usual face at least one similar split. The simultaneous popularity and vulnerability of Hillary Rodham Clinton makes the party nervous. Still, the people’s party historically is fractious. “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat,” said Will Rogers, 1879-1935.

There’s a deeper split going on, and I want to point it out without penning an encyclopedic proof-text.

Domestically, the Edward Snowden release of National Security Agency documents — not of secret-secrets but more of how post-9/11 policies have come to be implemented — has created parallel rifts in the parties.

One might think liberals would herald “openness,” but progressives worry about America becoming vulnerable. One might think conservatives would value a weakening of the federal government, but some right-wingers value privacy for citizens, a constitutionally protected civil liberty. And on and on.

Matters such as this could confound the November 2014 elections.

In foreign policy, who’s an isolationist and who’s an interventionist? In recent weeks this debate has concerned Syria and its civil war. The violence has waxed and waned until a documented gassing of civilians has gelled into treaty discussions as well.

Caring, well-informed friends can’t figure out how to stop another holocaust. Should Washington interfere, at the seemingly likely cost of innocent Syrian (and American) lives? Should it instead let the dictator Assad continue to quash Syrian rebels any way he chooses? Of the various middle grounds, such as highly targeted drone strikes, are they too small in focus to do any good?

Back in early July, foreign policy debate concerned the military coup that ousted elected (and with Western supervision) President Mohamed Morsi. Yet Morsi is a leader of Egypt’s fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (which would seem to have no auxiliary Muslim Sisterhood), which by Western lights is not pro-democracy?

Where can Egypt go from here? This cradle of the Arab Spring now seems a mockery of the idealism that thrilled so many of us.

Matters such as this could confound the November 2014 elections.

I think the NSA has deeper implications than national health care, until it’s had a couple of years for its kinks to be ironed out. The Arab clashes have longer pull than, say, China trade, which continues to be fairly well controlled.

My ego wants my hunches on record. A set of reflections like this won’t really do anyone much intrinsic good, especially me. The most I can get out of this might be an “I told you so,” and those have been satisfying since childhood. Nyah nyah nyah!

While I’m at it, I don’t believe Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. Both she and Vice President Joe Biden will be just a little too old. Outside of Ronald Reagan, recent first-term presidents have started lots younger than 70.

I don’t really see fully split Republicans and Democrats, because it’s not quite happened before. These 20-teen years are not worse than any other strife-filled period. Certainly not the Good Old Days.

Running Down Pressure Cookers

I’ve used pressure cookers for 25 years. My current beauty is this “Fagor Splendid” 4-quart model. We eat delectables from it two or three times a week.

Diagram of a Fagor Splendid pressure cooker
How pressure cooker cooks under pressure. Shown is a Fagor Splendid.

My pressure cooker is unlicensed, and it’s gonna stay that way. The gummit better keep its cotton-pickin’ hands off it and out of my kitchen.

How did I get started in this? There was a cooking demonstration at a Dillard’s in the Little Rock area in about 1989. The teacher was cookbook author Lorna Sass. No fool, I left for Wal-Mart and bought a cheap one there (she told us what safety features to watch for). And then to B.Dalton for Sass’ now-classic book on the device Cooking Under Pressure (since then I’ve bought her Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen and most recently Pressure Perfect).

There were no background checks or registration in the 1980s or recently on pressure cookers. That Mirro lasted through the last decade. I bought this sleek European model in late 2011 — on the Internet. Fagor is based in Spain, incidentally.

Those were innocent times.

Pressure cookers have gotten bad press from the beginning, but their energy efficiency kept them popular in many countries. In recent decades, though, essentially all of them have multiple steam escape valves and locking devices to prevent accidents.

Sadly, following the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon attack, we learn they can be a component in homemade bombs, or as they’re now called, IEDs, improvised explosive devices.

The pressure cooker is a mainstay for quickly cooking barley, rice, beans, stews, soups. It works great on meat and poultry, but as a vegetarian since summer 1990 (and in recent weeks moved all the way to being a vegan) I’ve found it superb for whole grains, including steel-cut oats, and preparing legumes without soaking them, allowing for less meal-planning for a change.

The stovetop pressure cooker suits me far better than an electric slow cooker (Crock Pot). The purpose is largely the same, oddly: To minimize the time getting dinner on the table after work.

It’s our right as Americans:

Healthy wholesome foods guarantee us a strong Constitution.

Copyright 2013 Ben S. Pollock

If Soldiers Are Quartered, Only Militias Will Be Regulated

Ben Pollock, leaving a big meeting, October 2010
The author, leaving a big meeting, 2010

The Second Amendment has had a free ride for too long. Sure, laws and regulations on firearms purchases have been developed from it, but numerous events indicate their effectiveness is minimal.

Now that it’s 72 hours after a 20-year-old whacko killed his gun-loving mother and took her guns to a nearby grade school, killed 20 young children, six adults then shot himself in the head, we pinkos (as opposed to the reddies and the bluesers) should admit that maybe Newtown couldn’t have been prevented. Mama Whack owned the weaponry, apparently legally. Twenty Whack’s issues probably didn’t look that threatening, before Dec. 14.

We can’t arrest someone before a crime; Minority Report is science fiction. For a few more years.

But quickly and decisively revising who gets to possess which kinds of arms can have an impact on the enraged  attitude of “I’ll Show Them.” Other countries have whackos — Norway and China are recent examples — but with America, second place is no contest. The explanation: Other countries control weapons more stringently.

Revising a mental health care system will take longer than a couple of months. Mainstreaming the emotionally dysfunctional decades ago was intended to curb cruel, ineffective practices. Exchanging one extreme for the other causes its own failures too often.

In short, let’s not fight the last war.

We did not stop Twenty-Whack or the other dozens of Yankee psycho shoot-em-ups of recent years.

Let’s plan for the next war.

We start by setting fire to the Straw Man, in this circumstance, the Second Amendment.

Here’s the old sentence itself, straight from the quill pen of Little Jimmy Madison:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Not even the First Amendment has had the same kind of liberty over the centuries: Courts give freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly and petition a nearly limitless berth. But these tolerate some boundaries.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

What are the constraints on the First Amendment? There are any number of relatively specific limits and expansions (watch the double negatives, legal beagles), such as the recent Citizens United case allowing corporations freedom of speech with which to support or vilify political candidates.

Yet there remains a sweeping Freedom of Speech impediment, and a comparable stumbling block needs to be set before the foot of the Second Amendment. “FIRE!”

Nearly a century ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment does not protect against maliciously causing a panic.

Americans do not have the right to create a “clear and present danger,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., writing for the court. His sentence: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

The Constitution and its Amendments comprise a living document. This case, Schenk v. United States, seems overly limiting to civil liberties. In fact the ruling was overturned 50 years later in Brandenburg v. Ohio. But the “shouting fire” example holds.

The Constitution gains its strength from being reconfigured for each era. That’s why the Third Amendment has been ignored:

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

If there is a limit to extraordinarily reckless or malicious speech, in causing panics or riots, why can’t a liberty loving republic control the violent possibilities of reckless or malicious people?

Have you noticed? I am no lawyer.

But our nation can’t keep handicapping itself with laws that don’t actually exist. State Guard units have nada to do with owning firearms for marksmanship, personal protection and for hunting. The best that 18-century guns could fire was three shots a minute. Since then, the number of people hurt and killed by gun mishaps is heartbreaking.

We can help the irrationally violent better than we have been. (By help I mean hinder them.) We can control weapons to a greater degree. We must.

Copyright 2012 Ben S. Pollock