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News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Fake news by any other name is lies

Fergus Falls, near the Dakota borders
The town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, is recovering from a bad case of journalistic malpractice.  At the time of Trump's inauguration, the German magazine Der Spiegel dispatched a star reporter to go to the U.S. heartland and do a story on the rural Americans who supported Trump.  He picked Fergus Falls as his focal point and did a story that was published in March 2017.  The story was defamatory about the town, and nearly everything in it was made up.  Some community members took up the task of setting the facts straight and published a detailed fact check.  The reporter was fired.

The incident illustrates what happens when a reporter abandons the essential rules of professional journalism and uses a mass medium to advance a viewpoint rather than carefully report the facts.  Fortunately, the same freedom of the press that makes it possible for a reporter to publish false defamations  enabled two citizens of Fergus Falls to publish a corrective that counteracted the misinformation.  In doing so they also took a major action in bolstering the integrity of the press.  But the lies reported as facts decay the public trust in journalistic reports and disorient the ability to discern facts.

Donald Trump constantly accuses the media of fake news.  A long-time editor who has covered Trump's biography over the years has said part of that comes from Trump's assumption that all enterprises are as fraudulent as his.  He is incapable of understanding human enterprises based upon truth or why honesty must be the foundation of any beneficent human endeavor.  Lies are a lethal cancer to human society.  Trump's infantile mind is so ego-bound that he can't see any point to human good let alone grasp what contributes to it.

Journalism is the nervous system of democracy.  It alerts the people to when the democratic processes go awry.  Just as the human body sends no constant signals when matters are going well, journalism does not keep an outpouring of "good news."  But when the body malfunctions, it lets us know.  That's why a prominent aspect of journalism is bad news; it is letting us know when something in the democracy is not working right.  When a journalist sends a false alarm, it has a very disruptive and destructive effect on democratic life.  It disorients us as to what is true and what is not.

Unfortunately, there are journalists who send false alarm signals.  I worked with one.  She was a journalist who spent 30 days in jail for contempt of court when she refused to reveal the source of a court document on which she based a story about bribery in a Colorado court system.  She gained fame throughout the nation, and was alleged to have made the cover of Life magazine.  (I have searched the Life archives and could find no such issue.)  Shortly after serving her sentence, she came to a newspaper in my community for which I once worked in the sports department.  She left that paper and worked as a features writer for my home town paper and was working there when I got a job as its farm and business editor.  I and some other of her fellow journalists noted some problems with the accuracy and veracity of her work.

A notable occasion was when she wrote a story that a gambling syndicate  was operating in our rural areas and sponsoring cock and dog fights where heavy betting took place.  She took a picture of a farm at which cars were parked in a field and at the side of the nearby road.  She claimed in the story that she was not allowed admittance to the barn where the events were taking place but interviewed people coming and going who told her what was going on.  She did not, however, identify where the farm was and the photograph that she used to illustrate her story was of the cars parked in the foreground with farm buildings showing in the background.  

One of the cars in the picture was a white Dodge station wagon with a discernible license plate.  It was the company car assigned to me.  I pointed the photo out to the editor's secretary whose job it was to coordinate the use of cars.  When I wasn't out traveling around and would be in the office not using the car,  I turned the keys in to her so that other reporters or photographers could use it for their assignments.  We referred to the company vehicles by the last two numbers of their license plates.  My assigned car was 67.  So, there was number 67 shown being parked at a farm one Saturday afternoon where the story said people gathered to bet on cock fights and dog fights.  

I was at this farm doing a story which ran in the farm section the day after the story about illegal animal fights and gambling ran.  I was covering a 4-H event.  The farm belonged to a family very active in 4-H work.  They were hosting a workshop at which specialists from the university college of agriculture and extension service were instructing kids on handling and grooming farm animals they would be showing at county fairs and 4-H shows over the summer.  It was a huge event to which the kids hauled their project animals and were provided a barbecue picnic by 4-H sponsors.

The editor's secretary and I pondered how the feature writer came up with the animal-fighting and gambling story.  We were left pondering, but the secretary, of course, pointed out the conflicts to the editor.

He was confronted with a problem.  The reporter who had been jailed for refusing to reveal a source brought attention to the papers at which she worked.  They could claim they had a "star" on their staff.  But if that "star" was found to make stories up, the publicity could be very damaging to the paper.  If the family who hosted the 4-H workshop recognized that a photo of their farm was used to show the site of a gambling racket, they could sue the paper, which could cost money, and. worse, could damage the reputation of the newspaper.  The editor realized that if a correction were published in the newspaper, it would call attention to the matter.  He chose the option of hoping that the gambling story would soon be forgotten and the problem would wither away in the memory of the readership.

The paper continued to promote and support the feature writer.  She was one of the reasons I left journalism.  Other editors and reporters, including me, were dismayed that we worked hard to dig out and verify facts and strove to be accurate and reliable, and created the journalistic platform on which the feature writer could perform her fraudulent act.  At one point, seven of we younger reporters and editors took out an ad in Editor and Publisher, the professional journal, to advertise that we were available for jobs.  Most of them found other jobs.  I took advantage of the GI Bill and went to graduate school.  

I ended up teaching English and journalism.  At a conference for journalists, I met an editor who worked in Colorado and knew the feature editor when she worked there.  He said that despite the fame she earned for refusing to reveal her source, other journalists who worked with her wondered if she had a source.  She did not have a good reputation among other journalists, and left Colorado shortly after she served her 30 days in jail.  He pointed out that the governor and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to revoke her sentence, and her job history was one of moving from a large newspaper to increasingly smaller ones.  She had gained fame for standing up for a principle of journalism, but her actual work did not adhere to the principles of truth, accuracy, and integrity.  Her colleague from Colorado said that while the woman was lauded for her courage in protecting an alleged source, nobody else in journalism had the courage to point out that she was a damned liar.  And that included the paper I worked for.

It is noteworthy that the two people who took responsibility to correct the facts in the Der Spiegel article about Fergus Falls are not journalists, but people who care about the damage that lies do to the community and the people around them.  The biggest source of lies pervading the media currently is Donald Trump, and the media soft-pedals his lies by terming them "misleading" or "without foundation."  We've reached a point where the nation is divided between his supporters who deny and want  to believe the lies of Trump and those who realize that these people are the vectors of a disease that is deteriorating all the benefits of a democracy.  

Those folks in Fergus Falls have the courage and the intelligence to call a lie a lie and show why it is a lie.  That is what real news is.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Trump gives a us a daily insight into how some CEOs think and work

I have written before about how badly Trump has been thought of by the honest business community.  A retired commercial banker and I were discussing the problems of sorting honest and competent CEOs from the sleazy and pretentious.  I faced the problems as a business editor who had to decide what to write about them; him as a banker who had to decide whether to lend them money.  Grifters and scammers were not difficult to identify and dismiss.  The real problems were sleaze who held executive positions in established companies.  The banker had an easier time of it with them, because he could turn down their loan requests, and his employer would laud him for being careful with the bank's money.  I faced the problem of possessing information about some CEOs which was matters of bad character, sometimes in gravely dangerous ways.  

A factor back when I was part of the working press was the way libel laws were applied.  Libel laws have been created and given precedents with a special partiality shown business.  However, back then  libel was a fairly straightforward matter.  If something was published about an individual that was negative and untrue, it was libelous and damages were assumed.  Truth was the defense against a charge of libel.  But what is true had to be backed up with witnesses and documentation.  Business reporters often have inside sources, but those sources want to remain confidential so they won't lose their jobs.  So, even if one had confirmed and verified information about misdeeds of a CEO, his accusers would not publicly allow their names to be used as witnesses.  The CEO could file a libel suit, and no witnesses would be available to testify.  As a professional code, reporters do not reveal confidential sources, but neither do they print news that cannot be backed up with identified sources.  Recently, with Trump, however, the media are quoting unidentified sources more and more to inform the people of how corrupt their government has become.

I covered CEOs who were upstanding and honorable and ran their companies with a respect for their employees and their customers. I also covered many who were absolute sleaze bags.  To them, their customers were gulls to be fooled and ripped off.  They regarded their employees as expendable serfs.  Their companies were run with a culture of fear and deception.  They were all about power and using it to control those under them.

One characteristic of the sleazy CEOs is that they create images of themselves and their companies that are total fabrications.  The live by the rule that you are what you appear to be, so they devote themselves to the image they project.

When such CEOs listed their accomplishments, they did not hold up under fact-checking.  They appropriated the accomplishments of their employees and called them their own.  Honest CEOs credited their employees.  But the sleaze bags ferreted out those employees who depended upon being puppets for the boss to get ahead, and promoted them to key positions.  Employees with talent and ability were exploited, but kept in low-level positions under the schemes of the executive team.  When those employees realized the nature of the outfit they were working for, they usually started looking for jobs elsewhere.  Some found ways to call attention to their achievements and ways to circumvent the executive staff.  Those that left, however, would unload to the press and anyone else willing to listen about the oppressive conditions of the company they left.

A big question about CEOs is how they obtain the millions and millions in salary and bonuses and is what they do anywhere near worth it?  Corporations are feudal in nature. The operating principle in many of them is the same as that of a feudal estate.  The estate is headed by a lord of the manor who has authority over every thing, living and none living, on the estate.  Feudal estates and corporations were conceived to deny liberty and equality as conditions of life.  The head of the estate lives in luxury while those under him live according to his whim.

CEOs of those kind of corporations are shameless liars.  They lie to avoid blame, avoid responsibility for their actions, and to keep the corporation in a state of confusion.  Their objective is to monopolize wealth and power for themselves and keep their underlings in a state of obsequious dependence.  When questioned about what they have accomplished to deserve their salaries and bonuses, they quickly point to the achievements of those below them and take full, personal credit for them.  The are responsible only to their boards of directors and shareholders who are kept happy by sharing in the corporate wealth.   Their customers are regarded as sheep to be fleeced, their employees as servants to be controlled, and the communities in which they operate as geography to be exploited, and often polluted.

 No word of the sleaze CEOs can be believed or trusted.  They assemble around them as their chief assistants a gaggle of sycophants whose major talent is sucking and supporting the boss and intimidating any employees who challenge their word.  Although the lying is a reflection of the absence of character and principle in the executives, it has the practical effect of keeping the employees disoriented so that they just keep their heads down and do their work.  This executive arrangement is often indicated by companies who provide lavish bonuses to their executives without any explanation of what they did to earn them.  They protect and reward each other through a bond of perfidy.  They follow the same methods of control used by organized crime syndicates.

Private corporations can keep their perfidious nature relatively secret through threats and intimidation, but when this arrangement is applied to the White House which is under constant scrutiny by a free press, a daily deluge of leaks informs the nation about the incompetence and perfidy of the executives.

The Trump Organization is one of the sleaze companies, and Trump brought its unscrupulous and conniving dishonesty to the White House.  The degradation in which Trump operates is common to a section of corporations.  

There are ethical corporations which strive for quality in their products and services, in respect of their employees, and in their contributions to community,  but there are companies which expend huge amounts of money on public relations campaigns which cover up their predatory and perfidious modes of operation.

Willful ignorance and a fascination with totalitarian and criminal life among the American people has brought the nation to the point where it is ruled according to the dictates of a crime mob boss.  Americans have fixed on the stories of The Godfather and The Sopranos with uncritical admiration for the lifestyle.  To many, the denial of democratic principles of liberty, equality, and justice is something they regard with admiration.  When Trump exhibited the characteristics of a mob boss, characteristics common to most of "reality television," many watched with assent and applause.  Over a third of the people, according to opinion polls, express approval of Trump and his crime syndicate way of operating. If contestants did not meet his notions of obedience, he dismissed them with a blunt "you're fired."  It was uttered with the same spirit as a mob boss ordering "get rid" of the person.  

Since that retired banker from Chicago told me of how Trump was detested by his business associates in the mid-1980s, I have never heard a positive word about Donald Trump.  There have been somewhat neutral reports about his enterprises, but they all had back stories about his business failures and bankruptcies, about his stiffing of contractors and customers, and about his cheating lifestyle.  

Since Trump became president,  reports about his insidious foolery are are a daily part of the news.  He has attempted to diminish the reports by dismissing them as fake news and whining about the unfairness of the press.  In one aspect his term "fake news" is accurate because it is news about his fakery.  The news does seem to be critical, but reporters are hard pressed to find one act of Trump's that demonstrates decency, let alone can inspire admiration.  The only person that extolls his virtues is Trump.  

A few decades ago, corporate executives complained that the public was critical and diffident about business corporations.  Corporations launched a public relations blitz extolling the contributions of business and creating an image of corporate beneficence.  The blitz was effective to a lot of uncritical minds, as it tried to make it unpatriotic to be critical of corporations.  Many Americans have come to regard the business community as medieval serfs regarded their lords and masters:  they think they owe their livelihoods to the company and should live in a state of obsequious gratitude.  The people who support Trump are perpetual serfs who cannot grasp that democracy is an antidotes to the feudal state in which they choose to live.  They see Trump, a person defined by a total rottenness, as a lord and savior because he has wealth and power.  They do not see that democracy is a corrective to the inherent corruption that drives people to acquire that kind of wealth and power.  They hope that their submission will inspire their lords and masters to throw some morsels of wealth and power their way and allow them to live.  The American revolution and the consequent evolution of democratic personhood has not touched their minds yet.

Trump has put on display the folly and treachery that exists in some corporations, which chafe under a government of democratic principle.  To them democracy is an obstacle to be defeated, if possible.  And almost every action by CEO Trump is intended to accomplish that defeat.

If America survives Trump as a republican democracy, it will be because the people perceived what a menace he and other CEOs who pose as monarchs really are to their lives.

That distinction is not between Republican and Democrat.  It is between living as a serf and freeman.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mike Rounds shows the feds how South Dakota corruption works

A Sioux Falls lawyer who the American Bar Association deemed "not qualified" has been given a lifetime appointment as a federal Judge.  He made history when for the first time in the nation's history, the Vice President cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm a judge.

The judge is Jonathan Kobes, Sen. Mike Rounds' general counsel.  In corrupt regimes, it is typical to give unqualified people big jobs, because they have a debt of gratitude to the people who put them in the jobs.  (Brown County seems to be a case in point.)  The American Bar Association rated Kobes as not qualified because he hadn't demonstrated "the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required of a United States Circuit Court Judge." 

Another aspect of the corruption is the movement spurred by Trump to turn the judiciary into a political arm to enforce the policies and prejudices of the party in power.  Judges are not nominated because of their record of judicial impartiality and competence, but because of partisan beliefs and demonstrated obedience to the politicians who sponsor them.    And so, a fellow deemed "not qualified" by his fellow attorneys is appointed to a lifetime position on the bench,

CBS News carries the full story.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

One democracy dead, 49 more to go, as the GOP executes the nation

As happened in the state of Wisconsin this week, democracy is being put to death.

When one notes that democracy is under threat in America, there are those who will proclaim that the United States was never a democracy, but a republic.  Most students of the United States point out that a republic is a method of administering a democracy through electing representatives to make and debate the legislation that runs the democracy.  Those who deny that America is a democracy are playing on the distinction between a direct democracy, through which the people are given a voice and a vote on every decision, and a republic in which the voters authorize someone to represent them in making the governmental decisions.  The idea in the republican form of democracy is that the voters hold their representatives accountable to them and in check through their votes.  But those who insist that America is a republic, not a democracy, are speaking in defense of elected representatives who act as despots, not as participants in a democracy.  

The Republican Party has become stridently anti-democratic.  It has implemented a number of ploys to nullify the votes of the majority.  The obvious evidence is that the current president holds that office despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.  The party is not interested in democratic processes, but is devoted to the acquisition of power so that it may discriminate against and oppress people it does not like.  It has adopted the hate speech of Rush Limbaugh as its moral code.   That code is essentially the same one that was the foundation on which gas ovens were built.

The GOP has worked for decades at gerrymandering.  The difference it makes can be analyzed in North Carolina, which the Chicago Tribune reports, "Despite an almost even split in the popular vote, North Carolina's congressional delegation remained overwhelmingly Republican under a map drawn by the GOP."  South Dakota districts have been drawn by the GOP legislatures to achieve the same purpose, so that Democratic votes within the state are effectively nullified.

The other tool used by the GOP is voter suppression,  in which racial groups are targeted with laws and rules that make voting difficult.  The cases of voter suppression in the recent election were numerous.

But when the election is over and Democrats have won elections, the GOP has a new ploy.  That is for the lame duck legislatures to pass laws that greatly hamper and diminish the incoming administrations in doing their jobs.  Wisconsin is a case in point.  After Gov. Scott Walker, who has used his office to undermine workers in his state, lost his seat to the Democrat superintendent of public instruction, his GOP minions in the state legislature passed laws to take away the powers of the incoming governor and attorney general.  Walker used his power to undermine the working people in his state, but his band of cronies now have passed laws that prevent the new governor from restoring the rights taken away from working people. 

Wisconsin was once a state that carefully enforced the rights of working people to be free from control by corporate autocracy.  Gov. Walker undid all that.  After taking office, he quickly revoked the rights of state employees to collectively bargain and took measures to make Wisconsin a feudal estate.  The voters realized the direction Walker was pushing the state into, and they voted him out of office.  Then his legislative cohorts went into action:

The GOP will use its power to enact last-minute laws to hurt Democratic constituencies and make it harder for Democrats to win power; if they somehow do, Republicans strip them of authority or prevent them from governing.
In denying the decision made by voters, the GOP has strongly asserted its anti-democratic policy.  It acts under the assumption that a republic gives despotic and criminally inclined leaders the power and the right to cancel the vote of the people. 

South Dakota's legislature has already subverted the will of the people.  In 2016, the people voted for an anti-corruption measure.  Three months later, the legislature counter-manded it.  With that action, the legislature took a major step toward making South Dakota an anti-democratic state.

Wisconsin is following the same kind of procedure.  However, Wisconsin has already taken actions to make it a dead democracy.  North Carolina and Michigan are working out the same plans to abolish democracy.

South Dakota has been on life support as a democracy for some time, and the voter registrations indicate that the people are resigned to being returned to the status of serfs in a feudal state.

The GOP has effectively killed democracy in Wisconsin.  The executions of democracy in North Carolina and Michigan are currently being scheduled.  Democracy in South Dakota is so feeble that it will die of its own volition.

Unless, of course, people decide they want the freedoms, the equality, and the justice commensurate with a true democracy.  Voting does not change anything, because the GOP has contrived to nullify it.  To see where the people can assert a demand for the benefits of democracy, we must look to the Yellow Vest movement in France and other European countries, and to some moments in America's past.

In the past two years we have seen some massive resistance  in our streets, but the demonstrations have been peaceful and have been dismissed as ineffectual exercises.  You want democracy?  You will have to abandon words and voting as the means to obtain it.  You may have to put on a yellow vest, mama.  Save the red dress for when you can celebrate an actual democracy.

Otherwise,  keep a black dress for its funeral.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

George H. W. Bush came to Northern State one day

It was November 9, 1987, a year before the next presidential election.  There was much speculation about who the Republicans would run to replace Ronald Reagan, whose second term was drawing to an end.  Vice President George Bush had announced his candidacy and was endorsed by Reagan.  But some aggressive competition for the GOP nomination also announced, led by Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, and included  Pat Robertson, televangelist from Virginia, Jack Kemp, U.S. representative from New York, and Pierre S. du Pont, IV, former governor of Delaware.

This was an exciting time for the staff members of the student newspaper, as they would be working side-by-side with reporters and photographers from the national media.  The process of the campaign for an incumbent vice president was intriguing to them.  They covered the horde of secret service members who came in advance, the unloading of the vice presidential limousine from the huge cargo plane, and the deployment of the agents throughout the city.  The meeting was in the ball room of the Student Union, which was packed.  I left a class, from which I had gathered a paper assignment and went directly to the Union.  I had to stand patiently by the doorway while secret service agents shuffled through the books and papers in my brief case.  I found a seat across the room from my oldest daughter's elementary school class, who came to see a living vice president of the 

Vice President Bush devoted most of his talk to issues of education.  He certainly engaged the interests of the constituents who came to see him.

But therein lies an irony.  In the election that followed a year later, the residents of Brown County, which now is reliably Republican,   voted for the Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis.  Nevertheless, the state and the nation voted overwhelmingly for George Bush.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States