Friday, June 29, 2018

What Is Missing in Trump’s Prayers

From Facebook, image on CNN posted by Dennis Stouse: Victims of Maryland shooting.

On Facebook, I saw a former student post a meme from “Occupy Democrats” that stated “President Trump has blood on his hands.” I reposted it, because I liked what the former student had written, but sadly just got the meme.

For the record, I think that meme goes too far. I don’t think President Trump is to blame for the tragedy in Maryland. But I don’t think he’s innocent, either.

Starting in his campaign, our current president has carried on a Republican tradition of using news media as a punching bag. It’s useful to note that was also the approach of President Nixon, who initiated so many political strategies that have both benefited the modern Republican party and hurt our democracy—the new southern strategy, the crude emphasis on “law and order,” the win-at-all-costs ethos that isn’t unique to Nixon among politicians, but that certainly in his case went a few evil and illegal steps too far.

And, just as global warming doesn’t cause every hurricane, President Trump doesn’t cause all acts of violence against journalists. Then again, hurricanes are more powerful and more numerous due to climate change—so it’s not an error to think that action to mitigate global warming might be a good idea in the aftermath of a hurricane (or, honestly, why wait—in the before math, too).

So it is with Trump. His hectoring of journalists at weird Trump campaign-style rallies, his penning them in and singling them out, his insistence on lies and calling media “fake” because they don’t accept his clearly non-factual statements—the drumbeat of “they are the enemies” is bound to have an impact.

That impact is not direct to the Maryland shootings, I’ll accept that. But I also just read Katy Tur’s book on the 2016 campaign. The level of hostility towards reporters encouraged by The Donald is horrifying to read about.

March 14, 2016 cartoon by Gary Varnel of The Indianapolis Star. From, the web site of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists Sadly, still true today.

The front page of the Capital Gazette today was tragic to see. Go to their web site for profiles of Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. They were members of a shrinking class in America—most were professional writers toiling to bring the best version of truth that they could obtain to their readers.
Image from

They weren’t fake. They weren’t enemies of the American people. They should not have been targets of anybody’s wrath.

I do feel a heavy heart today. Talented, bright people who labored in service of others—that’s what most newspaper journalists do—were gunned down. The tribe has lost some talented souls.

No, President Trump is not directly to blame. But his responses have been tepid and timid. He tweeted “thoughts and prayers,” which seems like political code for “I don’t take any responsibility and wont’ take any action,” and thanked the first responders. Well, OK—thank you first responders. But there was no recognition of the victims as journalists. And he ignored reporters’ requests for comment during a walk-by photo op.

Of all people, Sarah Huckabee Sanders did better. She tweeted that a “violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.” Sarah, can you talk to your boss about that?

Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, also did better. His tweet about the shooting was: “Journalists tell the stories of our communities, protect democracy & often put their lives on the line to do their jobs.”

It would have been nice to have our president echo ideas like those. But his anti-media bias is too deep, and I can draw only one conclusion.

The great enemy of the American people and of democracy? His name is Donald.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Unexpected Longevity of The Beatles

CBS image, downloaded from The Daily Mail, James Corden reacts to singing "Let it Be" with Sir Paul McCartney.

I don’t usually watch TV that late at night, but I was downloading and editing pictures last Thursday, and at 11:30 happened to have the TV tuned to “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”

As you probably know, he does an amusing segment called “Carpool Karaoke.” I happened to catch the 45th installment of that segment, which was his ride with Sir Paul McCartney.

Well, that segment generated a lot of buzz, and it was pretty delightful to watch. At one point, Corden choked up during the song “Let it Be,” which McCartney said was inspired by a dream visit from his dead mother.

Corden said his father and grandfather had played the song for him, telling him it was the best song ever recorded. “I wish my granddad were here now,” he said.

“He is,” McCartney replied.

The segment made me think of how enduring the Beatles music has become. McCartney himself said the band never expected their pop music to be popular for more than 10 years, and here we are, generations later, still choking up to sounds of “Let it Be.”

At some point, my own children discovered The Beatles. My youngest son blames “Yellow Submarine” because we had a VHS tape of the movie and it was one that they watched repeatedly when growing up. Songs like “Yellow Submarine” and others, such as “Octopus’s Garden,” have a particular appeal to young children, my son noted.

I suppose he has a point. But my own children, in their teen or young adult years, learned to appreciate other Beatles music, too.

The White Album endures.

Anyway, it’s not just my children’s generation. I have a 2-year-old grandson who is at the age where he is learning simple songs that he loves to have repeated. The alphabet song is a favorite, as is “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” We re-worked the lyrics to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” to feature his name, and on a car trips he often likes to hear that song.

But when he sings to himself, what comes out of his mouth are often Lennon-McCartney tunes. Three of his favorites are “Dear Prudence,” “Yellow Submarine” and “All Together Now.”

I graduated from high school in 1976, and I recall taking a fine arts class my senior year where one of the three teachers—it was taught by a trio including an English teacher, art teacher and music teacher—asserted that we were silly to be listening to an English band that had broken up a half decade before.

“Nobody will be studying The Beatles in 50 years,” he said. I had just purchased my first stereo and was starting to build a small record collection—featuring, among others, numerous albums by the fab four.

I very much disagreed with the teacher’s remarks and resented them. Although, in his defense, even Sir Paul didn’t think the music would endure beyond a decade.

It’s 2018 now. The 1960s and its music was long ago. Among the soundtrack that endures from that time, nothing matches The Beatles. It’s probably not the best music or most complex or most deeply meaningful. I think one reason that the sound of that band still resonates is that they came on the scene as popular music evolved from frothy pop rock and roll to other, deeper themes and sounds. And the Beatles catalog features such diverse songs as “She Loves You” to “In My Life.”

McCartney was wistful on the TV as he contemplated the long, strange journey the band its music has been on. I’m not a music expert, but I am pleased to have lived long enough to realize my high school music teacher was mistaken on this point--that five decades after they were first popular, plenty of people still care about and talk about The Beatles.

And it’s wonderful to hear “All Together Now” in the light, fun voice of a 2-year-old newly minted Beatles fan.

Videos of my grandson’s favorite Beatles songs, for your listening pleasure now and in future years:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

MMU Student Publishes Story in The Gazette

Image from The Gazette's web site--taken by Madelyn Orton MMU student, who wrote a feature about women who coach college men and high school boys. Shown is Hudson boys’ soccer coach Sue Rink during a Friday night game.

It was especially nice to see the Sunday Gazette this morning, due to the sports section.

This feature story, the visual anchor of the front page of the sports section, was a project a Mount Mercy University student did in an MMU journalism class.

Madelyn Orton is identified as a junior by The Gazette, which is true since her sophomore year has just ended, but basically, she did this project as a sophomore.

For a class I was teaching, Madelyn came up with the idea of a feature story on women who teach men’s sports. She did a lot of research to identify such coaches in Iowa, including contacting the state’s high school athletic association and prowling college web sites. She also pitched the story idea off campus.

JR Ogden, sports editor of The Gazette, liked the idea and agreed to meet with Madelyn to help her plan the reporting.

Madelyn spoke with the coaches, tracked her contacts on a spreadsheet, asked for images and even drove to a high school soccer game to make her own image to go with the story.

And the results were on the front page of the sports section today. It was a nicely done story, and I’m thrilled that The Gazette was interested in it. Congratulations, Madelyn, and if you get The Gazette and can spare your copy of today's sports section, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What I Think of The Post

An old friend, some weeks ago, posed a question to me: What do I think of the movie “The Post?”

Well, spoiler alert, I love it.

For one thing, it has a trio of giants—it was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars both Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham. The movie does a decent job of telling the story of the Pentagon Papers, although it does fudge it a bit—the eventual Supreme Court decision to allow both “The Washington Post” and “New York Times” to publish information from a secret government history of the war in Vietnam was not a total victory for the free press because there were so many decisions issued.

True, the papers won 6-3, but those six judges who favored the papers had were too divided in their reasons to set clear precedent.

Still, the movie seems, to me, to be fairly true to the people, the times they lived in and the historic story. And if the story seems to resonate now, it’s not an accident—President Nixon made some long term political strategic decisions that set his party on the road (the highway to Hell) to where it is today.

Beyond whether the narrative is capital T true, I also laud the film for its feel and texture. Journalism is often represented badly in the movies. Romantic comedies, in particular, often present newspaper writers as leading glamorous, odd lives that correspond not all to the actual life of any correspondent.

For example, in case you wonder, neither “Sleepless in Seattle” nor “Runaway Bride” has any character who appears to actually be a newspaper journalist.

“The Post” is not a rom-com, and it gets the feel of a newspaper and news people right. I especially appreciated how it brought the media world of 1971 back to life—the clacking typewriters all over the newsroom, the copy editor using a pencil to mark up a story, and the many montages featuring a Linotype machine setting the words in hot metal for printing.

A lying Republican president attempts to use his powers to thwart and punish mainstream journalists, particularly those of “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post.” Yeah, the movie is set in 1971, but it sure does echo in 2018.

I also liked that the movie made Katharine Graham something of a feminist icon—because she was. The journalism world of 1971 was very masculine—indeed the whole power structure of society was. That hasn’t exactly changed since then, but sexism was more overt and obvious in 1971.

Anyway, I also just liked the movie as a movie. Hanks and Streep, why has it taken so long? They are America’s top actors at the top of their game in this movie—and it’s not just them. The characters that surround Bradley and Graham are written well and played by actors who make them interesting and complicated.

And the lemonade? It’s the kind with lemons in it.

Which is the best lemonade, unless you have vodka.

So, old friend, in short—“The Post” has the Joe seal of approval. Six of six QWERTY marks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Editor Tells Students about Keeping Trust

Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, speaks with a Mount Mercy student in a conference room at the paper May 1, 2018.

The main product that belongs to any media outlet or journalist is trust, Zack Kucharski, executive editor at The Gazette told one of my classes this morning.

We were on our annual pilgrimage to the newsroom of The Gazette, our local daily newspaper. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, partly because Zack is always such a kind host to our tours.

Today, the May 1 morning began with me dithering about transportation. To bike or not to bike: That was the question. There were storms west of here, but here there were none at the time, and the weather app on my phone indicated just a 15 percent chance of rain.

But on my KCRG app, Kaj O’Mara seemed to be more sure of rain. So, I graded some papers at home and let the time slip by until driving my Dodge rather than pedaling one of my bikes became my only option to get to The Gazette.

Score one for local media. As I drove south to downtown Cedar Rapids, the sky, which has been dry for a fortnight, opened up with a warm spring thunderstorm.

Parking was a challenge, as it seemed all of the streets near The Gazette were under construction. I arrived a few minutes after 9:30 to find just a handful of my students had arrived before me. But, as Zack joined us about 9:40 to start our one-hour visit, more showed up—eventually 16 students joined us, my whole class.

Mount Mercy students meet with editor of The Gazette.

We had a quick look at the newsroom, and then Zack ushered us into a conference room for a 15-minute Q and A before the morning editors’ news meeting. A handful of editors crowded into the room with us and quickly reviewed what’s going on in the CR corner of the world.

After the news meeting, we had a few more minutes with Zack. He spoke with students about The Gazette’s new paywall, about how the students should be comfortable telling stories in many venues and about trust.

In a fake “fake news” world, maintaining trust is the main objective for journalists.

Zack also enjoined students to remember that each of them has just one indispensable asset: The trust that others place in them. That’s true whether the others are readers, viewers, listeners or professional colleagues.

“We make mistakes every day,” Zack added. But when you make a mistake, he said, admit it, correct it and learn from it—most of all, don’t deny it. To deny is to break trust.

Zack speaks in lobby of Gazette.
I believe Zack Kucharski believes what he says. And I think that, as one of the owner-employees of The Gazette, what he said reflects a spirit that is present in what The Gazette does. These days, it’s in fashion to bash the media from the right and sometimes the left for real and perceived biases.

But, trust me, if you want to know what’s going on CR, you do need a source you can believe in. For weather, for me, that Kaj. For news, for me, it is The Gazette. They aren’t perfect, but if you tune only into their imperfections, trust me, you’ll be placing trust somewhere else where it probably doesn’t belong.

And I trust students heard that message.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Stormy Feeling in the Air

Stormy chats with Anderson Cooper. All images on this post are screen shots from CBS News web site. I was flying back from England Sunday and missed the interview on TV, so I caught it online. Yay for the internet. I think.

How do you feel about 60 Minutes and the Anderson Cooper interview with Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels?

I am unclear in my own mind how I feel. On the one hand, Ms. Clifford seems to have candor and credibility. The president’s lawyer, in what may be an illegal hush payment just prior to an election, didn’t pay her because she didn’t have sex with President Trump.

He paid her because she did.

On the other hand, the sordid fact that Donald Trump is a pathetic man who would have casual sex with a porn star shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child seems simultaneously extremely icky—and possibly not all that relevant to public discourse.

Liberals can’t have it both ways. If what President Clinton did with an intern while in the White House wasn’t an issue, then neither is the Donald being a pig at a golf tournament. We already know Mr. Trump is a misogynist hypocrite. That it doesn’t matter to his base may be weird—what are all those Evangelical Christians thinking—but it is worth raising the relevance question: Do we expect Presidents, or public men in general, to be saints?

As for me, I always disliked President Clinton’s behavior. His sexual pursuit of a young intern in the 1990s was irresponsible and immature. But it didn’t necessarily disqualify him to be an effective politician.

To me, the worst part of the Clinton affair was the aftermath—the president using legal babble to try to wiggle out of his problems, and his associates attacking the object of his lust. And we know enough now about Bill Clinton to know that his public service record will always include an asterisk caused by his appetites.

So, I’m not a big Bill fan. But I voted for Hillary. I’m not sure why she stuck with Bill, but that’s her business, and I really don’t care all that much.

As for Donald Trump, he is already going down in history as the worst American president. Not the worst in recent history, not the worst since World War II. He’s a man of extremes.

Worst. President. Ever.

That’s partly because he changes his mind on fundamental issues of policy at a dizzying pace. He’s cancelling DACA. He’s blaming Democrats for the collapse of DACA. He’s not beholden to the NRA, but he’ll do exactly what the NRA wants. He’s for compromise legislation that he threatens to veto. He waffles like that not because he’s having second thoughts—as Stephen Colbert pointed out, he never bothers with first thoughts. He’s living proof that a show business career—while it requires some ability to banter, some on-camera force of personality—doesn’t need any depth behind it.

And now his presidency, which has always been on the edge of collapse, is teetering yet again because of a porn star who appeared on 60 Minutes. And Ms. Clifford has the advantage partly because she’s not at all unrealistic about who and what she is. She is not ashamed to be in the adult entertainment industry.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is his own worst enemy because he insists on constantly presenting himself as things that he is not. He’s not at heart a Republican (he’s not at heart a political animal at all), he’s not a hero, he would not rush in to a school to save students during a shooting (as his exemplary record of dodging the draft in Vietnam seems to prove). He did not have an impressive Electoral College victory--he barely got elected and lost the popular vote. He did not have an impressive crowd at his inauguration, and can't get over those facts--in fact, can't seem to grapple or bother much with facts at all. If still waters run deep, Trump is proof that the loudest babbling brooks are usually shallow.

He does have some abilities. He can command an audience of like-unminded people. He can pander to the camera.

But he’s outclassed by an intelligent exotic dancer/adult entertainer.

It’s delicious, but also unsettling. Donald Trump deserves to be removed from office for gross incompetence and for financial frauds and crimes. He’s working hard on the mid-term elections primarily because a Democratic majority may mean impeachment.

I just hope it’s not impeachment for cheating on his wife. Do I care when political men treat women as objects of lust and pleasure to the exclusion of their identities as intelligent coequal humans? Yes … but.

More than the Stormy affair, it’s the Don’s behavior during the election—the hush money—that can cause Mr. Trump problems. Whether there was collusion with the Russians isn’t the only unseemly secret that could yet trip up Teflon Don.

Trump loves to play at the edge of rules, and he’s not exactly a legal eagle. He often suggests actions that are outrageous or illegal, without any sense of where the lines are. I won’t feel any sympathy for him if, as seems likely, he loses his presidency because he didn’t care about the law. And yes, the Clintons often lived in the same shady universe of ill behavior—but both Hillary and Bill have sharper legal minds than Donald Trump. Frankly, most cats have sharper legal minds. The Clintons play hardball in ways that often make them unattractive. But, Trump plays ball without knowing what the rules are—he just wants to win, and doesn’t care if he brings a baseball bat to a tennis court.

Stormy chats with her lawyer. He's a better lawyer than Donald Trump has, because The Donald has no ability to gauge the abilities of other humans. Spank him again, much harder this time, Stormy.

And, isn’t there, or shouldn’t there be, some latitude for private lives to play out in private—even for a president? Ms. Clifford pointed out to 60 Minutes that she was not a sexual assault victim—the raunchy sex which reflected neither physical attraction nor human affection was consensual and was years ago.

Which means maybe it was nobody’s business.

Anderson Cooper, you’re a pretty potent journalist. You topped the ratings charts. Trump probably cares a lot about that because ratings are always his main scale for deal with reality.

As for me, I’m not so sure how I feel about the whole turn of events, other than I wish I wasn’t posing the question to myself in the first place. 60 Minutes is a venerable news show. One of the worst aspects of the Clinton scandal was it caused serious news outlets to carry detailed reports about semen spots on clothing. We’re there again. If I ran the shop at 60 Minutes, I wouldn’t be comfortable with that fact.

But then again, we’re in the gutter mostly because of you, Donald Trump. Your total lack of self awareness and sense of shame has put us there. Thanks a lot. Rex what right about your intelligence.

MAGA. Make American Groan Again.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Seeking Student Leaders with an Old Man

Image of me in class shot by a student.
It’s that time of year again—the MMU Times will be seeking applicants for the role of editor-in-chief.

It’s a key role for student media, and it’s a great experience for the student who is smart enough to grab for it. I hope we have several applicants.

Anyway, I leveraged the need to publicize that search with an introductory journalism class I’m teaching. Students were learning about interviews this week, so I invited the current student editor to come in and be questioned by students, who would then write a news story about the editor search based on what they learned.

In that class, students are required for report for the campus newspaper, and small-community journalism includes photography and videography, as well as writing. So, I brought in my Nikon camera and told students to shoot as they had the editor, Connor Mahan, in for a news conference. We also recorded it on the newspaper’s video camera.

Connor Mahan and me. I like this image the best. I'm using my phone to record the interview.
While there were pictures of Connor from class, one interesting aspect of the exercise to me was how many photographs of the old man I ended up with—although Connor was the primary source for the story, student photographers spent more time photographing Joe.

In part, I think that students gravitate to the familiar. They are more comfortable making my image because the act of photography seems like a personal connection, and it’s more comfortable to do that with someone you know.

Another image of that guy? In their defense, the camera was passed around the room and some students were shooting while I was the only one speaking. Professors do prattle on some.
But, a journalist is called upon to get over that, and to engage in personal contact with a stream of strangers.

It felt a bit odd for me to pick and edit photos from the class to use on this blog post. Seeing your own image is always a bit startling—the camera clearly adds years and pounds. I think that’s probably true of any “seasoned” person—in my own mind, I’m neither as big nor as aged as I appear others, and seeing my photograph gives me a peek into how others see me.

Weird. Not otherwise sad, really, because I don’t mind being of advanced years.

Anyway, most of the student images are badly focused or not framed well or ill-timed—but that’s normal. One aspect of training new news photographers is to get them to learn you have to shoot a lot to get a few good images.

It was a good exercise. I’ve not done it in this class before, but hope to continue it in the future. In the meantime, MMU students: This is your chance!

Apply today to be the student leader of the MMU Times.

Connor and me again.