Monthly Archives: May 2005

Quote of the Day

A big element is that the creative class is virulently anti-discriminatory. It should be the concern of Chambers of Commerce all over Virginia that all the discriminatory legislation being passed in Richmond, including a constitutional amendments against gay marriage, will be a very serious economic drag on Virginia, because the people that we’re trying to get in here to be employed in these high-tech industries don’t want to work in environments shaped by an atmosphere of discrimination. They want to take people at face value who can do the job. That’s what they want. You saw the recent decision of Microsoft was reversed under pressure from the many employees of Microsoft who said, ‘We don’t want to work in a business where discrimination and outdated attitudes, and so forth, prevail.’
So, increasingly, that’s an issue for the business community, for Chambers of Commerce, and we have that in our newspaper as a conscious attempt to create an ally of the creative class. You’ll see that reflected in columns and articles that address wider issues in the pages of the Falls Church News-Press. So just so you know that there’s a method to our madness. I not only think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s good marketing, and I would suggest that idea extend to you as well.

–Falls Church News-Press owner Nicholas F. Benton, commenting on the Virginia legislature’s growing reputation for intolerance

Two sources, please

CJR Daily, the blog about news, went one better than David Gergen, who suggested, as I did, that bad anonymous sources ought to be named. CJR agrees that two confirming sources should be the rule.

1 – Return to the much-cited but seldom-used two-source rule for every anonymous accusation that you print. And that doesn’t mean one source plus a second source who confirms “by not denying;” it means a second source that affirms the information passed on by the first source. That simple procedure would have stopped not just Newsweek’s “Koran-flushed-down-the-toilet” item in its tracks, it would also have saved CBS from going on the air last fall with documents whose provenance could not be proved.

2 – Inform each and every one of your anonymous sources that if you, the reporter, get burned by bum information foisted on you (and, by extension, onto your readers) all bets are off, and you will unclothe that source in public.

Where’s Warner?

A friend who attended George Mason University’s graduation exercises said keynote speaker Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) hinted that he’s leaning against supporting the nuclear option. But he was coy. Paraphrasing the senator: Sometimes you have to make decisions that you know are going to upset your colleagues.

Write Warner Now:

Unreliable Sources

After the revelations of the Newsweek/Koran fiasco, I asked the question last week, “Should journalists’ contract with anonymous sources be null and void if the material turns out to be false?”

Yesterday on CNN’s Reliable Source, David Gergen suggested the answer is “yes.”

“There was an old rule in journalism, and Ben Bradlee represented that at the Washington Post, if an unnamed source lies to a news organization, that source loses his anonymity, by definition, because he’s misled people,” says Gergen. “In this case, it may be that the unnamed source unintentionally misled Newsweek, but nonetheless, given the seriousness of what happened, it seems to me the unnamed source should be unmasked.”

Otherwise, as Gergen suggests, its journalists who must take the heat. I think this is especially true when there is the possibility that the false information was a set-up. With what this White House has tried, I think there are at least a few folks there who would stoop to such. After all, they are not hesitant to suggest that Newsweek’s mistake is evidence of a vast left wing conspiracy among media.

The Chill on Free Speech

The aftermath of a school play in Loudoun County has teachers censoring student speech.

When Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn presented “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” this month, the hit Broadway musical was not performed exactly as written.

Where the original script called for a secretary to sing that a dress was “tres sexy,” the actress called it “tres lovely” instead. The boss’s nephew, instead of stepping out for a smoke, stepped out for a soda. And in a song titled “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” several lines were changed to soften cheeky references to sexual tension in the workplace.

The editing was an attempt to put on a play that no one could claim was inappropriate for high school drama students. A one-act play at the same Loudoun County school three months earlier touched off an emotional debate about high school dramatics, free speech and morality, one that is not yet over. “Offsides,” written by student Sabrina Audrey Jess, featured a football player struggling with his homosexuality and an almost-kiss between two male students.

“When this whole story broke, my radar went up to 100 times its normal power,” Stone Bridge drama teacher Glen Hochkeppel said. “It’s natural. You begin to question absolutely everything you’re putting on stage.”

The “Offsides” controversy made its way not only onto the School Board agenda, but also into classrooms and living rooms across the county. It has revealed deep divisions among residents of the rapidly growing county and mirrored a national debate about whether discussion of homosexuality should be allowed or encouraged in public schools.

…[Stone Bridge Principal Jim] Person said that the experience has created an opportunity to “look at what’s appropriate and what’s not” in plays but that it has had very little impact on how teachers run classrooms and what students discuss. Still, he said he believes that parents are going to view lots of school actions against the backdrop of the play.

Take the case of Nikki Buchholz’s submission to the school’s literary magazine. Buchholz, 18, was told that the magazine had accepted her story, a fictional account of a girl who helps a friend who is being sexually abused by her father. But English teacher Tom Clawson said he told her that the story was too dark and that she would have to edit, changing it to a story about physical, not sexual, abuse.

Person and Clawson said that the editing was unrelated to the “Offsides” controversy. But Nikki’s father, Tim, is dubious.

“I see dots being connected,” he said. “I think they’ve tightened down.”

Given the prevalence of sexual abuse, are we really protecting children when we prevent them from discussing the issue in class? Sexual abuse victims are very often afraid of confronting their abusers or telling authorities because not only might they experience retribution from their abusers, but they fear scorn from their peers who they think will blame the abused for what happened to them. A frank discussion about sexual abuse might help victims to come forward. But now Loudoun schools are trying to sweep the problem under the rug. Is that really a service to children? Might the abused get the feeling that the subject is so taboo that they shouldn’t even try to defend themselves?

This is an issues we all should weigh in on. Here’s the email for Loudoun County schools main office:

Here is Stone Bridge High School Principal Jim Person’s email address:

Here is English teacher Tom Clawson’s email:

Here is Stone Bridge’s drama teacher’s email:

I’d also suggest contacting the chairman of the Loudoun County school board. In the past he’s been a supporter of Dick Black, the delegate from the area that ignited the flap about the play. But Andrews was apparently miffed at Black’s meddling. Andrews email is

Newsweek Blues

I’ve not blogged about the Newsweek fiasco due to being professionally depressed. Having been a reporter and still maintaining a membership (though my current dues are late) in the Society of Professional Journalists as a statement of support, thus far the facts behind the magazine’s story make for a fiasco for journalism.

Granted, there is astounding hypocrisy from the White House, as a letter writer (the second letter) to The Washington Post states.

I’m having a reality problem. The White House and the Pentagon are furious because Newsweek didn’t double-check the source on its story about an American interrogator flushing a Koran down a toilet, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is complaining because people’s words and actions have consequences?

Are we not in the middle of a billion-dollar-a-week war with no end in sight and hideous casualties on both sides because the White House and the Pentagon didn’t check their sources about the infamous weapons of mass destruction? Does this mean we can demand an apology and retraction of said war?

The irony runneth over.

Anne Applebaum’s column (which for some reason is not on The Post’s web site) also tries to provide perspective.

Indeed, some of the criticism starts us down a slippery slope.

Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) used even stronger language, saying that Isikoff had “fabricated” the Koran incident and branding Newsweek’s behavior “criminal.”

So are we to prosecute reporters who make a mistake while we allow military leaders who facilitate and cover-up torture to remain unaccountable?

No doubt the fiasco is a “gift to conservatives.”

Consider, for instance, what happened on Monday night when Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, and Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, squared off on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country. Jensen attempted to place Newsweek’s error in some context, noting that US forces are responsible for horrific abuses, including torture and homicide, at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere.

Suddenly, Bozell started yipping like a dog that had finally managed to corner a wounded squirrel. “You cite me the evidence of American soldiers murdering people in prisons,” he barked. Jensen, clearly perplexed, replied, “The evidence is in the Army’s own reports.” That wasn’t good enough for Bozell. “You’re accusing the American military of murder. If you don’t back it up, back off,” he sneered. And so it went until the segment sputtered out.

Now, I have to assume that Bozell was being outrageously disingenuous, because he’s not a stupid man. He had to know that, less than two months earlier, the Army reported that 27 prisoners were killed while in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan between August 2002 and November 2004. According to an Associated Press account, the Army had come up with sufficient evidence to charge 21 soldiers with such crimes as murder, negligent homicide, and assault. But in the new environment that Newsweek has helped to create, any accusations that American forces have acted abusively are now null and void.

Still, the bottom line for me is the continuing damage this does to the profession, one already under suspicion by a large segment of Americans, according to a survey by the University of Cincinnati.

It probably comes as no surprise that only 3 percent of the journalists said the US press has too much freedom. But in stark contrast, 43 percent of the public felt the news media are given excessive leeway. Although 95 percent of the journalists strongly agreed that newspapers should be allowed ”to publish freely without governmental approval of a story,” only 55 percent of the public strongly agreed.

The younger generation more than agrees.

One in three U.S . high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released today.

The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36% believe newspapers should get “government approval” of stories before publishing; 51% say they should be able to publish freely; 13% have no opinion.

Asked whether the press enjoys ” too much freedom,” not enough or about the right amount, 32% say ” too much,” and 37% say it has the right amount. Ten percent say it has too little.

Screw-ups like Newsweek’s don’t help. But what struck me was that the magazine was both willing to go to press with a story based on only one anonymous source and that it was apparently tone-deaf to the repercussions of the article.

Remember Woodward and Bernstein? Every fact needed two sources before editor Ben Bradlee would allow it to be published. It is disturbing to me that journalists apparently go to press with such flimsy verification. Though the Periscope column has struck me as little more than a gossip column when subscribed to the magazine, still you would hope they would recognize the damage a story like this could have before relying on one source who hides behind anonymity.

I can’t, on the other hand, urge that reporters stop using anonymous sources. But there needs to be some major revision of the journalistic ethics regarding them. There was speculation, thus far unconfirmed, that the CBS News much maligned story about Bush’s National Guard service was in fact orchestrated by Bush supporters who planned for the story to emerge just so they could shoot it full of holes and discredit Dan Rather. While there’s no evidence of this, it’s not implausible. Should journalists’ contract with anonymous sources be null and void if the material turns out to be false? I’m not sure if that’s helpful, but something needs to be done.

MJ Propaganda

It is astonishing how often the mainstream press lets people get away with lies. Advocates can say anything and the press isn’t likely to challenge the statement in the same story. Whether it’s assertions that “Christianity is under attack” or that Social Security will be bankrupt by 2042,” powers that be can make statement that are patently untrue.

So it has been for a long time with marijuana. Several years ago, a friend of mine in Mississippi made me aware of a study at the University of Mississippi called the Potency Monitoring Project. For years, it has been taking samples of MJ available throughout the country and tested its potency. A researcher there told me then that the hype about MJ being “far more potent” is simply not true.

And yet you hear it in virtually every story about MJ, including the recent report that MJ arrests are way up.

The focus of the drug war in the United States has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide, according to an analysis of federal crime statistics released yesterday.

The study of FBI data by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent.

And then today, we have an op-ed by former HEW secretary Joe Califano (not online) in today’s Washington Post that makes several claims that simply aren’t true, including the one about potency, as observed by Chicago Trib columnist Clarence Page a couple of years ago.

[[Then director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John P.] Walters tries to frighten us Baby-Boomer parents by warning us that “today’s marijuana is different from that of a generation ago, with potency levels 10 to 20 times stronger than the marijuana with which they were familiar.”

As a Woodstock-generation parent of a wise 13-year-old boy, I took great interest in that statement. Unfortunately, as I noted, Walters didn’t say where he got that “whopper” of a statistic.

I had cited a federally funded study published in the January 2000 Journal of Forensic Science, which found the average THC (that’s the active ingredient that makes people high) content in confiscated marijuana had only doubled to 4.2 percent from about 2 percent from 1980 to 1997.

That brought a response from Walters claiming that I didn’t cover a long enough period. THC content averaged less than 1 percent in 1974, he said. But “by 1999, potency averaged 7 percent.”

“The THC of today’s sinsemilla (high-grade marijuana) averages 14 percent and ranges as high as 30 percent,” he said.

“Wow,” as my “deadhead” friends might say. “That must be some killer weed, dude.”

I tried once again and actually reached Walters this time. After conversations with him and some of his expert advisers, we agreed to disagree on the key question: What are the chances that your little Johnny or Jane will latch onto some of that knockout grass?

That depends on how you interpret the available data. The latest quarterly report by the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project (which examined 46,000 samples of seized marijuana nationwide) found an average potency of 6.68 percent. Actual potencies ranged as high as 33.12 percent THC content for some extraordinarily potent sinsemilla confiscated by the Oregon state police to as low as 1 percent THC or no THC at all (Somebody apparently got burned) for grass confiscated elsewhere in the country.

But it is hard to estimate based on available data how common or how rare the high-octane dope happens to be. Purchasing weed is an art in itself. Everyone seeks the “preemo” stuff. Every dealer promises it. Fewer actually deliver.

Nor is it at all clear that the marijuana commonly available in the 1960s and 1970s really was all that weak. Potency studies at the time were plagued by such problems as small samples and poor storage in police lockers.

In his column, Califano passes as facts other exaggerations or misrepresentations, such as the assertion that MJ dependence has jumped drastically among teenagers, that MJ causes depression and other mental problems and that MJ is highly addictive.

For more on the ongoing lie campaign by our government, see clarifications and rebuttals to these assertions here, where the references to the original research are given, as opposed to Califano’s rhetoric.

As the father of three teenagers, I can tell you it doesn’t help when well-meaning people exaggerate and misrepresent the facts. Once some of these facts are perceived by teenagers as wrong after first-hand experience, all the good infromation becomes suspect, too. Then they believe nothing, and that is a shame.

Still No Word

The Kilgore campaign never got back to me about where and when its candidate will speak at a forum where voters can ask questions. Right now, you’ve got to pay to even hear him speak, and there’s no guarantee that you can ask questions, not that he’s likely to get tough ones at a fundraiser.

Pay To See the Ad

I just got an email from the Kilgore campaign that has a “preview” of a new 30-second TV ad. (No, in the preview, Kilgore doesn’t speak.) But if I want to see the entire ad, I need to donate to the campaign. That’s an approach I hadn’t seen before.

Gee, if I don’t contribute does that mean I won’t see it on my TV? And does it mean I need to pay to hear him speak?

Maybe. I notice that all the events on the Kilgore web site are fundraisers, as in “don’t come unless you write a check.” Kaine, on the other hand, gets coverage today for his town hall meetings, which unlike GWB’s staged events, apparently anyone can come to and ask questions.

There may be a lack of substance to both campaigns, but at least Kaine is willing to be grilled by the public.

I’m awaiting a call back from the Kilgore campign to let me know of any planned, free town hall meeting-type events. I’ll let you know where and when they are.