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What a week for news...
Frustrating TV news converage, plus a big scoop for a non-profit newsroom
So much happened this week that I’m not sure where to begin. A former president indicted, with wall-to-wall television coverage. Reporters expose a Supreme Court justice taking lavish gifts. The Tennessee legislature responds to the public’s cry for gun safety measures by expelling two Black members of the house for daring to speak out.
Let’s start with the Trump indictment:
For some reason, I spent much of the day Tuesday glued to the television as Donald Trump entered his not-guilty plea to New York state felony charges – for reasons you’re well familiar with. The news network coverage was frustrating. So little actually happening, yet the networks had to fill hour upon hour of something. So, we watched helicopter aerials of the motorcade to the courthouse. Very distant overhead shots of him going into the building. Then hours of watching a set of doors. There he is! A three-second shot of him going from one door to another. At long last, a still photograph of him at a courtroom table. The anchors used their best psychic powers to interpret it all for us. How does he look to you? He looks defeated. He looks resolute. He looks angry.
I understand the reason TV news stretches like this. I’ve done it myself. It’s all about competitiveness. It’s the hot story of the day. Many eyeballs are coming to the news networks to find out what’s happening. So, the news bosses decide to just stick with that one big story all day, regardless if anything important is happening at that moment. The fear is that a viewer will tune in wanting to know what’s up with the Trump indictment, but if CNN has gone to a different story, like the latest from Ukraine, that viewer will grab the channel changer and be gone in a flash. Same with the viewer who is there SOLELY for Trump coverage. If ABC or CBS switch away, so will the viewer. So, it puts everyone, especially the anchors, in an awkward position of having to make something out of nothing. There’s endless speculation about traffic conditions, who went into the courtroom, will he or won’t he talk, what his facial expression means. It gave me heartburn. Just because I understand it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is beyond hope
Kudos to the non-profit journalism group ProPublica for the scoop of the year so far. Months of investigative reporting found Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia taking lavish, all-expenses-paid vacations without reporting any of it. One trip was estimated to cost $500,000 if Thomas had paid for the private jet and luxury yacht himself. Which he didn’t do. A Texas real estate billionaire who contributes heavily to conservative causes paid for it all – just because the Thomases are such good “friends.” Riiiiggghhhttt. As if plenty of other rich folks wouldn’t love the chance to hang around and be “friends” and maybe slip in a little plug for their cause over extravagant meals.
Many news organizations have written about the story but it’s worth the time to read ProPublica’s original report. The reporters really dug for a long time to talk to servers on the yacht, observers at luxury resorts, and they pored over public records.
This revelation on top of the political work Virginia Thomas has done for conservative causes demonstrates that both have lost their moral compass. Those in the public eye must avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Any newspaper, TV or radio reporter in Iowa has enough ethical standards, not to mention common sense, that they wouldn’t let anybody so much as pay for their lunch in the Statehouse cafeteria. What if somebody saw and came to question their independence? We wouldn’t dream of it. Shouldn’t a Supreme Court justice be even more careful? Justice Thomas and his wife clearly don’t care what anyone thinks about their ethics, because they’ve been stepping way over the line for decades. As many others have commented, the Supreme Court doesn’t have an army. It depends solely on the goodwill and trust of the American people to accept court rulings. Clarence Thomas has repeatedly damaged that trust.
Tennessee Republicans embarrass their state and themselves
It’s not really a media issue for this column, but what an ugly thing happened in Nashville with the House of Representatives ousting two duly-elected representatives who used a bullhorn in a loud demonstration on the House floor last week following the shooting deaths of three kids at a Nashville school. It was conservative Republicans, who have a super majority in both Tennessee houses, who kicked out the Democrats. That’s bad enough but both happened to be young, Black men. None of the Republicans cared how that might look to the rest of the world? It is an ugly mess. Republicans have done nothing since the school shooting. Well, they finally take a vote and it’s to oust two young men who made them uncomfortable? It’s more than tone-deaf. It’s sheer stupidity.
Meantime, New York Republican Congressman George Santos, who told lie after lie to voters, now enters his fourth month as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives with no votes to send him packing. Maybe we should loan him a bullhorn.
Please check out some of the others in the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, which is designed to add opinion voices at a time when news organizations are cutting back on editorials.
Jody Gifford: Benign Inspiration, West Des Moines
Nik Heftman, The Seven Times, Los Angeles and Iowa
Beth Hoffman: In the Dirt, Lovilla
Dana James: New Black Iowa, Des Moines
Pat Kinney: View from Cedar Valley, Waterloo
Fern Kupfer: Fern and Joe, Ames
Robert Leonard: Deep Midwest: Politics and Culture, Bussey
Tar Macias: Hola Iowa, Iowa
Kurt Meyer, Showing Up, St. Ansgar
Kyle Munson, Kyle Munson’s Main Street, Des Moines
Jane Nguyen, The Asian Iowan, West Des Moines
John Naughton: My Life, in Color, Des Moines
Chuck Offenburger: Iowa Boy Chuck Offenburger, Jefferson and Des Moines
Barry Piatt: Piatt on Politics: Behind the Curtains, Washington, D.C.
Macey Spensley, The Midwest Creative, Davenport and Des Moines
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Buggy Land, Kalona
Mary Swander: Mary Swander’s Emerging Voices, Kalona
Cheryl Tevis: Unfinished Business, Boone County
Ed Tibbetts: Along the Mississippi, Davenport
Teresa Zilk: Talking Good, Des Moines
And thanks to the Iowa Capital Dispatch for running some of our columns. Editor Kathie Obradovich had an excellent column this week about logrolling at the Iowa legislature.