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George Curry

The Boston Marathon's Media Frenzy

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(NNPA) I am a certified news junkie, but even I had to step away from the oversaturated media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Anyone who has covered crimes on a smaller scale than the twin explosions in Boston knows that investigators don’t have instant answers for everything and it’s ridiculous to think that in a frenzied atmosphere, accurate information will be available in abundance. But that did not prevent news outlets and social media from rushing to be first rather than calmly waiting to be accurate.

The result was a string of embarrassing mistakes that did little to comfort a nation on edge, a nation that still hadn’t gotten over the shock of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Of course, this is not to suggest that everything reported by the media was wrong. The news media helped disseminate photos of the two bombing suspect that eventually led to their being identified. The media was able to pass along instructions for people to remain in their homes until the suspects were captured. And most of us learned what had happened in Boston by watching television, going to the Internet or social media.

Ironically, on the day the Pulitzer Prizes honoring excellence in journalism were announced – The Denver Post won the award for breaking news for its coverage of a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. that left 12 dead and 58 injured – news outlets were making major blunders while covering the Boston bombings.

Among the most egregious:

  • The New York Post gave an inflated death count, saying there were “ at least 12 dead.” At the time, three people had been killed.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that police had discovered five additional explosive devices in addition to the two that been discovered, a statement that was later retracted.
  • In what it called a “world-beating scoop,” the New York Post reported that a Saudi national was a suspect in the case when, in fact, he was a witness and a victim.
  • At 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17, John King reported on CNN that a suspect had been taken into custody. That was false.
  • King also erred when he reported last Wednesday: “I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things. I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.”

PBS anchor Gwen Ifill tweeted, “disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect as a ‘dark skinned individual.’”

King’s description of the so-called suspect sparked a lively discussion on the National Association of Black Journalists listserve.

Askia Muhammad, a columnist and radio host, wrote, “How did they know that sand n—er was a suspect? He must have been wearing a towel on his head.”

Roger Witherspoon, a veteran journalist and public relations executive, said: “Well, now that the FBI has released photos of the two men who apparently carried the bombs, I’m puzzled. Perhaps there’s a problem with the contrast on my TV, but they don’t look dark skinned to me.”

The Associated Press, Fox News, and the Boston Globe also mistakenly reported that a suspect had been arrested in the case. The reporting was so inaccurate that the FBI issued a statement that said:

“Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

The Boston Police Department scooped journalists when it announced Friday, via Twitter, that an arrest had been made in the case.

In view of the grievous errors made in covering high-profile crimes, news outlets should spend less time showing yellow police tape, flashing police lights and hyping their own reporters and more time explaining to the public that in an ongoing investigation, they will not get the facts before the next commercial break.

We should have learned this lesson from the experience of covering Newtown, Conn., when there were conflicting accounts on everything from whether Adam Lanza had forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School or had been buzzed in to whether he or his brother, Ryan, was the shooter.

As President Obama said, “In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there’s a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes jumping to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right. That’s why we have investigations. That’s why we relentlessly gather the facts.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Political Maneuvering over the Budget

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(NNPA) There has been much discussion about the big picture items in President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014. If the devil is in the details, as politicians like to say, some parts of Obama’s budget will mean hell for some needy citizens.

Before getting into the details, let’s talk approach. As I have often said, I am not a fan of some of the tactical approaches Obama takes. I understand that his reasoned approach – as opposed to the meat cleaver style of House Republicans – is far better than the GOP alternative. Still, it makes no sense to offer a compromise position in advance of actual negotiations.

A report by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan think tank that analyzes government policy and programs, notes, “It is unusual for a President to include these kinds of compromise policies in his budget. Typically, the President’s budget would include policies that are more akin to an opening bid in a negotiation — that is, the President’s budget generally reflects his preferred policies. This budget, in contrast, reflects the President’s position at a stage of the negotiations after several rounds of offers had been made. This budget differs significantly from the approach taken in earlier Obama budgets.”

Clearly, compromises will have to be made at some point – even compromises President Obama will not want to make – but this is not the time to make them.

Robert Greenstein, president of CBPP, said: “Politically speaking, I had thought that the White House should not put these concessions in its budget, as distinguished from offering them in bipartisan negotiations if and when Republicans agreed to dedicate substantial savings from curbing tax credits, deductions, and other preferences (known as ‘tax expenditures’) to deficit reduction. The Administration took a different approach. Having done so, it is appropriately insisting that the part of its budget that contains the President’s last offer to Boehner is an indivisible package — that policymakers cannot cherry pick the budget cuts on their own, as some Republicans are already suggesting, without taking the accompanying revenue increases.”

Given President Obama’s overtures, one would think reasonable people would meet him half way. But the operative word is “reasonable.” Instead of also making concession, Republicans have become even more recalcitrant.

“When it comes to deficit reduction, the playing field is not level,” Greenstein stated. “The President is sticking with his final offer to Boehner despite the anger that it’s creating in his party and his political base due to the chained CPI and other proposals.

“The Speaker and other Republican leaders, however, have buried their last offer to Obama in December and are ignoring the fact that it included $400 billion in revenue increases beyond what policymakers enacted at the start of the year. They now brand any new revenues as unacceptable. The contrast between the President’s approach and that of Republican leaders is striking.”

Beyond the political wrangling, there is plenty to be concerned about.

“The budget proposes to replace sequestration for all years — 2013 through 2021 — with other deficit-reduction measures. While most of the proposed deficit reduction is in the form of higher revenues and lower entitlement spending, the budget also reduces funding for discretionary programs by $200 billion below the already austere caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA),” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report states.

“The $200 billion in proposed cuts are evenly split between defense and non-defense programs, consistent with the President’s December offer to Speaker Boehner. Non-defense discretionary programs include a broad set of government functions, such as education, public health, law enforcement, veterans’ health care, housing supports for low-income families, and scientific and medical research.”

Calling the non-defense discretionary program funding “ill-advised,” The center’s report noted, “The BCA funding caps already significantly constrain this area of the budget. In fact, under the BCA caps, spending for non-defense discretionary programs is on track to reach, by 2016, its lowest level on record as a share of the economy (these data go back to 1962). This area of the budget, which has been cut significantly in recent years and is not a driver of longer-term deficits, would be cut still more deeply under the President’s budget.”

In addition the CBPP said, “The budget would increase the income-related premiums paid by upper-income beneficiaries and gradually expand those premiums to cover a larger fraction of beneficiaries. It would also increase cost-sharing for new beneficiaries by raising the deductible for physician services, introducing co-payments for certain home health care services, and introducing a premium surcharge for those who purchase Medigap supplement plans that provide near-first-dollar coverage (which encourages greater utilization of health care services).”

There are plenty of good things in the president’s proposed budget, including his plan to expand early education and infrastructure investments, but Obama needs to break his addictive habit of making major concessions to Republicans before sitting at the bargaining table with them.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Obama Budget Breaks Social Security Pledge

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(NNPA) Even before President Obama released his budget proposal this week for the next fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, preliminary details about his plan to effectively cut Social Security cost of living increases has caused a firestorm among supporters who now feel betrayed.

Under the plan, Obama would shift the way federal benefits are indexed from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to the “chained” CPI, gradually reducing benefit payments. Without getting overly technical, the chained CPI – a way of indexing living costs – has grown on average by about 0.3 percentage points per year more slowly than the official CPI. Social Security actuaries assume the gap between the two CPIs will continue to average 0.3 percentage points per year in the future;

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich said in a MoveOn.org press release that

“Social Security is not driving the deficit, therefore it should not be part of reforms aimed at cutting the deficit.” He added, “The chained CPI, deceptively portrayed as a reasonable cost-of-living adjustment, is a cut to Social Security that would hurt seniors.”

White House officials point out that the chained CPI would not affect initial Social Security benefits because they are based on wages. It is the subsequent cost of living increases that would be affected.

According to an analysis by the Associated Press, Social Security benefits for a typical middle-income 65-year-old would be about $136 less a year under the new indexing. At age 75, annual benefits would be $560 less. At 85, the cut would be $984 a year. While that might not seem huge to some, it represents a significant loss of income from the elderly living on a fixed income.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shares Robert Reich’s outrage.

“If Obama is serious about dealing with our deficit, he would not cut Social Security – which has not added one penny to the deficit,” Sanders said in a statement posted on his website. “Instead, he would support legislation that ends the absurdity of one out of four profitable corporations paying nothing in federal income taxes. He would also help us close the offshore tax haven loopholes that enable large corporations and the wealthy to avoid paying $100 billion a year in federal taxes.”

Social Security payments and COLAs are not limited to the elderly. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 6 million children under age 18 (8 percent of all U.S. children) lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2011. That includes children who received their benefits as dependents of retired, disabled, or deceased workers as well as those who live with parents or relatives who received Social Security benefits.

Democrats are irked that Obama is breaking a pledge he made in 2008 not to cut Social Security. And regardless of how he couches it, that’s the net effect of his action.

“You can’t call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “… The president has no mandate to cut these benefits, and progressives will do everything possible to stop him.”

Critics note that any “savings” from the chained CPI would go into the government’s general fund, not the Social Security Trust Fund. Therefore, it does nothing to “strengthen” Social Security.

“It’s not the president’s ideal approach to our budget challenges, but it is a serious compromise proposition that demonstrates that he wants to get things done,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

As I have noted in this space before, Obama is an Apprentice Negotiator. We saw that in 2012 when Republicans goaded him into extending the Bush tax cuts. In a failing effort to garner Republican support, Obama keeps offering up programs cherished by progressives, sometimes before the negotiating begins.

President Obama’s new proposal also calls for placing a 28 percent cap on tax deductions and other exclusions. Because the change would raise taxes of the wealthy, GOP leaders are expected to reject the plan.

Social Security provides monthly benefits to more than 50 million retired workers and workers with disabilities, their dependents, and their survivors. Obama faces considerable opposition from his own party, largely because of the importance of the popular retirement program.

“Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty,” observed the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Without Social Security, 21.4 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2011). Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Supreme Court Determined to Kill Affirmative Action

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(NNPA) A decade after carefully ruling in two University of Michigan cases – striking down the undergraduate admissions procedures and upholding those implemented by the law school – the U.S. Supreme Court seems on course to strike down even the mildest form of affirmative action admissions in higher education.

After oral arguments in a case brought by a White student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, the justices are expected to hand down a ruling in late June or early July. Rather than await the outcome of that case, last week the court accepted another challenge to affirmative action in Michigan, which will not be argued until the October term.

The fact that the court accepted the Texas and Michigan cases, after higher education officials thought the matter was settled law, is a clear indication that the conservative-leaning court plans to eviscerate race- and gender-conscious college admissions programs, no matter how conservative or narrowly drawn. If the court had other intentions, it would have left lower court rulings favorable to affirmative action in the two cases stand.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the case the court is expected to rule on in late June, was brought by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old White woman who was rejected for admission in the fall of 2008. Under the University of Texas admissions program, the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class was guaranteed admission to the state’s flagship university. When Fisher applied, 90 percent of the students were selected that way.

The other 10 percent of applicants were admitted based on a variety of factors, including extracurricular activities, awards and honors, work experience, socioeconomic status, standardized test scores and race. Of all of those factors, Fisher decided to challenge admissions because the university considered race as one of many factors.

“Race is only one modest factor among many others weighed; it is considered only in an individualized and contextual way… and admissions officers do not know an applicant’s race when they decide [who] to admit in UT’s process,” the university argued in its brief.

University of Texas officials said if the modest affirmative action program had not been in place, Fisher still would not have qualified for admission. The district and appeals courts agreed, ruling against Fisher. But the Supreme Court decided to accept the case anyway.

Even more surprising was the court’s decision to accept another Michigan case, Schulette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, while Fisher is still pending.

After the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in the University of Michigan law school case, 58 percent of voters adopted Proposal 2 in 2006, which prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment based on race, ethnicity or gender. It was modeled after a ballot measure passed by California voters in 1996.

Supporters of affirmative action in Michigan, lodged a legal challenge to Proposal 2, paving the path for the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to rule 8-7 that ballot initiative, which amended the state constitution, violated the federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the percentage of Black students enrolled at the University of Michigan had dropped from 6.7 percent in 2006 to 4.5 percent in 2010 as a result of Proposal 2.

The permissible use of affirmative action was thought to be decided for good in 2003. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment when it assigned 20 points to minority applicants.

But in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that when narrowly tailored, race can be lawfully used in combination with other factors as part of the University of Michigan Law School admissions process. In her written opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cited benefits of “obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

O’Connor, who has since retired from the court, said she did not envision affirmative action in place forever. In fact, she suggested 25 years, without giving a reason why it would not be needed beyond that point.

Now, just 10 years later – and despite this nation’s horrible history on race – the conservative majority on the court seem unwilling to leave affirmative action in place for another 15 years.

As Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a supporter of affirmative action, said last October: “Grutter said it would be good law for at least 25 years, and I know that time flies, but I think only nine of those years have passed.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Can March on Washington’s Unity be Duplicated?

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(NNPA) In five months, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 1963, the March was jointly called by the Civil Rights Movement’s “Big Six” – A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer and John Lewis.

At this point, it is unclear whether today’s leaders will come together and rally around the theme of jobs and justice as leaders did on August 28, 1963.

Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III are planning a march in Washington. Bernice King has announced a commemoration of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the King Center in Atlanta to observe the 50th anniversary. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King’s old organization, will be holding its annual convention in the nation’s capital the week of the anniversary and is considering holding an activity.

The foundation that raised more than $100 million to erect the MLK monument on the National Mall – and was forced by King’s children to drop the reference to Dr. King in its name – is still hoping it can participate in a joint celebration by all of the civil rights groups.

Interestingly, the Big Six managed to come together when the Black unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, compared to 3.2 percent for Whites. The unemployment rate for Blacks 20 and older in February was 12.7 percent – nearly double what it was at the time of the March on Washington.

Of course, any discussion about the preservation of Dr. King’s legacy invariably involves his three remaining children – Martin III, Bernice and Dexter. While appreciating the King family’s desire to protect intellectual property left to them by their father, including his “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been critical of their decision to charge what had been known as the Martin Luther King National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc. a licensing fee of nearly $3 million to use his name, likeness and quotes in conjunction with a monument erected to him on the National Mall. I also upbraided them for, after making the decision to charge a licensing fee, refusing to extend the agreement, forcing the foundation to change its name (it is now The Memorial Foundation) and limit the scope of the monument-connected activities it had planned to advance Dr. King’s legacy.

Roland Martin and Joe Williams have an interesting article on rolandmartinreports.com about the controversy.

We had a heated discussion Sunday on “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” about the King children’s interaction with Harry Johnson and the group that raised the money for King monument on the Mall, the first to honor an African American. In response to my earlier column on the subject, Armstrong Williams wrote a column claiming I had slandered the King family and “For Mr. Curry to spread the falsehood that the King family is charging schools for the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is not only wrong, but embarrassing to these good people.”

After schooling Armstrong Sunday on the difference between “slander,” defamation that is spoken, and “libel,” which is written, I told him I couldn’t have possibly made that charge because I never used the word “school” anywhere in my column. He waited four months to reply and still didn’t get it right. To his credit, Armstrong acknowledged his error on-air and apologized.

During the program Sunday, Roland said he had spoken with Tricia Harris, a King representative, who said the money paid to the Kings was for corporations that exploited Dr. King’s image and they had not received money from the foundation for using quotes and the likeness of Dr. King.

I said, “She’s lying.”

Harris sent me a note taking exception to my comment and said, “It’s a great American tragedy when influential African Americans attack the King family for protecting and benefiting from Dr. King’s work when he set it up that way.”

Actually, King, Inc. was created after Dr. King’s assassination. Therefore, he did not “set it up that way.” Second, the licensing agreement does in fact extract a fee from the mall foundation in exchange for using his likeness on materials and quotes at the memorial.

Let’s be clear: No one is objecting to the King siblings profiting from their father’s intellectual properties. The issue is, unlike the descendants of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, they are trying to personally profit from a national monument that honors their father and the struggle he led.

David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer, told the Roland Martin and Joe Williams: “It’s not as if (King, Inc.) is using any of this income for charitable good deeds. We’ve seen none of that whatsoever. It appears to be simply self-enrichment for a small number of people.”

As great as he was, the March on Washington wasn’t about Dr. King. It was about jobs and freedom. Sadly, 50 years later, we need a similar march that unites our leaders around those same issues.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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