Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog
Fear the Snowman?!
Romney himself derided the first Democratic CNN-YouTube Debate, chiding the quality of questions while pointing to the now famous snowman concerned about global warming. The reluctance of Romney and fellow frontrunner Rudy Giuliani forced CNN to reschedule the Republican round of interactive questioning. Both cited scheduling conflicts, and the network has since agreed to move the event to November 28th in St. Petersburg, FL.
One creative cyber filmmaker crafted a satirical spoof of the Democratic debate and the feeble attempts of Romney and Rudy to undermine the new media format. (Warning: this video probably warrants a PG-13 rating).
Last week, MTV and MySpace announced an ongoing dialogue between voters and individual candidates (11 in all) to be webcast live on both sites beginning on Sept. 27th. John Edwards will kick off the process, responding to questions from an online audience submitted via email, instant message, or text. The web sites will enable viewers to rate candidate responses to individual inquiries through interactive polling.
These conversations, and the aforementioned CNN-YouTube Debates, are signs of the times and candidates on both sides of the aisle are wise to embrace new media alternatives as a way of reaching and mobilizing younger audiences. The obituary of the losing contender on November 4, 2008, may well be written in HTML code, casting aside network news, print journalism, and direct mail as so 2004.
Back to College
The Electoral College, after all, determines the winner of the White House, and while tied to the popular vote, it has made popular vote losers into presidential winners four times: 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. Bush, in his 2004 bid for reelection, narrowly escaped falling victim to the same system by which he benefited four years earlier. A mere 180,000 votes in Ohio clinched the state, and thus the election, for the current President.
The Electoral College, as established by Article II of the U.S. Constitution, awards Electoral Votes to states on the basis of their combined number of Senators and Representatives. While every state has two Senators, House delegations are reapportioned every ten years consistent with the census. State legislatures are empowered to determine the manner by which Electoral Votes are awarded. In 48 states and the District of Columbia, Electoral Votes are extended in winner-take-all fashion. A candidate need only secure a plurality of a state vote to secure all of its Electoral Votes.
Through this process, a close popular vote can yield a blowout in the Electoral College if the winner of the former secures narrow margins in states with hefty Electoral Vote totals. It also enables a mismatch between popular and Electoral votes if a candidate wins battleground states narrowly while faring poorly in enemy territory.
Two states use another mechanism to allocate Electoral Votes, Maine and Nebraska. These states award the winner of the state's popular vote two Electoral Votes. Then, the winner of a congressional district is awarded a single Electoral Vote for each district secured in the state. Maine and Nebraska are small and politically safe (blue and red, respectively), so both tend to send a uniform delegation for the Democratic and Republican candidate.
Enter California. State GOP strategists are backing an initiative, the Presidential Election Reform Act, to appear on the June 2008 ballot to implement a system identical to Maine and Nebraska. The impact could be profound. For example, in 2004, John Kerry defeated President Bush by 10% in the statewide vote, yet the Massachusetts Senator lost 22 of the state's 53 congressional districts to the incumbent. Kerry walked away with all of the state's 55 Electoral Votes, but would have secured 33 to Bush's 22 under a district system.
This is cause for concern in the Democratic Party. Most assume that Ohio will shift from red to blue in the coming election, a transfer of 20 Electoral Votes. Assuming the rest of the electoral map stays the same, the Democratic winner would soon be measuring the dimensions of the Oval Office. California holds the potential trump card, however, potentially neutralizing the loss of Ohio or Florida through a recipient allocation of Electoral Votes previously reserved for the Democratic candidate.
California Democrats have countered with a punch of their own. They seek to become the second state to pass legislation to join the Campaign for the National Popular Vote. The statute allocates a given state's Electoral Votes on the basis of the winner of the national popular vote, meaning that George W. Bush, and not John Kerry, would have won all of California's 55 Electoral Votes in 2004. To date, Maryland is the only state with such a law on the books. Twelve others have passed laws in at least one of the two legislative houses. An additional thirty states have introduced similar legislation. These laws would be triggered when a combined 270 Electoral Votes, a majority in the Electoral College, are allocated by a requisite number of states.
Both reforms reek of political maneuvering and arguably do little to restore the small-d in democracy. The move to allocate Electoral Votes by congressional district comes closer to this end, but would not be realized until adopted universally. In an isolated situation like California, it does little more than rig an election in one party's favor. The Campaign for a National Popular Vote seems like a round-about way to undermine the Constitution. The document makes alterations to its fabric possible through an amendment process. This organization and its adherents would enjoy more legitimacy if they worked through these established channels.
Both measures could appear on the June 2008 California primary ballot. At stake: The resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue circa 2009.
Democrats and the DH
The authors find a statistically significant correlation between political ideology and support for the designated hitter used in Major League Baseball's American League. Political liberals, and adherents to the Democratic Party, are more likely than independents and Republicans to defend the DH. They control for age, geography, and race/ethnicity (not clear why, although this is standard fare in the field). The authors anticipated (correctly) that older respondents would be less supportive of the DH as many of them lived prior to its installation in 1973. They also took into account geographical association with a given team of either league as we defend our local nine first and foremost (states with AL teams will support the DH, for example).
Zorn and Gill attribute the difference to the "tension between tradition and change." While political conservatives revere tradition and resist change, liberals welcome the latter, "...particularly when those changes can be shown (or are believed) to yield tangible benefits." Conservatives arguably see the pitcher's abdication of his hitting role within the realm of the larger "decline in the culture of personal responsibility in America over the past several decades."
I must begin by congratulating the authors for their compelling narrative before pointing to the potential holes in their logic. I'll begin with a few anecdotes and will later identity methodological limitations.
I am a native of Milwaukee and a lifelong Brewers fan. The Brew Crew moved to Milwaukee in 1970 from Seattle and was a member of the AL through 1997. They subsequently switched leagues in 1997 to balance the number of teams in each league with the entrance of two expansion teams (Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks). I have since moved to Chicago, and for the past 5 years, have been a White Sox season ticket holder. I love the AL, its teams, and most of all, the DH. From Paul Molitor to Frank Thomas to Jim Thome, the thousands of hours I have spent and spend at baseball games are remarkably enhanced by these current and future Hall of Famers, all of them taking the majority of their AB's as DH's.
My dad is also a Milwaukee native. He was born one year prior to the arrival of the Braves from Boston in 1953. They played in "Bushville" (Casey Stengel's description of Brew Town) through 1965, winning one World Series and losing another. He was thrilled when the Brewers switched to the NL, for he now watches the teams of his youth and relates to the managerial strategies that defined his education in the nuances of the game.
Both of these anecdotes serve to illuminate the power of the control variables the authors employ. In the case of me and my dad, our respective ages and geographic attachments are complicated by franchise moves, league switches, and yes, the adoption of the DH. Moreover, we Americans are a mobile people. I, for instance, live only 90 miles from home, but reside in a different state. This muddies their geographic control variable.
Furthermore, what about citizens in states with dual allegiances? The authors account for split loyalties like Cubs-Sox in Chicago, but what about those from downstate Illinois who live and breathe Cardinals red? How about Northeasterners who live somewhere above or beneath the Munson-Nixon Line (draw at roughly Hartford, CT), many of whom have no team at all, but are lifelong devotees of the Red Sox or rival Yankees?
My criticisms have narrowed in on potentially mitigating factors related ton the control variables. I'll resist the temptation of delving into the other implications of this study and my dual passion in life, politics. On the surface, I feel as if baseball trumps political ideology, with our allegiance to the former outpacing the latter. If I was a lifelong Red Sox fan and a died-in the-wool conservative, I would defend the DH despite its attack on tradition and personal responsibility. On the other hand, if I was a Los Angeles fan and a bleeding heart liberal, Dodger blue would mask the progressive promise of the DH as a part-time job for aging heroes.
Wasn't this the point of moving the Montreal Expos to our nation's capital? The Washington Nationals were supposed to bring a bitterly divided company town together, unified in their opposition to the DH across the party aisle.
News of its inaccuracies and arguably defamatory content in the case of legendary reporter, editor and First Amendment icon John Seigenthaler, Sr., surfaced in 2005 and made us all skeptics of entires penned in many cases by commoners and conspiracy theorists. Yesterday's front page of the NY Times included an article detailing how companies use Wikipedia as a PR mechanism, uploading content, even editing words to place their enterprises in the best possible light. Such damaging evidence considered, should wiki's be relegated to the credibility of a chat room conversation at 2am?
I would argue in the negative. First of all, in my research for an April article on Internet censorship in China (Social Education, Vol. 71, No.3, Pages 158-163), I found that Wikipedia stood alone among major American tech companies in its refusal to cede to the demands of the Great Firewall.
If official state censorship will not be sanctioned, then why back down to big business? This is where we must play a part in the process. The answer is not to dismiss Wikipedia altogether, but to partake in the process, essentially answering biased speech with our own counterpunch, attaining objectivity along the way. It's really no different than good reporting in an era when we're all publishers.
PR firms have their own media practice and are hired out by corporate America (and even nonprofits like the Freedom Museum) to help shape the image of their clients in print, on television, and increasingly, on the Internet. They pen op-ed pieces, march out a parade of press releases, and plant seeds for favorable stories in the minds of reporters and the their editors. Professional journalists take this information and dig for data that presents the opposing viewpoint, allowing the reader/viewer to draw their own conclusions.
Wikipedia enables us to do the same, but requires the vigilance of an Internet populace still in a fledgling state. Truth is ours for the taking, or should I say making?
With the 2008 Presidential race gathering steam more than a year before the general election actually takes place, primaries have crept earlier than ever before. In fact, with
In my opinion, this would be a negative development, and could have a number of implications for our democracy as a whole. Perhaps most immediately, we are likely to see a good deal of fatigue (and, some would argue, disenchantment) with an electoral process that is so drawn out. Voters may tire of constant campaign ads and news reports about candidates on the stump, and as a result they may simply tune it out. Thus, civic engagement and perceptions of voter efficacy may suffer. Election Day turnout will almost inevitably fall as a result.
Additionally, a longer election cycle means that more money needs to be pumped into each and every political campaign. The field is crowded this time around, and with no end to the rat race in sight, it's likely that the fund-raising abilities of top candidates and the wealth of some special interests will be magnified in their importance as time drags on. While the argument that campaign donations constitute free speech holds water with me right now, the longer and more expensive the road to the White House becomes, the more I'll be inclined to believe that the highest office in this country is merely sold to the one with the richest friends. It's a fine line between protected speech and buying influence, and a slippery slope to try to draw this line through legislation. In a pamphlet I was given by the
One obvious advantage of the new, lengthier electoral process is the fact that, after more than a year of hard campaigning on the part of each candidate, the American people will have seen their future leader tempered by the heat of prolonged battle long before he or she assumes the Oval Office. But at what cost (literal and figurative)? Where does it end - if this front-loading of elections continues, will Iowa and New Hampshire eventually hold primaries for the next election in the weeks after each new president's inauguration?
Perhaps I'm getting a bit carried away with hyperbole, but the fact is that ludicrously drawn-out election cycles have the potential to harm civic engagement, voter turnout, and the state of our democracy as a whole (at least on some level). In order to combat this phenomenon and mitigate the negative effects of long campaigns, we can implement a number of measures designed to reign in these runaway contests.
For starters, it may be possible to stop primaries from creeping ever earlier by passing a federal law that sets a date before which no states may vote. This would at least prevent election season from growing longer every four years, and eventually it could lead to a de facto national primary (states crowding together to hold elections on the first date allowed by law). While campaigning would certainly be a free-for-all (as it should be) before and after such a date, placing reasonable limits on the length of election season might make a positive difference.
Another solution, though much more controversial, would be to limit spending for presidential campaigns. Public funding has proven to be more or less impractical and McCain-Feingold has had limited effect, but capping the amount of money that candidates can raise/spend could help to level the playing field and confine campaign contributions more firmly to the arena of free speech (rather than purchasing influence). By setting reasonable limits ($50 million, say), campaigns could rely on donations from individuals rather than PACs and lobbyists. The Constitutional implications of such a measure would have to be exhaustively explored, of course, as any such legislation could leave the door open to abridgment of First Amendment rights (which should be avoided entirely).
I would like to emphasize the firm conviction that any proposals similar to the ones I describe above should be implemented only with extreme care and the utmost caution, as failure to do so could have disastrous implications for free speech and expression in a broad sense. It may be that these proposals violate the First Amendment even as I describe them (in some way I have not yet foreseen), in which case I would strongly oppose them. By proffering these ideas in this blog entry, I merely hope to engage in productive dialogue about our rapidly accelerating election cycle, not to advance any agenda or solve specific problems.
It is also possible, of course, that this year’s exhaustive election will tire the voting public to such an extent that the 2012 election will naturally be curtailed. It is also possible that people will react well to the longer cycle, that fatigue and disengagement will not happen as I fear they might, and that negative effects will not be felt. At the very least, however, the question should remain an open one, and the impact of front-loaded primaries should be carefully measured. It is through such dialogue (and such vigilance) that democratic institutions and processes are preserved.
On another note entirely, this will be my final blog post as an intern at the
Texting 'Bout My Generation
“OMG, Hillary 4 president is so cool ; ).”
Hillary Clinton was among the first presidential candidates to announce plans to send voters text messages such as this one, now listed on her campaign website.
“By harnessing the power of text messaging, we can engage voters in the political process using the latest technology and provide personalized, local campaign updates to our supporters nationwide,” she said in a news release. “This is an exciting step forward that I hope will continue our conversation with voters in a new format.”
More than 18 billion text messages were sent in the
Political campaigns are grasping the potential these numbers represent. The impending presidential election includes three front-runners who use text messaging to reach out to the general public.
Sens. Clinton, Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards have all enacted plans to incorporate text messaging into their campaigns.
Obama’s new media director, Joe Rospars, said text messaging is just another addition to the already multi-faceted campaign.
“That’s the game here- to innovate on all fronts,” he told the Chicago Tribune in July.
“Howard Dean’s 2004 run for the Democratic nomination showed how technology can make a relatively unknown candidate a legitimate contender,” he said. “His campaign’s use of a blog, meet-up technology, and online fundraising set the standard for the entire 2008 field.
“Campaigns will continue to seek out every and all techniques that might contribute to their own success, catapulting them above opponents stuck using more traditional methods.”
New York State Assemblyman Mark Weprin said technology enhances political campaigns because candidates can communicate more directly with voters.
“Every candidate wants to have as much contact with voters as possible, and text messages allow candidates to conveniently reach many more voters than they could by knocking on doors or shaking hands,” he said.
Text messages from presidential candidates generate excitement and elicit support. They provide the cell phone user with information from the campaign trail, sometimes including pictures, and are sent only to those who have signed up for the messages.
Some, such as those sent by John Edwards’ camp, provide the voter with a simple way to donate money. According to an article published by the Chicago Tribune, Edwards’ supporters can press one button upon receiving one of his text messages to be connected directly with a fundraising representative.
Robert Shapiro, professor of political science at
“Text messages facilitate quick communication,” he said. “There is a personal and quick aspect to it that will be helpful.”
Healy agreed that the intimacy of text messages will benefit those candidates who take advantage of it.
“Politics has always been about the personal,” he said. “Such intimate forms of contact only enhance the connection between candidates and potential voters.”
Text messaging also provides politicians with an inexpensive mode of communication. Text messages on average cost 10 cents each to send— a small price to pay in comparison with the millions candidates spend on television advertisements.
According to an AP-AOL-Pew study released in 2003, people between 18 and 29 are more inclined to use the “special features” their phones offer. A Telephia study published in The New York Times in August reported that this age group sends as many text messages as phone calls, averaging in around 300 of each per month. These statistics account for the focus of political text messages on the younger demographic.
New York Times congressional correspondent and political writer Jeff Zeleny said politicians are still unsure of whether the focus on a younger audience will affect the outcome of the election.
“The use of text messaging certainly is directed to a younger audience,” he said. “The big question, though, is this: Will it make younger people actually vote? The campaigns hope so, by getting people involved and by making them feel as though they are part of a larger movement or a greater purpose.”
Assemblyman Weprin described the attention to this demographic as potentially rewarding for candidates.
“Young people represent future voters, so establishing relationships with them early on is good planning,” he said. “And the young voters who have chosen to receive text message updates from candidates may choose to share their excitement with friends, potentially increasing support at the ballot box from those who do not usually vote.”
Robert Calvert, professor of political science emeritus at
“Such a device will appeal to younger persons, or at least the less intelligent or more media-conditioned among them,” he said. “We’re talking, after all, about a generation that by and large has been virtually raised on modern media, TV, certainly, and now the Internet.”
Calvert also said that the focus on younger voters will hurt candidates’ appeals to older voters. He said that older generations may see text messaging as a “blatant, even cynical appeal to the vulnerable ‘kids.’”
“If I got any, I would erase them immediately,” she added. “Maybe younger people would welcome them, but I don’t.”
For now, candidates send text messages only to those who have signed up to get them.
Political text messages provide candidates with a way to speak to voters that is “essentially not a public form of communication,” according to Calvert.
“To be sure, the appeal to younger voters is by means of technique, not substance,” he said.
Calvert worries that political text messages cross an unwritten line.
“There should be a certain ‘civil distance’ between a candidate and voters,” he said. “The candidate, as potential office holder, can and should properly address constituents in their public roles, not as private persons. Such personal intimacy and the ‘friendship’ it implies is quite out of place in our politics.”
Healy said this ‘intimacy’ will help politicians in the polls.
"Voters tend to select candidates with whom they feel most comfortable, not with whom they agree with on specific issues,” he said.
The campaigns of Clinton, Obama and Edwards did not respond to calls regarding what Calvert described as a breach of barriers.
Calvert said avoiding being swayed by the use of the new technology would take a mature younger voter who “recognizes the transparent gimmickry involved- who thinks like an adult.”
For now, this specific use of technology is being exhibited primarily by Democratic candidates. Several Republican candidates, though, such as former Gov. Mitt Romney have expressed interest in following suit. Mindy Finn, his campaign director of e-strategy, told the Chicago Tribune he will begin using text messages “very soon, at a time that makes sense,”
“It’s a long campaign,” she said.
The Democrats are ahead with text messaging because of Howard Dean’s failed 2004 presidential campaign. It was known for taking advantage of the Internet to manage fundraising. Many advisers who had been responsible for such work are working other in different presidential campaigns, specifically those of the Democrats.
According to Calvert, the Democratic Party has been more inclined to appeal to younger generations since the student rebellion of the 1960s.
“The young rebels of those days were nothing if not alienated from the ordinary political process, which they regarded variously as simply corrupt, a mere tool of the ‘establishment,’ or ‘irrelevant,’ as they dismissively put it,” he said. The Democratic party of 1972 then tried to attract the “rebellious young” of the era and since has emphasized the importance of youth in party support.
Calvert said the recent increased use of technology will change American politics.
“It will further the transforming of American political campaigns into calculations of what will interest this or that segment of the populace, often at the expense of other segments, rather than a periodic effort to frame issues with an eye to the public good,” he said.
“It’s crashingly obvious that such a high-tech culture goes hand-in-hand with high socio-economic status.”
Healy added that this division goes further than social status, though.
“I know that poor people are less likely to vote than their more affluent peers,” he said. “I also know that the so-called digital divide, while it still exists, is narrowing. The same trend holds for education. Those with more education are increasingly likely to vote. Campaigns work with the knowledge that only the most committed voters turn out in the primary elections and caucuses of the presidential nominating process.
“Given limited resources, they are wise to focus their energies on those most likely to vote. Wealthier and more educated voters fit this profile.”
As to the future of text messaging in political campaigns, most agree that the trend will continue.
Professor Richard Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Winning Elections, said text messaging will grow even more popular among political campaigns at all levels, starting with Congressional campaigns in 2008.
“The only thing that would prevent its future use would be strong negative feedback,” he said. “Otherwise it is cheap and capable of being precisely targeted. It could work out very well for politicians.”
Such politicians are hopeful about the continuation of political text messages.
“Because they are inexpensive, easy to produce, and provide a direct contact with voters, text messages and other communications that make use of new technology are likely to increase in popularity in the coming years,” Assemblyman Weprin said.
Zeleny foresees an even greater usage of technology in future elections.
“Text messaging will surely continue to evolve and improve in political campaigns, paving the way for techniques that we can’t even imagine today,” he said.
A Nation of Turtles
Putnam presents two age-old sociological theories to explain the possible outcomes of the transformation of social capital as a result of more diversity. The "contact hypothesis" suggests that interaction with diversity fosters tolerance and solidarity. The "conflict hypothesis," on the other hand, predicts the opposite: distrust among different groups and solidarity within one's own enclave. He rejects both through bivariate and multivariate models, the latter controlling for various potentially mitigating factors, and places forward the so-called "constrict theory." Here diversity leads to rejection of both in and out-group solidarity.
Among the evidence that Putnam finds in support of "constrict theory" in diverse locales:
*There is less confidence in local government and media.
*People are less apt to think that they can make a difference politically.
*Lower levels of voter registration.
*Less volunteering and charitable giving.
*Fewer friends, less happiness, and a perceived lower quality of life.
*More time watching TV.
Putnam concludes, "diversity does not produce bad race relations or ethnically-defined group hostility... Rather, inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin..." In short, those who live in diverse communities act like turtles, essentially hiding in our shells.
While Putnam seemingly controls for all extraneous variables in his study, for he truly detests the results, I feel as that he is missing some key distinctions between urban/suburban/rural living that lend themselves to similar conclusions that Putnam attributes to diversity. I have personally lived in all three environments (if a small town qualifies as rural), and wonder if these factors are more a product of urban life than the diversity characteristic of cities.
"Contact theory" seemingly does explain the tolerance that builds in a big city like Chicago. Think of Boys Town on the north side of the city, where a large gay community has built tremendous in-group solidarity while at the time fostering ever-growing acceptance from the larger community. I acknowledge that race and ethnicity are arguably even more complicated barriers to penetrate, but I do believe that those who live and work in a diverse community are more open-minded and connected to groups different from their own than those in more homogeneous settings. It is much more difficult to distrust, hate and hold stereotypes when you work, worship, and play with individuals who are members of "out-groups."
To expand upon the distinctions I make above concerning place of residence (urban/suburban/rural), city living does carry with it a certain level of anonymity impossible in small towns and most suburbs. Such anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it's nice to traverse the sidewalks alone without running into a familiar face. At the same time, the sheer multitudes of people living in a square block in a metropolis like Chicago make it difficult to build the deep connections conducive to social capital. Moreover, powerlessness and alienation are logical byproducts of living in a location where one vote truly is less influential from a proportional standpoint.
My criticisms of Putnam are rather rudimentary and would need to withstand the empirical testing he conducted to reach the conclusions detailed above. I am a huge fan of his career work and share his long-term hope that we turn our melting pot/tossed salad society into the positive it truly is. We city slickers would be wise to look at ourselves in the mirror and to begin building the social capital wanting in our daily haunts.
Slippery Slope for Scary Story
Last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on behalf of the school district on both counts. They cited a slew of Supreme Court cases related to student speech, including Tinker, Fraser, and Hazelwood, along with the TLO v. New Jersey case implicating student privacy. They went further to suggest that in their district, "school officials 'must have the flexibility to control the tenors and contours of student speech within school walls or on school property, even if such speech does not result in a reasonable fear of immediate disruption.'"
In concluding that Rachel's writing clearly constitutes expression, the material and substantial disruption standard of Tinker applies, as it threatened the "maintenance of order and decorum" within Roswell High School. The court went further, however, by applying the recent Morse v. Frederick (AKA, Bong Hits 4 Jesus) opinion, equating the school's right to limit drug-related speech to the threat of school violence.
In the end, according to the opinion, "there is...no First Amendment right allowing a student to knowingly make comments, whether oral or written, that reasonably could be perceived as a threat of school violence, whether general or specific, while on school property during the day."
The outcome of the case is by no means shocking and is arguably a reasonable ruling. A concurring opinion writing by the Honorable Susan Black limited the decision to solely the Tinker material and substantial disruption standard, suggesting that the court need go no further in applying the slew of student speech cases that have since eroded the impact of the landmark ruling. I tend to agree with Judge Black, and fear the rather narrow "Bong Hits" ruling will be applied in a broader fashion with this opinion cited as precedent.
From Saigon to Baghdad
The event consisted of a panel discussion led by former copyboy, reporter, editor, and President and CEO of the Chicago Tribune Jack Fuller. A Pulitzer Prize winner himself, Fuller presided over a prestigious panel of distinguished reporters including George Esper (retired, professor at West Virginia University), Steve Komarow (editor, AP), and Colin McMahon (editor, Chicago Tribune). The panel focused on reporting during times of war, specifically in the combat zone. The context was the parallels and distinct differences between the Vietnam War and the current conflict in Iraq.
Esper spoke of complete access to combat zones as a reporter in Vietnam. Komarow said that current journalists are less dependent on the military for information nowadays given technological breakthroughs. Access itself is now more limited. For instance, reporters in Iraq must undergo biometric exams in order to obtain a press pass! McMahon even recognized a changing landscape during the course of the current war. As Iraq became more dangerous, reporters need to engage in advance planning to travel anywhere, and access is therefore perpetually threatened.
The panel drifted to the topic of embedding reporters within combat units. Fuller suggested that the practice is controversial because it is difficult to see outside the perspective of the unit. Komarow echoed this concern, claiming the practice is useful from the standpoint of seeing what is actually happening on the ground, but masks the larger picture. McMahon claims that embedded coverage must be balanced with multiple perspectives, a difficult proposition for medium to small newspapers.
The panel also assessed the impact of the Internet on war coverage. McMahon said that the 24-hour news cycle makes all reporters more conscious of what's happening around them and this spurs better coverage by individual reporters. Komarow is concerned about the ease of posting stories in the Digitial Age, and as an editor, is constantly attempting to slow down the process to ensure accuracy. Esper contends that bloggers are not journalists given the number of unverified stories, and lamented about the fact that mainstream journalists are forced to the react to their claims, true or false.
The program ended with audience questions, from the media's responsibility for the lead-up to the Iraq War to reporters' concerns for the lives of American soldiers in the field, and concluding with assessing the impact of media consolidation on war coverage. I left with greater respect for the AP and reporters on the battlefield in general. At a time when most papers are cutting back or discarding international reporting altogether, the AP has actually bulked up their foreign bureaus and is filling the void. Moreover, reporters continually enter hostile environments to inform Americans back home about the international exploits of our nation. Every day, the AP, and these foreign correspondents, do all of us a great service.
Wildcats Tamed by Moot Standing
The precedent applies only to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming, but can be cited elsewhere and thus threatens collegiate student press rights nationally. Moreover, because of the lengthy process typical of court challenges to violations of civil liberties, most student challenges would be effectively mitigated by graduation, enabling more extensive censorship by college administrators.
The Student Press Law Center does point to a few streaks of sunlight in the decision. First of all, the appeals court ruling negates an "awful" lower court decision in favor of administrative censorship. Second, the ruling specifies a process by which student journalists may challenge such interference, namely by including the editor of the paper in the suit, adding the current editor (assuming the former moved on) to the mix, and to ask for declaratory relief along with minimal monetary damages at the outset.
Once again, when viewed alongside the 2005 Hosty decision, student press rights are increasingly in peril at the collegiate level. My May 2007 article on editorial cartooning on campuses only cements this point. At a time when future journalists should be entrusted with the responsibilities of their professional counterparts, and when the students themselves test the boundaries of acceptability, they are roped in by administrators hostile to the concept of a free press and courts' willingness to justify their actions.