Columnist Answers Museum's Challenge

Spencer R. Crew, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, has accused CityBeat's Steve Ramos of fabrication. Ramos is no fan of the center. In his latest critical column (see

Feb 1, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Spencer R. Crew, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, has accused CityBeat's Steve Ramos of fabrication.

Ramos is no fan of the center. In his latest critical column (see Arts Beat, issue of Dec. 14-20), he says he toured the center with a Chicago friend and quotes him saying, "This is a museum of signs ... Beautiful, colorful signs, but little else." He identifies the unnamed friend only as a "historian and well-regarded lecturer on the Underground Railroad, slavery and African-American genealogy."

Crew (see Letters, issue of Jan. 4-10) says he shares those areas of expertise and "members of the Freedom Center staff or I know nearly all of the historians and lecturers of any note on these subjects — including those live or work in Chicago. No one I know in Chicago has expressed such negative or gratuitous comments as our anonymous tipster."

Crew charges Ramos with creating "an alter ego critic out of whole cloth — an anonymous surrogate for the writer's own grumpy views about the Freedom Center."

If true, that's about as bad as it gets.

Crew is wrong, Ramos says.

It's "not a fabrication." Ramos says he wasn't wearing his journalist's hat during the center visit. So, when he quotes the guest's dismissive remark, Ramos says, "It would not have been fair to him to out him by name." Ramos also says he fears his friend might be targeted for "negative fallout" if he were identified as a critic of the center.

The friend is Chicago State University genealogist Tony Burroughs, Ramos said after Burroughs agreed to release his name. Google him and you'll find his books, lectures, professional memberships and honors, TV and print media appearances and his role in at least one African-American museum.

· · ·

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) has introduced legislation allowing virtually all federal courts to open themselves to TV cameras. He says live broadcasts would enhance the public knowledge and understanding of trial and appellate courts in ways newspapers cannot.

No offense taken, Steve. Instead, let me respond as an avis raris, a layman who watched and reported untelevised federal courts daily for most of two decades for The Cincinnati Enquirer:

· Anything that attacks the public's profound ignorance of federal courts is to be applauded.

· Live TV will erode the awe in which federal courts are held. That's not all bad. My layman's respect for the staff, lawyers and judges increased as I came to know them.

· Live TV will undermine today's increasingly nasty partisan attacks on "unelected" federal judges and justices with lifetime appointments.

· Viewers will learn that wisdom and virtue do not reside in any single judicial philosophy or party's appointees.

· Don't worry about the lawyers. They're already theatrical.

· · ·

Curmudgeon notes
· CincyBusiness has a cover story on Margaret Buchanan, publisher of The Enquirer. It lacks her voice, but Greg Loomis says she didn't return calls during the three months he spent on the story. CincyBusiness Editor Felix Winternitz says Buchanan is the first person to appear on the magazine's cover who didn't talk with its writer. Loomis agrees when Winternitz says, "We are competition, and why should she help us in our business?"

Still, I would have been interested in how she reconciles journalistic conflicts of interest as a major player in high profile groups that her reporters must cover.

· More neo-con lies? The Weekly Standard sends alarming notices that my subscription has expired, urging me to re-establish our relationship (paying for the pleasure of their company). Meanwhile, in the spirit of "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie," The Weekly Standard continues to arrive with the (correct) expiration date "FEB0606" on the label. I offered to lend them the renewal price early — at the exploitive interest rate charged by local payday loan shops — if owner Rupert Murdoch needed the money that badly. No response.

· And speaking of lies, when critics say news media "lie" because a story contains errors, they accuse us of deliberate deception. Ditto when they cite a "false" headline; not just wrong, but deliberately deceptive. If there is evidence of deception, tell us. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" suffices only for them.

· Old friend and former colleague Deborah Howell, the new Washington Post ombudsman, is the victim of hostile and often stunningly obscene and sexist e-mails. They accuse her of lying because she mistakenly wrote on Jan. 15 criminal GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff "made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties." Evidence is that he gave only to Republicans while his clients gave to both parties. The Post shut down a blog when it couldn't screen the flood of abusive personal attacks, many from left-wing partisans drowning in the bizarre fantasy that Howell and The Post are GOP agents. The anonymous e-mail assault resumed after her Jan. 22 column acknowledged the mistake. Then on Jan. 26, reports, NBC's Katie Couric said, "Democrats took money from Abramoff, too." This is the broadcaster tipped to be the next network anchor. As added, "Sigh."

· Now that hair shirts have yielded to button-downs again, a word about that "miracle" story at the Sago coal mine. The news media accurately reported what the misinformed families and governor said; a story can be accurate and wrong. Those were good sources and the best available. Had the miners survived, no one would have faulted those same sources.

· Are locals ignoring Al Gore's case in front of U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith because The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bill Sloat reported it? A Maryland Internet firm and Gore's satellite/Web site company are fighting over the use of "Current" in their trade names. The suit was filed in Cincinnati because Cinergy is offering Current broadband services neighborhood by neighborhood.

· Why the fuss over a network anchor being seriously wounded in Iraq? He was doing his job and got hurt. When did you see that much attention to a videographer or print journalist dying in a war zone? Or to a single member of the U.S. military dying there?

· Check out Public Eye at Foremost are critiques of and responses by CBS News. Public Eye also comments on "what interests us in the media world," said Brian Montopoli, one of the trio producing Private Eye, especially "when there is not substantive criticism of CBS News." There are such days, he added with a laugh. Public Eye is part of CBS but independent of CBS News. Posted responses are screened by software that keeps comments within CBS broadcast standards, Montopoli said; common obscenities are deleted while outrageous comments are not.

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.