Everyone Wins When a Newspaper Covers the News

Most Tristate households didn't buy a Sept. 19 Enquirer. Too bad. Even 10 days later, it's still a good buy. That Sunday's Local Life and Sunday Forum made it one of the best in memory and confirm Editor Tom Callinan's success at retaining a core of his

Sep 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Most Tristate households didn’t buy a Sept. 19 Enquirer. Too bad. Even 10 days later, it’s still a good buy.  

That Sunday’s Local Life and Sunday Forum made it one of the best in memory and confirm Editor Tom Callinan’s success at retaining a core of his best hard news reporters during brutal staff cuts. Let me explain: Hard news (bikers and cops have a shootout; alerts people to what's happened in the past 24 hours), investigative reporting (Cincinnati laxity at enforcing lead paint removal; tells readers what’s going wrong and who’s responsible) and enterprise reporting (explains stuff).  

Hard news turns me on. I love reporting it. Explanatory journalism is unfailingly satisfying. Investigative reporting never grabbed me in the same way that it energizes some colleagues.

The Sept. 19 Enquirer had two superb explanatory packages. Veteran politics reporter Howard Wilkinson started with his latest coverage of the Fisher-Portman race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. George Voinovich. More important is what was inside that Local Life section.

Unlike some print and broadcast media, Wilkinson gives voice to the three quixotic Third Party candidates. Not just quickie profiles but inclusion in his platform summaries on five key issues. I don’t know where else you’ll get that in one place. I can promise you that you won’t get it in the so-called GOP vs. Democrat debates that ignore third party candidates.

Forum was devoted to evolving federal health care rules. Cliff Peale, who knows his way around medical economics, ranged from explanations of policies to local and personal impacts, including “what to do if” and “how changes affect you.” Again, it’s readable, useful and all in one place.

No, it’s not the complete guide. With a health reform bill that is so long and complex, there’s a good chance no one could provide complete guidance with any credible confidence. But Peale made a good start with admirable clarity. I put down the Forum section reasonably confident that Medicare will continue to be there when we need it.

We need more of this kind of journalism from our Sole Surviving Daily because no one else has the resources.

All of this triggers a memory from the days when I covered federal courts in Cincinnati. The U.S. Attorney’s office had just won a guilty verdict against a physician who billed Medicare for faked eye treatments. He “treated” a registered nurse who realized that the “pop” of a laser had nothing to do with her eye problem.

I remember asking the prosecutor and lead federal investigator about the magnitude of fraud by health care providers. I recall them agreeing that probably 15 cents of every dollar billed to Medicare/Medicaid by physicians, hospitals, equipment providers and others was fraudulent. Put another way, if health care providers would stop lying and cheating, there probably would be enough money to cover everyone forever.  

Curmudgeon Notes

• Almost as the gunfire stopped, Channel 12 had a reporter and videographer at the Camp Washington bar where police and bikers exchanged shots. They had video of wounded cops, surrendering bikers and Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher’s calming recapitulation of what apparently happened. It was good TV journalism and a reminder: This really was breaking news.

A day or two later, Bill Cunningham had Streicher and a lawyer for the bikers on his afternoon WLW radio show. Willie was at his best with smart questions. The lawyer and police chief told us what they knew and responded to Willie’s questions without talking points. There was no shouting match.

A few days later, Cunningham was questioning Kathy Harrell, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, and she lost it. It’s one thing to defend her fellow officers’ decisions and actions, but it’s silly to accuse Cunningham of anti-cop hostility and hang up on him. There are legitimate questions about the fatal encounter at the Camp Washington bar, not least why face masks — once the trademark of international terrorists — now decorate our increasingly militarized local police.     

• Why, after the final GOP primaries, did so many reporters refer to the “surprise” victories of candidates backed by the Tea Party? What was the surprise? That moribund traditional Republicans were trampled by angry, frightened and hostile activists whose enthusiasm and success in earlier primaries has been a staple of the commentariat for weeks?

Liberals of all parties have been dismissive of the ability of the Tea party and Moral Majority and Silent Majority to galvanize voters. They were wrong. Ask Nixon, Reagan, Gingrich and W. Maybe there is something in the derisive expression “egghead.”

• Do broadcasters listen to what they read on the air? Joey Votto and Scott Rolen hit back to back home runs on successive pitches. Broadcasters said the homers were “tiebreakers.” I don’t think so. If Votto broke the 2-2 tie, there was no tie when the Rolen hit the next pitch out of the park.

• Three young U.S. hikers were arrested by Iranians after straying across the border from Iraq or the Iranians crossed the border and seized the trio in Iraq. Most broadcasters and print/online sources I'm familiar with choose the former, embracing the version created by Tehran.

The Nation documents the latter story, saying in part that after “a five-month investigation by The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute has located two witnesses to the arrest who claim that Bauer, Fattal and Shourd were on Iraqi territory when they were arrested — not in Iran, as Iranian officials have asserted.”

This is the same charge made 13 months ago in London’s Daily Telegraph. How the repetition of the Iranian version continues to be the conventional wisdom is beyond me. I don’t know which story to believe, but the absence of skepticism suggests that too many journalists choose willful ignorance, sloth or their potent combination.  

The Nation continued: “The witnesses are residents of a Kurdish village in Iraq called Zalem, which lies a few miles from the Iran border; they declined to be identified, fearing retaliation from Iranian forces, who have been known to conduct missions across the border. The witnesses separately reported noticing the three Americans as they hiked up a mountain in the scenic Khormal region, which straddles the border. ... The witnesses, who followed the Western-looking hikers out of curiosity, say that around 2 p.m. on July 31, as the hikers descended the mountain, uniformed guards from NAJA, Iran's national police force, waved the hikers toward the Iranian side using ‘threatening’ and ‘menacing’ gestures.

“When their calls were ignored, one officer fired a round into the air. As the hikers continued to hesitate, the guards walked a few yards into Iraqi territory, where they lack jurisdiction, and apprehended them. ... Farhad Lohoni, a local tribal leader, had previously claimed that the American hikers had been snatched from Iraq in a cross-border raid by Iranian agents, as reported in the Daily Telegraph in August 2009. Lohoni said that his relatives had seen a group of men cross the border into Iraq, and he told the Telegraph that the hikers ‘were targeted and captured by a group that came over from Iran, ignoring Iraq's sovereignty. We know this and it means that Iran must have wanted to take Americans hostage at this sensitive time.’ "

• Cincinantian Dan La Botz, who is running for the U.S. Senate on the Socialist Party ticket, says that Ohio’s eight major dailies are making illegal campaign contributions to Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Lee Fisher by including only Portman and Fisher on campaign debates and attendant media exposure. La Botz was not invited to any debates although he's a bona fide candidate and will be on the statewide ballot.

He says the papers are acting through their Ohio Newspaper Organization (OhNO) and, with Fisher and Portman’s cooperation, are violating debate rules set out in the Federal Election Campaign Act. The news media get a pass on the corporate contribution rules, but the FECA requires objective criteria for inclusion or exclusion of candidates on media-sponsored debates. La Botz says OhNO’s decision lack such criteria. He filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission and asked for expedited consideration from a commission best known for delay and dithering.

La Botz said his earlier complaint to OhNO elicited this response from Bruce Winges at The Akron Beacon Journal, one of the eight dailies: “ The Ohio News Organization generally follows the structure used by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which allows for only the major-party candidates to debate. The logic is sound: In a television debate format, when time constraints limit the number of questions and answers to be heard, it is of the utmost importance that voters hear from the two candidates who are clearly the front-runners for the office. While we have and will continue write about third-party candidates when warranted, including them in debates limits Ohioans’ ability to hear answers from the top candidates on issues critical to the state’s future.”

• OhNO also ticked off a reporter from The Other Paper in Columbus. Lyndsey Teter says OhNO wouldn’t let her into its first televised debate for governor. Using her blog, she said OhNO’s email alerting journalists to the deadline for credentials wasn’t sent to her alternative weekly. Calls to OhNO member papers before the debate but shortly after the deadline proved useless, she says.

• And finally, in stories that have grabbed almost as much space as the war in Iraq, has anyone in the  news media asked why celebrity blondes Paris Hilton (drugs) and Lindsey Lohan (probation violation most recently) own “get out of jail free cards” while lesser mortals serve their time?

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]