Media Happenings at The Enquirer, WXIX & More

Lots of good stuff happened during the past fortnight.Rick Green returned to the Enquirer. He’s the new publisher. That puts a solid, veteran journalist and news executive at the top of our Sole Surviving Daily.

Mar 16, 2015 at 9:52 am

Lots of good stuff happened during the past fortnight. Rick Green returned to the Cincinnati Enquirer. He’s the new publisher. That puts a solid, veteran journalist and news executive at the top of our Sole Surviving Daily.

I’m partial. I liked working with and for Rick during most of his 16 years at the Enquirer. After leaving the Enquirer as an assistant managing editor, he rose through Gannett dailies in Palm Springs and Des Moines. I knew he always wanted to be editor of the Enquirer. Now, he’s publisher to whom the Enquirer’s editor reports.

Over at WXIX, anchor Tricia Macke distinguished herself in award-winning fashion when aspiring jihadist Christopher Cornell called WXIX from federal custody in his Boone County cell. I heard parts of their interview. Macke’s questions were direct, smart and on-topic. Macke showed spine and talent in ways that the anchor desk and her cheerful feature stories rarely allow.

Cornell’s calls were a lawyer’s nightmare. As WLW lawyer-host Bill Cunningham said when Macke appeared on his show, defense attorneys tell a criminal client not to talk to the news media or cell mates. After Cornell’s arrest in January, his federal public defender, Richard Smith-Monahan, won a court order barring public contact with Cornell. Apparently, no one thought Cornell would initiate the outside contact.

This all began on Wednesday, March 4. Cornell’s call was unexpected. Neither WXIX nor Macke initiated contact. They accepted his collect call and two more from Cornell that added up to a 60-minute interview. Thursday, WXIX broadcast an excerpt during its 6:30 p.m. news. Unhappy defense attorney Smith-Monahan immediately went to court. He told U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith that WXIX was in contempt for violating another federal judge’s order "directing the detention facility holding the Defendant not to permit outside contact by anyone with the Defendant without [defense counsel's] express approval.”

When the station learned a contempt hearing was set for Friday morning, it didn’t repeat the clip or broadcast more from the interview at 10 p.m. At Friday’s hearing, Smith-Monahan asked Beckwith to issue a restraining order to keep the station from broadcasting the interview.

I’ve relied on CNN’s summary of the hearing. It said a lieutenant at the Boone County facility testified that one of Cornell's attorneys gave Cornell the phone. The lieutenant said the defense attorney ignored his reminder that Cornell could call anyone he wanted and that seemed at odds with the spirit of the judge’s January court order.

Accusations of contempt are a big deal and this hearing was rich with First Amendment implications. Cornell’s lawyers lost on all counts. Beckwith said WXIX was not in contempt. She ruled that the order prohibiting Cornell from contact with the public was vaguely written. Beckwith ruled it would be unconstitutional to bar WXIX from broadcasting the interview. That would be prior restraint. She also said that while Cornell has the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, he also has the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

In the telephone interview with Macke, the 20-year-old Green Township resident said he planned to kill President Obama, members of Congress, and attack the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He was arrested at a suburban gun shop buying two weapons and ammunition.

"I would have took my gun," he said. "I would have put it to Obama's head. I would have pulled the trigger. Then I would unleash more bullets on the Senate and House of Representative members. And I would have attacked the Israeli Embassy and various other buildings full of kafir [unbelievers] who want to wage war against us Muslims."

Cornell told Macke that "Obama is an enemy of Allah, therefore an enemy of us, of Islamic State." He said his plan for an attack on the U.S. Capitol was retaliation for "the continued American aggression against our people and the fact that America, specifically President Obama, wants to wage war against Islamic State."

CNN said Cornell told Macke he was planning what would have been a "major attack" to take place in Washington on September 20, repeatedly referring to himself as a member of ISIS. "I'm with the Islamic State...I have connections with many brothers over there. We've been corresponding for quite some time now, actually. The FBI finally caught on this past year."

Cornell said he used "encrypted messaging" to communicate with ISIS members. He said they discussed "how we should wage jihad in America. We should form our own groups and alliances with the Islamic State...I’m very dedicated. Like I said, I'm a Muslim. I'm so dedicated that I risked my life. That should say a whole lot."

He also warned that there were others like himself. "We are indeed here in America. We’re in each and every state. We're here in Ohio. We're more organized than you think.”

Admirable as WXIX was in this affair, there was an embarrassing slip when Channel 19’s website identified the federal judge as Susan (sic) Beckwith. It’s either Sandra Beckwith — who handled the case — or her colleague across the hall at the federal court house, Susan Dlott, who was not involved. I think I heard the same mistake broadcast.

Finally, in a recent column, I grumped about a disturbingly inaccurate published account of events I experienced. It involved an essay in the New York Review of Books about race relations in the southern African country of Zambia. Long the white-governed British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, it became independent Zambia with black majority rule in October 1964. I arrived in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia before independence in 1963 and left in 1965.

I wrote to NYReview editors, challenging the accuracy of the essay. My experiences as a photojournalist and news editor in charge of the startup Zambia Times differed dramatically from what essayist Helen Epstein said was commonplace there on the “eve of independence.”

To my delight, I recently received a gracious note and mea culpa from the essayist. Here’s the gist of what Helen Epstein wrote in her otherwise detailed response: “I thank Mr. Kaufman for allowing me to make a clarification. I used the term ‘eve of independence’ too loosely, and should have explained that I was referring to conditions prevailing in the 1950s, not the early 1960s. The account of an apartheid-like system in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) comes from Andrew Sardanis’s description of Chingola, the mining town where he settled in 1950...I’m not surprised that Mr. Kaufman had a very different impression of the country when he arrived in 1963, one year before majority rule.”

Her response and my letter apparently are to be posted on the NYReview website and possibly in print.


• Remember Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn’s recent staff memo about avoidable mistakes swamping the paper? She’s spitting into the wind.

One: A recent Sunday story said the Ohio River reached flood stage of 52 inches. Yes, inches. Then it warned which areas would flood when it reached 53 inches. Yes, inches. Try feet. Or don’t they have rivers where the Enquirer’s copy editing is outsourced?

Two: Less obvious was one of the longest corrections I’ve seen in our Sole Surviving Daily. It took 16 paragraphs. A recent story mistakenly said “United Way looking to raise $500 million” at $100 million a year through 2020. A corrected story said United's  "'Bold Goals' initiative may require $100M."

Rather than honestly call the second story a correction — a $400 million mistake — the paper waited for the third paragraph to say “A story published Friday night at and on the Saturday local cover described incorrectly both the funding total and the fundraising approach...“

Obviously, News Strategists and Coaches aren’t up to the task. Reporters make mistakes. That’s why papers need copy editors as a show of respect for readers.

As I told often-prickly Enquirer colleagues lucky enough for me edit their copy, “Even Nobel Laureates for literature have editors....and you’re no Nobel Laureate.“

Three: An Enquirer reader’s letter to the editor criticized WXIX for broadcasting an interview with local wannabe jihadi Christopher Cornell. Anchor Tricia Mackey (sic) specifically drew the reader’s scorn. Yup. Mackey.  Obviously, neither readers nor editors read Enquirer stories about Macke’s coup.

Four: A CityBeat reader did what any copy editor would do with numbers in a story; he did the sums. Here’s part of his email to editor Washburn:  “For two straight days now, the Enquirer's ‘More Local’ section has run articles about Jim Scott's retirement from WLW. Both articles inform us that Scott is retiring after '54 years' on radio in Cincinnati, but both also cite the start date of Scott's local radio career as ‘March 23, 1968, according to Enquirer archives.’

“Thus, assuming that is the correct beginning date, I can do the math in my head and state that Scott has been on the air here 47 years, not 54. That may seem like a minor quibble...but that type of copy error is something I note almost daily in my Enquirer these days...(I)f you can't get something that simple right, then how do we know whether the more important ‘facts’ in your stories are correct?”

And he concluded, “you need to do a better copy editing job to insure their credibility.”

My reader shared Washburn’s response: “Thank you for your question. Actually Jim has been on radio for 54 years; that is accurate. He has been in Cincinnati for 47 years. We just added a sentence to try to improve the clarity. Have a great day. Carolyn”

To which I’d add, when content becomes untrustworthy, why subscribe (or advertise)? It’s time to rehire unloved copy editors fired as burdens on new Gannett productivity metrics.

• What we've got here is failure to communicate. The Enquirer's local pages again carry the same long USA Today story as the Enquirer’s USA Today section that same day. Doesn’t USA Today tell other Gannett papers what’s coming?

• Why bother to tell Enquirer readers about alternatives for electing Cincinnati City Council if editors reduce the type to where print subscribers — older and most likely to vote — have trouble reading without a magnifying glass? Or don’t bother. Print subscribers will die of old age before any change in local elections.

• Have editors at USA Today decided that any white guys in riot gear represent racist cops? A story on Page 1 of the USA Today section in the Enquirer carried the headline “Feds find racially biased policing in Ferguson”. The accompanying photo showed men with TROOPER clearly printed in white on their body armor.

USA Today editors didn’t know or care that the men were Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and not accused Ferguson cops who had POLICE on their body armor. That’s beyond understanding, unless all white cops look alike and can be defamed with impunity. I asked USA Today’s corrections desk and MSHP about the image. USA Today did not reply nor did I see a correction.

Highway patrol spokesman John Hotz said, “I am not familiar with the picture in question, but if it said Trooper on the body armor, it was probably a State Trooper that was assigned to the detail.”

• Will credulous and agenda-driven journalists rethink their embrace of the white-cops-bad, black-males-good Ferguson narrative? Whatever racism exists in Ferguson police and courts, DOJ said the evidence supports Officer Darren Wilson’s version of his lethal encounter with Michael Brown. DOJ found no credible evidence that Brown had his hands up as he approached Wilson. It’s time to drop images and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!”

Toledo Blade won an $18,000 settlement from feds who confiscated a Blade photographer’s camera and detained her and a reporter colleague outside the Lima tank plant. Feds also deleted her images. The Blade said its lawyer, Fritz Byers, credited the settlement to the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act. It prohibits the government, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offense, from searching or seizing any work product materials possessed by a journalist.

“The harassment and detention of The Blade’s reporter and photographer, the confiscation of their equipment, and the brazen destruction of lawful photographs cannot be justified by a claim of military authority or by the supposed imperatives of the national security state,” attorney Byers said.

Fine, but the Blade agreed “not to publish, distribute, reproduce, sell, or share any of the photographs taken of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio, on March 28, 2014.”

Not publish? Wasn’t that the point of taking the pictures?

• The New York Times did not crop its Page 1 photo of the commemorative march at Selma to delete former President George W. Bush and his wife, according to the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan. Internet, social media and conservative commentariat buzzed over perceived liberal bias in the photo presentation. Sullivan’s emails overflowed and talk shows went nuts; for many wingnuts, the Times is Liberal Evil Incarnate.

Photographer Doug Mills told her it was not cropped. It was as he shot it. A shot including the Bushes was unusable for technical reasons: “Bush was in the bright sunlight. I did not even send this frame because it’s very wide and super busy and Bush is super-overexposed because he was in the sun and Obama and the others are in the shade.”

Sullivan said photo editor Michele McNally showed me the photograph taken with the wide-angle lens that Mr. Mills sent to the photo desk on Sunday after the protests began. “Technically, it’s a bad picture, and he didn’t even send it,” McNally confirmed and Bush “was totally overexposed.”