As I prepare to teach the history of journalism this semester, I’ve been thinking about whether reporters used to do a better job.

The notions of objectivity, fairness and balance are standards that occurred in the 1950s when leaders of the media sought a more favorable impression of journalists as professionals. The standards also aimed at a better business model by getting all sides to read a story. Many European journalists eschew such an approach, providing a set of facts and then arguing from a distinctly partisan point of view.

I like the European approach much better. That way I don’t have to parse the political leanings of a journalist who’s hiding behind the alleged standards of objectivity. I think journalists should admit their biases and their partisan beliefs. I like accuracy and transparency as better standards for good journalism.

For example, John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” which chronicles the stories of six survivors of the atomic bomb, is generally considered the finest work in journalism during the 2oth century. The article and book are not balanced. The story describes the horror of what happened and how people lived and died in horrific conditions.

Paul Fussell, the late academic who might have been one of the estimated one million Allied casualties had the bomb not been used, offered a useful and not-so-objective look at the alternative in his 1981 essay in the New Republic, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb!”

In his excellent book, “Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism,” American University professor W. Joseph Campbell dispels a number of myths held strongly by reporters. For example, the evidence that Richard Nixon won the 1960 first debate with John Kennedy on radio and lost among television viewers has little basis in fact. The evidence simply does not exist.

Campbell argues successfully that Woodward and Bernstein did not bring down Nixon as a result of their Watergate reporting. The Washington Post’s efforts dovetailed with the work of Congress, the judicial system and other perhaps more important actors in the scandal.

I would add some other examples of getting it wrong. The Tet Offensive got widespread attention as an example of how the United States was losing the war in Vietnam. In fact, the Viet Cong suffered huge losses—a fact that did not get much play in the media.

Joe McCarthy may have used extreme tactics in his attack on Communism. But his underlying belief that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government after World War II proved to be accurate once Soviet archives became available. Based on documents made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. Library of Congress historian John Earl Haynes concluded that of the 159 people identified as subversives on lists cited by McCarthy, nine had almost definitely aided in Soviet espionage (and many others could be considered security risks for various reasons).

Nevertheless, I found some of the writing of leftists of bygone eras much more palatable than today’s screeds. For example, Martha Gellhorn’s account of the bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War provides a great deal of insight into the “collateral damage” of that war.

Gellhorn, an avowed leftist, got it right in my view when she declared that objectivity was nonsense, particularly when she was reporting about the Nazi death camps.

Jimmy Breslin, another lefty writer, was able to talk with ordinary people—an ability lost by the current generation of reporters. “It’s An Honor” is Breslin’s account of the death and burial of Kennedy in which one of the key characters is the guy who dug the grave for the assassinated president. Here is the column: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/digging-jfk-grave-was-his-honor-jimmy-breslin-1.6481560

Richard Ben Cramer’s account of the 1988 election campaign, “What It Takes,” is a far more insightful analysis that anything we have seen since then, particularly his evisceration of Joe Biden, the plagiarist who became vice president. Cramer’s book is also far better than the acclaimed “Making of a President, 1960” by Theodore White about JFK’s campaign, which we now know had widow Jacqueline as the chief architect of the book’s meme.

You have to respect someone like the recently deceased Nat Hentoff, a lefty who also opposed abortion despite losing many friends and some writing gigs because of his pro-life stance.

All told, journalists did seem to be better once upon a time. At least my students and I will be able to delve into what once was to determine if we can use the lessons of the oldies but goodies to adapt to today’s environment.

Note for transparency purposes: W. Joseph Campbell is a friend. I knew Richard Ben Cramer.


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law and history of journalism.

Why is it so difficult to talk with liberals?

Liberals tend to feel more than think. They feel others’ pain. But they don’t feel conservatives’ pain.

A college classmate recently posted a photo of a Nazi flag next to an American one as an example of her growing concern about hate in the United States as a result of the election. I asked her where the photo was taken? She didn’t know. Who put up the Nazi flag? Did he or she vote for Trump? How many similar examples existed in the United States? Did she know that such a display—although reprehensible—was protected under the First Amendment?

She told me she felt the pain of those facing hate. I replied that it is difficult to determine whether hate crimes are increasing significantly and whether they are tied to Trump’s election. Initial indications show that hate crimes are tied to terrorist attacks at home and abroad more than any other factor.

Liberals change the issue when confronted with facts. A former student who is a college professor said that Donald Trump should not receive any credit for getting the Congress to back down from its decision about changes in the ethics office. I noted his tweets that suggested Congress should address more pressing issues. Therefore, I said, Trump should get some credit.

My former student linked to a post from thinkprogress.org, an unreliable leftist website, that argued that voters turned the tide by contacting their Congressional representatives. You might know that Think Progress has a senior editor who was worried his plumber might have voted for Trump and could physically attack him during a visit. See http://freebeacon.com/politics/thinkprogress-senior-editor-is-scared-of-his-plumber/

I pointed to an article from The Associated Press and a column from The Washington Post that credited Trump with causing the onslaught of the voters’ calls.

My former student then argued that Trump should not get credit for saving 700 jobs at Ford because it was President Obama who saved the auto industry through a bailout. I missed the logical line from ethics to jobs, but that’s what liberals do: change the argument.

Liberals usually think they are the smartest people in the room. When faced with a counter argument, liberals either raise their voices or show disdain rather than entering into a serious discussion about an issue. Liberals HATE discussions, using a variety of logical fallacies. Here is a useful site about logical fallacies—one I give to my students: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/

I confess that I was guilty of all of the above when I was a liberal. Many people would argue that I am still guilty of them as a conservative. Maybe so, but I think I am a whole lot better off than I used to be.


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law.

Against the backdrop of the increasing politicization of football, the sports journos and announcers have failed to note some important issues during the national championship series.

The game between Alabama and Washington was played in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the conservative company liberals love to hate.

The company’s leadership donated money to oppose same-sex marriage and is influenced by Southern Baptist beliefs, including closing its restaurants on Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The announcers dodged any discussion of these important issues.

Then there was the other semifinal game between Clemson and Ohio State, which was played at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

According to the New York Times, the university and its holding company have been the target of “state and federal investigations into allegations of shady recruiting, deceptive advertising and questionable financial aid practices.” The University of Phoenix has received millions of federal dollars from programs intended to help veterans and low-income students. But the students end up with heavy debt and few marketable skills. A Defense Department ban that prohibited Phoenix from recruiting on military bases was recently revoked, but the company remains under heightened scrutiny. The Times also reports that enrollment at the school “has been falling and profits shrinking, casting doubt on the future health of the industry.”

Hmm… I didn’t hear anything about the problems during the game, only the glowing ads promoting the U.

Then there’s the final matchup, which will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Raymond James Financial has had a number of run-ins over questionable securities practices.

In 2011, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ordered the company to pay restitution of $1.69 million to 15,500 clients for charging excessive commissions on more than 27,000 securities transactions. The trades were made in client accounts between 2006 and 2010. FINRA also fined the company nearly half a million dollars.

Earlier this year, the company was involved in a $350 million real estate scandal in Vermont, agreeing to pay the state nearly $6 million for violating securities laws. Here is some background on the case: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/money/2016/06/30/vt-reaches-595-million-settlement-raymond-james/86550308/

In a separate case, the company agreed to pay $17 million in fines for violating money laundering standards. It was the highest fine in the history of such investigations. Here is some background on this case: http://www.wsj.com/articles/raymond-james-to-pay-17-million-fine-for-anti-money-laundering-lapses-1463590634

The financial company will get a lot of good publicity during the game because it’s unlikely viewers will hear the rest of the story.


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law.

A former student of mine decided he needed to send a thank you letter to a man who fired him.

The purpose was to tell the supervisor that the dismissal was an important experience that made him reflect on what he was doing wrong and how he could improve himself.

I decided to eliminate the names of the individuals and the company for privacy reasons, but my former student gave me permission to use the letter.

“It has been more than 12 months since my final day at [the company]. In the time in-between I realized I needed to contact you. I needed to contact you to thank you. By firing me, you gave me the most effective coaching lesson I ever received during my five-year tenure with the company: In order to be a successful leader, I needed to improve my work-life balance so I could be a better son, brother, cousin, nephew, uncle, friend, neighbor, community leader, volunteer and employee.

“My recovery from losing my job took longer than I wanted. But eventually I discovered running, and I lost more than 30 pounds from mid-September to late November. Next, I began to exercise my mind. I researched and thought long and hard about delegation, prioritization, boundary-setting and multi-tiered goal setting. I revised my resume and practiced job interviewing skills.

“The memory of what happened to me over a year ago still haunts me today. When I recall that day, however, I will always think positively about your closing words, ‘It’s time to start caring about yourself more.’ That sentiment provided me with a glimmer of light as I began my year-long journey inside the dark tunnel that my life subsequently became.

“I respect your ability to lead. Within the short amount of time that I was able to interact with you, I learned a few valuable lessons. When you gave me your personal phone number, I should’ve kept it in a safe place. Instead, I lost it. And it is truly a shame because a year later, I realized that you were reaching out to me then.

“Today a new job awaits me, and I have entertained serious thoughts of returning to college to obtain my Journalism degree and also to pursue a degree in Education. My confidence has soared in the past few weeks, and I feel like anything is possible. The lows, however, still remain. The juxtaposition of the extreme high of obtaining a new job has contrasted with the extreme low of how my tenure at the company ended. This internal conflict has presented me with a tough mental challenge I’ve had to face daily.

“Am I confident that I can deal with these up-and-down feelings? Yes, I am.

“Again, I want to thank you for setting a plan in motion that helped me to discover who I truly am.”

The letter underscores the need to reflect on failure—not to dwell on it. But the evaluation of failures–as well as successes–is a worthwhile resolution for the New Year. It’s an analysis that helped my former student and may help all of us. Happy New Year!


Christopher Harper is a longtime journalist who teaches media law.

The Roman ruins at Palmyra, Syria, before the self-proclaimed Islamic State took control

Syria was always one of my favorite places in the world—an amazing mix of ancient sites that even despots couldn’t destroy until now.

When I worked for Newsweek and ABC News in the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, I spent many days there.

It was difficult to report in the police state of President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country until his death in 2000. He was a bad guy—perhaps even worse than his son Bashar, who now heads the country.

Nevertheless, Syria, the country, was always a nice place to visit. Damascus is considered the longest continuously inhabited city in the world—founded more than 3,000 years ago.

When you go to the old market or souk, you travel along the road where St. Paul was converted. Yes, it’s that road to Damascus. Nearby is thought to be the grave of St. John the Baptist.

The souk is one of the most amazing in the Middle East. I bought my first Persian carpet there, along with numerous copper and brass tables, plates and tea services from “Cha Cha,” a Syrian trader who was a favorite of the foreign community. He even found an old Russian samovar that still has a special place in our home.

The Roman ruins at Palmyra are among the most beautiful in the Middle East, with more than 150,000 tourists visiting the site before the civil war.

Some Arabic dishes in Syria have a distinctly different taste, mainly from a special red pepper from Aleppo, the city now in ruins from the civil war.

I worked on a variety of stories in Syria—almost always under the watchful eye of government censors and secret police. The last one was more than 30 years ago—an investigation of Syria’s connection to the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 servicemen dead.

In 2011, I gave a speech in Beirut to a group of journalists. I argued that the civil war—only a few months old then—required U.S. boots on the ground. More important, journalists needed to document the atrocities of the Assad regime without any concern for objectivity, fairness and balance. Simply put, there were not two sides of the story—only the need to stop the brutality of government.

Two prominent journalists—one from The Washington Post and another from National Public Radio—disagreed with me. I hope they realize now how wrong they were to oppose the involvement of U.S. troops and the need to change from the neutral stance of journalists in covering the civil war.

In 2013 President Obama drew a line in the sand in Syria–a line that was quickly swept away by inaction.

Most people see the horror of what has happened in Syria as a result of the atrocities of the Assad regime and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I’m glad I still have some good memories left.


Christopher Harper worked as a journalist for many years, including nearly a decade in the Middle East for Newsweek and ABC News. He teaches media law.

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A student loan bailout is a dreadful idea–one that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

An estimated 5.3 million people are enrolled in repayment plans, with about $353 billion in outstanding student loans, according to the General Accounting Office. The GAO estimates that $215 billion, or only 61 percent of the debt, will be paid in full. Another $108 billion will be forgiven altogether, with the remaining $29 billion discharged because of death or disability.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump said he would make it even easier for students to let their payments slide. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/10/13/trump-just-laid-out-a-pretty-radical-student-debt-plan/

As a college professor for more than 20 years, I understand that student debt is a serious issue. But it doesn’t make sense to let borrowers off the hook. Students and their parents signed a contract for a loan to get money. If they borrowed money to buy a car or a house, they would have to repay the loan.

As Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith put it: “Students who take out loans don’t tend to follow the strict rational decision-making process that economists often blithely assume. In other words, they fail to calculate carefully whether it’s worth it to take out the loans, and they don’t have a good idea of what it will take to pay off the debt. Students who take out loans don’t tend to follow the strict rational decision-making process that economists often blithely assume. In other words, they fail to calculate carefully whether it’s worth it to take out the loans, and they don’t have a good idea of what it will take to pay off the debt….That mistake is increasingly being encouraged, aided and abetted by the U.S. government.”

Individuals have an option if they cannot pay their loans: bankruptcy. That’s a difficult lesson, but it may get people to think twice about meeting their commitments in the future.

It is also important to look at the underlying causes of student debt, such as the government regulations that create bloated administrative staffs.  Since I started in higher education in 1994, I have seen the expansion of administrative personnel to meet, in part, state and federal guidelines. For example, there were three administrative jobs at the first school I worked at. The second one had seven. My current school has more than 30 administrative staff members, including a dean, a senior associate dean, an associate dean, four assistant deans, a senior vice dean, a compliance officer and myriad other positions. Throughout the university, I have seen the addition of hundreds of people to fill administrative posts. It seems as though everyone has an assistant who also has an assistant.

Trump and his new secretary of education. Betsy DeVos, need to tighten the requirements to get loans and cut the federal regulations that result in colleges and universities expanding their administrative staff. Both of these actions would go a long way to reducing the cost of higher education and make students responsible for their financial decisions.


Christopher Harper worked as a journalist for more than 20 years. He teaches media law.

A car was defaced with slogans in South Philadelphia.
A car in South Philadelphia was defaced with racist slogans.

Two recent events in Philadelphia underline the hypocrisy of the attacks against Donald Trump as a racist.

Only two days after the election, a local news website carried this headline: “Racist and pro-Trump graffiti appears in South Philly following election.”

The article in philly.com described graffiti on cars: “One of the damaged cars was a white SUV that had ‘Trump Rules’ and ‘Black Bitch’ spray-painted across it in large black letters.”

Buried a month later was a story about the arrest of an African-American man from New Jersey who was an ex-boyfriend of one of the victims whose car had been painted with the slogans. What went unsaid was there were no indications that the man had anything whatsoever to do with Trump and his campaign. To make that obvious point, however, would fail to continue the meme of Trump and his followers’ racist tendencies.

Fast forward to an incident just around the corner from my home in Northwest Philadelphia. On Nov. 25, surveillance video captured two men spray painting “F— Trump,” causing an estimated $3,000 to $10,000 in damages.

Police identified assistant city solicitor Duncan Lloyd as one of the two perps. He appeared in the video as a wineglass-toting man clad in an ascot and blazer, who appeared to raise his cellphone to photograph his still-unidentified accomplice.

That’s right! The guy who helped to damage property in my neighborhood is a lawyer for the City of Philadelphia! One might think that he would be fired for his actions, but Philadelphia is a Democrat-controlled sanctuary city. The mayor, Jim Kenney, referred to Lloyd’s actions as “a dumb mistake.”

The city attorney gets to keep his job, and no charges have been filed against him. Just imagine what would happen to someone who painted “F— Obama” on the side of a building in Philly.

The Philadelphia Republican Party has called for Lloyd’s firing. Chairman Joe DeFelice issued a statement shortly after Lloyd was identified.

“If the image of an upper-middle class city attorney clad in a blazer and sipping wine while vandalizing an upscale grocery store with an anti-Trump message strikes you as perhaps the most bourgeois sight imaginable, that’s because it is. Nothing can better represent the hysterical pearl-clutching of the ‘progressive’ elite in response to this earth-shattering election when residents of Chestnut Hill and similar neighborhoods across the country discovered – gasp – that other people have a voice too. The assistant city solicitor in question had ostensibly taken the law into his own hands since a democratic election didn’t yield his preferred outcome.

“For somebody with extensive legal training to feel entitled to vandalize a newly opened supermarket strikes us at the Philadelphia Republican Party as an astonishing feat of idiocy. Did the extra glass of Shiraz give him some sort of delusional confidence that there are no cameras on Germantown Ave? The taxpayers should be entrusting exactly none of our faith into this man. He should be fired from our city’s law department immediately.”

Amen!

See the wine-toting guy at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZwz9JRmUg0&feature=youtu.be

————————————————————————————————————–Christopher Harper worked as a journalist for many years and teaches media law.

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Amid talk of vouchers and charter schools, the Trump administration should consider significant tax breaks for homeschoolers.

The reasons for homeschooling vary. Some parents want to emphasize a religious education for their children. Others want to avoid the left-leaning indoctrination of public schools. Still others face inadequate or unsafe schools.

According to the National Home Education Research Institute, more than two million students in K-12 are schooled at home. One study found that more than 30 percent of these students are Black, Hispanic or Asian. Moreover, the students and their parents save taxpayers more than $20 billion a year based on an estimated cost of more than $11,000 a year per child for a public school education.

But homeschoolers receive no significant tax breaks for teaching their children.

Homeschools in most states cannot be run as a business or even as a non-profit as parents cannot charge their children for their education. Moreover, homeschoolers cannot deduct donations to their own school. Also, the IRS usually does not allow homeschooling to be considered a hobby, which could reap some limited tax benefits.

Here are some possibilities to make homeschooling more affordable:

–Allow tax breaks for tuition and books purchased from homeschooling businesses.

–Provide deductions for individuals who are the primary teacher.

–Give tax incentives for tutoring in specific subjects, such as math, science and technology.

–Provide a mechanism to receive a reduction in local property taxes, which often are paid to local schools, for individuals who homeschool.

“Open the schoolhouse doors and let parents choose the best school for their children,” Donald Trump says. “Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships. I call it competition-the American way.”

That competition should include incentives and benefits for homeschoolers and their children to allow them to choose an option other than charters and vouchers.


Christopher Harper is a recovering journalist who worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times and teaches media law.

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The election results pose some significant challenges for the GOP since the Trump revolution may not have been as far-reaching as many would like to believe.

Donald Trump did not make significant gains nationally, earning only a few more votes than the Republican candidates in the past three campaigns, as Mark Levin has pointed out.

According to Cook Political Report’s latest tally, which is continuously being updated, Trump earned about 62 million votes.

That’s about the same as George Bush received in 2004 and Mitt Romney got in 2012. Even John McCain got 60 million votes in 2008.

In 2008, for example, more than 129 million went to the polls, giving Barack Obama nearly 69.5 million votes and a landslide in the Electoral College. In 2012, more than 129 million went to the polls, providing Obama with more than 65 million.

Hillary Clinton will fall short of Obama’s popular vote in the last election, but not by much. All told, the number of people voting also will fall short of the last campaign.

As the results indicate, Trump did well in the 13 swing states needed to win. According to Cook, Trump got 22.1 million votes in the swing states, while Clinton received 21.2 million. That is a shift of 5.5 percent over 2012, but the razor-thin victories in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan underline a continuing need to work hard over the next four years to keep these states in the GOP column.

It was unclear how many conservatives voted for Trump, although exit polls showed overwhelmingly that people wanted a change from Obama. Forty-six percent of voters said they wanted policies enacted by the next president to be “more conservative” than Obama’s policies, according to ABC News’s election exit polling.

I voted reluctantly for Trump. I credit Trump for bringing more conservatives into his administration so far, which may solidify the GOP’s appeal on the right. The key test to expand the GOP base will be his success in building a more robust economy.

Trump’s election surprised most people. But it’s important to realize that it was not a revolution. It will take a lot of hard work to keep the GOP in power when 2018 and 2020 roll around.


Christopher Harper is a recovering journalist who worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times and teaches media law.

 

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Two words: Supreme Court. That’s why many people voted for Donald Trump.

Trump should have the opportunity to replace at least three justices on the court over the next four years, including the Scalia vacancy, possibly the irritating Darth Vader Ginsburg and the wobbly Anthony Kennedy. It’s conceivable that liberal Stephen Breyer might call it quits, too.

Since the Democrats will undoubtedly fight many of the administration’s policies in the courts, these choices will prove not only important during the Trump years but far beyond them.

As a result, it is important for Trump to choose outside of the usual ranks of the judiciary. Eight of the justices come from the bench; only Elena Kagan does not.

Some of the recent choices from the judiciary by Republicans have not proven reliable. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a neck-snapping decision in support of Obamacare. Kennedy joins the liberals when it comes to social issues involving abortion and same-sex marriages. Perhaps the worst example of a Republican appointment was David Souter, who was selected by George H. W. Bush as a bedrock conservative and joined the liberal side of the bench after a few years.

A conservative bench also could look back on some of the wrong-headed decisions from recent years, including Obamacare. Even more important would be the possibility of a case to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s worth noting that more than 100 federal judgeships are also waiting to be filled.

One suggestion: appoint Ted Cruz to the Supreme Court. Although Trump and Cruz may not have gotten along during the 2016 campaign, the Texas Republican has a significant track record as a conservative.

He has argued more cases before the court than any other member of Congress, including positions to uphold the right to bear arms and religious freedom.

I supported Cruz for president and am pleased to support his nomination to the court. His selection would assuage the doubts of many conservatives who voted for Trump.

Update: I called the presidential election correctly in Pennsylvania in my last post, but I got the Senate race wrong. My apologies to Pat Toomey!


Christopher Harper is a recovering journalist who worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times and teaches media law.