Media bias and hot-button issues


Since the beginning of the year when it first was mentioned, executive action has been the great sleeping giant of U.S. policy. Not until the past couple of weeks has it gained a large presence in the media and stirred extreme responses. Until last night at 8, President Obama had been waffling with the idea.

On Feb. 14, 2013, Obama said: “I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States … my job is to execute laws that are passed.”

Later, on Sept. 17, 2013, Obama spoke on the topic of immigration reform: “There is a path to get this done and that is through Congress.”

Big-time news networks, however, like CBS and ABC, have avoided questioning the president’s blatant flip-flopping. They only covered his admissions briefly, NBC allowing 12 seconds on air and ABC, 91 seconds.

Assuming that the media play a role as a watchdog of sorts, why have they failed to ask about the why’s and when’s of this contradiction? When it comes to power, the truth should always be spoken. The basic responsibility of the reporter, then, is to hold the powerful accountable to the truth. Sure, the waffling has been noted but has it really been analyzed on the media?

Instead, networks like CBS did all they could to push the argument towards pro-executive amnesty. On “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley,” a two-minute segment was spent telling the story of the children of an illegal immigrant. It told the “story of a divided family.”

On “NBC Nightly News,” Chris Jansing’s report on the pro-amnesty crowd leaned too far as she opened up the segment with: “they were gearing up to defend President Obama.”

What is clear is that only one side of the argument has had its fair share of photos and captions — portraying an overall image of innocence.

The executive decision made last night came as no surprise. What did, however, was the media’s bias on such a hot-button issue.

Fairly reporting Eminem’s ‘F-bombs’


Everyone knows there are the seven deadly words you cannot say on air. These are typically the words you emphasize, the words you use at the end of an argument, the words for which your mother would wash your mouth out.

This past Veteran’s Day, I tuned into HBO to watch the Concert for Valor — a concert held in the National Mall with a big crowd and an even bigger lineup of familiar voices.

After a little bit of “Born in the USA” from Bruce Springsteen and “America the Beautiful” from Zac Brown Band, the concert (the first of its kind) closed with a “Happy Motherf—-ng Veteran’s Day!” from the one and only Eminen.

He dropped more f-bombs than Times Square has dropped the ball. According to a source from USA Today, the count added up to more than 55. Gutsy for an event held in commemoration of our country’s heroes and in celebration of all that they have done. Obscene for a crowd whose ages and interests all varied greatly. But then again, it’s HBO. HBO is notorious for its laissez-faire approach towards censorship.

However, unlike the usual, the channel allowed its cable operators to open the signal — broadening its audience potentially from 30 to 70 million viewers at home who do not subscribe to it.

In a poll on Entertain This!, 51 percent said that the show was fine and represented our emphasis on free speech while 49 percent just said it wasn’t the right venue for that kind of performance.

Social media have lit up in response to this cursing which naturally has made it all the social craze on the media.

Most tweets read disappointment:

“Turning off HBO after all the swearing coming out of EMINEM..they cld have put him on later..after kids like myself have gone to sleep,” from Najat Dawaji.

“Pretty strange to hear Eminem swearing up a storm as the grand finale to thank our vets. So much anger and hostility is those F-bombs,” from Ace Hoffman.

“With the gun shot effects, swearing, lyrics, I don’t think Eminem was the best choice for #ConcertForValor…” from @VTJawo.

Through all of this, the media have rightfully remained unbiased in their publications — something to admire. With each major news source pumping out the same story, I have half expected one of the reporters to slip and show his or her true colors.

Blog post after blog post, I have criticized or critiqued the reporting of our day — either calling into question issues such as media blackouts, bias or hype. Fair reporting is not entirely a lost art, however. And in this case, with a topic that could easily ignite high emotions, the media has responsibly remained impartial.

To read more on USA Today, follow the link:

The role of the fixer


Amanda Lindhout was a Canadian freelance journalist when she was taken by Islamist insurgents in Somalia around 2008. Daniel Pearl was working for the Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped by Pakistani militants in 2002 for investigating further into the “shoe-bomber” case. Steven Sotloff was an American freelance journalist when he was taken by ISIL militants in Syria last year.

A lot of the times, we don’t hear about these journalists unfortunately until their deaths or rescues are brought to the forefront. We don’t tend to hear about how the journalists made their way through enemy territories, how they managed to efficiently communicate during their time there, where they found their sources.

At the source of all of this maneuvering, this bribing and threatening, this sneaking around and truth-seeking are the fixers, those who work behind the scenes. In reality, the journalist has a stuntman.

Lindhout, after 15 months of captivity, shared her story with the world in her novel A House in the Sky. In this, she expressed something of concern: the fixer’s tendency to prioritize big-name papers over freelancers. However, she later expressed something of even more concern: the fixer’s deaths going unnoticed.

This week, Ilene Prusher, a multimedia journalist based in Jerusalem, visited the University of Miami to talk about her book: Baghdad Fixer. Journalists like Lindhout and Prusher have acknowledged the sacrifices that fixers make for journalists and essentially, the truth.

Just like the journalist, the fixer pursues the story — many times endangering him or herself and family. Many do not know the story of Yosef Abobaker, Steven Sotloff’s fixer who was also kidnapped on that fateful day and tried his best to save Sotloff. Although Abobaker was released, he was threatened by ISIS. After he was freed, he was never interviewed by any American officials or investigators.

All I propose is that if the world paid more attention to these unknown heroes, a lot more information could be offered up — helping journalists from nations and publications everywhere.

To read the story on Yosef Abobaker:

Networks ignore midterm elections?


Early Saturday morning at a local school, I bubbled in my choices, signed my name and slipped my voting ballot into the scanner. Early voting in Florida had begun and, with elections less than a week away and much talk about Republicans yielding political gains, I truly have not seen much news media coverage on a midterm election of such political importance.

This year’s midterm elections, as opposed to 2006’s highly covered one, has not had much presence in any of the three big networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. Around 23 million viewers tune into these networks as their source of information, trumping almost all other networks. America’s media watchdog, Media Research Center, found that the “Big Three” aired a combined 159 campaign stories during the 2006 election and have only aired a meager 25 this year.

“Amazingly, since Sept. 1 ABC’s newly-renamed World News Tonight has yet to feature a single mention of this year’s campaign, let alone a full story. In contrast, eight years ago ABC’sWorld News aired 36 stories that discussed that year’s midterm campaign, including a weekly Thursday night feature that then-anchor Charlie Gibson promised would look at the ‘critical races,’” said Drennen and Noyes — two journalists covering this strange media blackout.

Instead, news of troubles overseas and social crises have taken the limelight. Albeit, these issues of Ebola outbreaks, ISIL’s movements, and Ferguson’s latest outcries are all pressing and of major concern to the American audience, the midterm election deserves its fair share of coverage.

Additionally, Drennen and Noyes found that “eight years ago, there was no escaping the negative news for Republicans. Not only were polls projecting a major swing to the Democrats, but a scandal involving Florida Representative Mark Foley received major attention from all three network evening newscasts. Of the 159 network evening news stories that fall, nearly two-thirds (103, or 65 percent) conveyed either mainly bad news about Republican candidates, or mainly good news about the Democrats, vs. just seven (4 percent) conveying the opposite message.”

This issue started out looking like another case of poor media prioritizing but is actually beginning to show all of the symptoms of media bias. Let’s look at the obvious: the networks are giving little air time to the bad political news for the Democrats this midterm election. In 2006, when the Democratic party had the upper hand, that was all that the news tickers read. One would think networks of such prestige and power would uphold even the most simple of journalistic standards. Rather, one would expect that.

But who is truly at the source of this issue: The networks, the advertisers that support the networks or the six corporate conglomerates that own the majority of mass media outlets in the U.S. (Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, etc.)? Most importantly, will this trend continue in the coming years after the results are in?

To read more about this media black out, follow the link:

Media, feds play risky name game


Last week, I think I saw the headline “Ebola crisis” on every station I flipped through, every billboard I whizzed by, every social media newsfeed I scrolled down. The word “crisis” is a red-flag word. It promotes fear, anxiety and ensues widespread panic. It is a word that should not be taken lightly, nor thrown around at ease.

Last week, each time that I tuned into the morning newsroom edition of CNN with Carol Costello, Costello would address the issue as a crisis and the news ticker would dizzily roll by flashing the words: “Ebola crisis.”

Yesterday morning, I routinely turned on CNN to find Costello sassily trying to put things into perspective for the audience. “Let’s put the so-called Ebola crisis in perspective,” Costello said, “there are nearly 319 million people in the U.S. and two people, two, have contracted Ebola. Two.” Two, she emphasized.

“You would think that our lawmakers would point that out so that there is no panic.” She then went on to criticize Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic politician, for petitioning to extend the incubation period for twice the time that the CDC has required.

The whole scenario is an oxymoron. All this finger pointing really should have been redirected at the media. For an entire week, news anchors like CNN’s Costello were labeling this incident as a “crisis,” creating a fiasco out of the situation. All of a sudden, the politicians are completely at fault for blowing up the situation and instilling fear in American homes?

In an industry so reliant on the written and spoken word, word choice is, well, important. It is word choice that can make or break a story, a reporter, and a nation. Certain trigger words should be used with caution and labeling situations should be done so with much thought.

On the other hand, another one of the United States’ greatest and most current events, has yet to be labeled.

After around three months of an onslaught of threats, a handful of decapitations, and the bombing of the Islamic State, the crisis in Syria has yet to be labeled. The effort to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been named Operation United Assistance. And yet, one of the most pressing issues on US homeland security is a fill-in-the-blank.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said there is “an effort under way to consider … a potential name for this operation.”

This name-game that the United States government and media are playing is a dangerous one, as it is ultimately these names (or thereof, lack of names) that will go down in the history books.

Crackdown on China’s journalists


Journalism is a scary field of work — there’s no doubt. The beheadings, the war zones, the crossfire, these are all frightening aspects I’ve discussed before. But it’s been a while since I’ve thought about what journalism is in other countries. Learning how to become a journalist in the United States has made me blissfully unaware of the fact that media control is still prevalent today — and just as scary as other aspects of the job.

China is currently facing stricter laws in news media control, forcing some journalists to go underground. Before the days of the open-door policy, China’s ignorance was a blessing and a curse. Nowadays, with access to social media and essentially foreign news and controversies, leaders are yearning to go back to the way it once was.

The recent protests taking up the front pages of every notable newspaper are about China’s imposing limits on voting reforms in Hong Kong. This summer, China began imposing strict regulations on what journalists can and cannot post on social media in an attempt to isolate domestic media from the rest of the world. The latter is most concerning.

A journalist for the monthly magazine, China Fortune, was forced to quit when he violated the government’s new rule by writing commentaries for Orient, a Hong Kong-based news website. His name was Song Zhibiao. Previously, he was forced to resign from an affiliated newspaper when he questioned the government for the 70,000 people who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Song criticized the government’s construction of school buildings that may have been the cause for so many children’s deaths and was booted from Southern Metropolis Daily.

Song is not the only one. There are countless other cases that the Committee to Protect Journalists are fighting for (the link provides these outrageous cases: And where is the rest of the world’s media standing on this issue? China, a leading state in today’s world, is cracking down on its journalists. In a time where they most need representation, the rest of the world’s media does not properly cover the issue. Journalism, as a way of expression, needs to be protected — no matter the place or time.

So what do we know? The Chinese government fears public opinion. They are successfully trading freedom of expression for control of information. And for a job so heavily dependent on the ability to communicate and criticize openly, I just wonder when the role of the journalist will be null, when the jail cells will be filled with those who’ve been silenced, and most importantly, when the media will say enough is enough.

The weight of the Sunday paper


It is no secret that print journalism is dying. It is no secret that the culture of our generation is the culprit. Our “click-frenzy” has appeased to our increasing and dire need for instant gratification. This same frenzy is the reason for my current frustration as an aspiring journalist: does it actually matter if I write five or 500 words anymore?

What happened to the weight of the Sunday newspaper? I am sure that, at one point, all of us have fallen victim to one of our parents’ grumbling “back in my day” speeches. However, the stories my dad has shared with me about what the newspaper used to be have stuck –looming over me with every passing year as a journalism student.

“Every time I pick up the newspaper, it’s thinner and thinner,” my dad always used to say.

Are we writing for the sake of content or instant views? There are so many advantages today to having instant news. There is no need to wait for the Sunday paper to know what problems face our communities and countries.

After all, it wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t instant and there is no crime in using the technology we have today to inform the public as quickly as possible. But in exchange for instant updates, I feel the American audience is losing the ability to really know about a subject because no one ever finishes reading – no one flips to page two or B1 anymore. I am guilty of this as well.

Today, our communication is enhanced in almost every way possible but what we lack is face-to-face communication. And this sort of communication is crucial in the industry itself.

Newspapers used to be powerhouse employers but now, as many put it, they are “dying out.” Core offices, where once ideas were pitched and gathered are now replaced by e-mails to the editor from home. The human factor is gone because of the ability to submit articles online. Does the industry face the extinction of the newsroom?

The overall theme of modernity presents these unforeseen challenges to the field of communications.

War without the difficult photos


Come the mid-19th century in America, among all of the social changes, political shifts, and uproars, the first footage of war was recorded. It was the Civil War and the photographs taken began to break down the glorification of all war had been played out to be.

Nowadays, the photo on the front cover of a newspaper can make or break the story during wartime. The American public is a sensitive one and, in turn, the American media is very strict in what it publishes and what it does not.

So, in a war zone where there are almost no limitations to what one can capture, I ask: When is an image considered too gory, insensitive and, to an extent, a breach of privacy? Does holding back this kind of photography blind the American public from the tragedies of war? And is it hard to calculate the photographer’s absence during war?

On Feb. 28, 1991, American photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of a horrid sight: a charred man who had been engulfed in flames, trying to escape his vehicle. He snapped the shot. The man was an Iraqi soldier and had fought for Saddam Hussein’s army during the Gulf War when Kuwait was annexed. Time Magazine and The Associated Press dismissed the hypnotizing image, saving Americans from confronting the excruciating brutality of war and ultimately, spitting up their morning coffee.

For Jarecke, who had taken the photo in the midst of endless ceasefire, who had put his life on the line, who had captured the ugly to captivate those sitting pretty, he was left confused. In an interview with The Atlantic, he said: “When you have an image that disproves the myth (of a clean, uncomplicated war), then you think it’s going to be widely published.”

These photos that Jarecke and countless others in countless other wars have taken not only serve the media to inform and to shock, but serve history as a sort of reminder and lesson. And what good is a lesson when you can’t learn from it?

At the same time, however, does the photojournalist go too far sometimes? In this world where tragedies occur in the blink of a second and photographs can be captured in the blink of a millisecond, Jarecke and his contemporaries must grapple with the moral dilemma of: “do I take the picture?” Because to the photojournalist, the moment of hesitation is not due so much to the fact that they’ll worry how the media or audience will react, but instead, due to the fact that they’ll worry how those they are capturing will react. The photojournalist has much at stake here: his reputation, his humanity, his decency, his values, his sanity.

Later, in American Photo magazine, Jarecke wrote: “I wasn’t thinking at all about what was there; if I had thought about how horrific the guy looked I wouldn’t have been able to make the picture.”

To take the photographer out of the battle would surely tell a different story about it. And I can only hope that, one day, the power of photos will stump the power of war.

If your curiosity was piqued, here is the photo that inspired this blog:

Breaking down our misperceptions


With an iPad in one hand and a microphone in the other, Joy-Ann Reid stood on stage in front of a hundred or few gawking faces. She had been invited to speak in one of my classes unbeknownst to us. Her show on MSNBC covers, analyzes and interprets the timeliest topics of our day, or as she phrased it: the “hot-button issues.”

One of these issues (and the topic she delved into) being immigration and how it is dealt with policy-wise. Reid extensively covered the stories on the thousands of unaccompanied children appearing at the border. And, to her surprise, she noted, the American audience grew angrier even in response to the videos the media showed of buses taking these children to safe houses. They actually became more anti-immigration.

This had me thinking: Does the way that the media portrays or covers immigration affect the way American citizens react towards the topic?

If there is one thing I have learned about journalism, it is that keywords in a story can produce a certain feel or desired outcome. And as I scroll down the current events revolving around immigration, I notice that the stories tend to leave out the immigrant himself — focusing heavily on policy or reform. I understand that the journalist intends to simply report the news without bias, but when there are so many misperceptions that shroud the debate, I feel the journalist is obligated to clear the air first.

Reid listed the six main misperceptions for us. The first is that all undocumented immigrants are Latinos. A poll taken in 2012 recorded thatone-third of Americans thought this to be true. Eighty percent come from all over Latin America, not just Mexico. A total of 63 percent of Latinos are U.S. born and, although 16.9 percent of the population is made up of Latinos, they only make up 10 percent of voters.

Many believe that most immigrants are in the country undocumented. Many also believe that most people who come in illegally are border-hopping when the truth of the matter is that 45 percent of the immigrants actually come in legally and simply do not return to their home countries.

One of the biggest misperceptions is that immigrants are taking American jobs. The majority of these immigrants have no other options for them besides low-paid, agricultural jobs. Now I ask: where and who are the Americans competing for these jobs? When Alabama cracked down on immigration law in 2011 with HB 56, the state actually had to relax the law because unharvested crops were dying — Americans weren’t leaping at these new job opportunities.

Another big misperception is that there is a big correlation between immigrants and crime when, in fact, since 1994 immigration has doubled in numbers and crime has dropped. The final misperception is that the immigrants are not paying taxes. ⅓ of them pay tax, including sales tax. They are actually pumping $7 billion into the Social Security system that they will never get back.

So before the media go off publishing an army of headlines about “What has become of immigration reform?” and “Illegal immigrants flood the border,” should the media consider the possibility that it may play a grand role in breaking down the misperceptions of the immigration debate?

These efforts would not be in an attempt to persuade or sway the American public, but instead to inform them — the essence of reporting.

Responsibility for rising reporters


Have you ever seen the way a piece of meat is cut? The shredding and vicious motion? It is with great disgust that I parallel that to the tragic decapitation of American-Israeli journalist, Steven Sotloff.

I, along with hundreds of other unprepared Americans, mistakenly clicked that play button on Sept. 2. The memory of it still haunts me.

The horror of it all, the stark reality of the video forced me to take a step back and gather my thoughts: what do I do now?

Three years in at the School of Communication at UM and I feel I am three years too deep to go back. More importantly, I have always known I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve always known I’ve wanted to shed light on truth and step out of my comfort zone. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a war correspondent, but I did know I wanted to be an international correspondent. And I’ve always known I’m not the only one.

To the millions of you who are drowning in story leads and paper cuts, who are declared journalism majors and aspiring writers, I ask you: What roles will we play in the war? (Should there still be a war when we’re working journalists, that is).

Will our allegiances lie with the American audience or the global audience? And how will we set our priorities?

Ernie Pyle, a journalist for Scripps Howard during World War II, was assigned six months overseas in North Africa. With the humor of Mark Twain and a voice similar to that of Ernest Hemingway, he wrote personal, relatable columns about the GIs he came to live with. Eventually, he died alongside those GIs after being hit by Japanese machine gun fire.

“The Writing 69th” were the first reporters ever to ride shotgun in a bomber through a bombing raid over Germany during World War II. Robert Post of The New York Times died on that fateful mission.

In more recent news, James Foley and Steven Sotloff were both freelance journalists during the Syrian civil war when they were abducted for ransom and eventually used as chess pieces in an upsetting power play. Pyle, Post, Foley and Sotloff are only four of the hundreds we do or do not know about.

For the longest time, the war correspondent has faced conflicting morals. The question of responsibility in wartime has always lied between wanting to swim against the tide of public opinion and wanting to talk about the heroes and the patriotic highlights.

Now, I believe, that question of responsibility has changed to wanting to find the next big conflict to report to a global audience and wanting to maintain self-preservation and safety.

Julian Reichelt, a freelance writer who was in the same area as Sotloff on the day he was taken in Aleppo, admits that “all journalists in war zones operate on the assumption that bad things are what happens to other people.”

How far will we go anymore and what fuels our crazed quest to throw ourselves into the midst of chaos? More importantly, who are we throwing ourselves in the flames for? The majority of the American reporters in the Middle East today appear to be freelance writers. Is it for their country, or an international audience, or is it perhaps for themselves?