What a twist: Trump’s lawyer goes to jail while his client skates free (so far); Media credibility low…

A couple of things: why does the big cheese go free and the underlings go to jail?

Why does the public not trust the press, which is under constant attack and threat by the president?

I don’t see the logic nor justice in the fact that President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is beginning a three-year prison term today (5-6-19), in part for a crime that he committed with Trump, and yet Trump remains free — not even charged.

I refer to what was called a campaign finance violation, the paying of hush money to women Trump, a married man, cavorted with. Trump wanted to hide the fact from the public while running for president. Trump initially claimed he knew nothing about the payments but later admitted it. Now Trump questions whether it was even a crime. Well for that matter so do I. Unethical and immoral perhaps, but crime? And a campaign finance violation? But I don’t decide those things. The court convicted Cohen. But since they were both in it together it would seem to me that Trump is as guilty if not more so.

But that is the way of things. Richard Nixon’s henchmen went to prison, and of course found Jesus along the way — those kind of people always do — while Tricky Dick never served a day in jail.

While the Supreme Court held back during Watergate (in the early ’70s) that the president of the United States is not above the law, I wonder.

The U.S. Justice Department has some kind of working policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. It is not a law, just a policy. Of course once he is not president that should be a different story.

But again, Nixon, who directed and approved the breaking into of the Democratic National headquarters and who did the same to Danielle Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and who had the IRS audit the tax records of political enemies never went to jail even afer he resigned the presidency. Oh, I recall now. President Ford, who had become Nixon’s vice president after his first one was convicted of taking bribes (Spiro Agnew) had to resign, pardoned Nixon.

Maybe Trump will have to hope someone pardons him.

And back to Cohen for second. He is also going to prison for tax evasion and other charges that are all on him, about his own behavior. But none of that would likely have come to light had he not been caught up in the FBI and Justice Department investigation of the connection of Russia and the Trump campaign and the election itself.

And now the distrust of the press or the “media” (the more modern term, especially now that there are far fewer printing presses in action).

Surveys invariably show that a large number, almost half or even over half, of the public does not respect or trust the media. I have to wonder then who they do trust or believe. I also wonder who the media (as if it was one entity) is. I shake my head when right-wing reactionary bloviators, most notably on AM radio, blast the “media”. They are part of the “media” themselves. Of course I guess they feel they are separate from the crowd or pack of journalists who they would have you believe all run together and think alike and compare notes before writing or presenting their stories.

There may be a bit of truth to that, but just a bit — I mean the logistics to such a conspiracy would be incredible. And the irony here is that even if the larger pack seems to ape each other, well so do the reactionary right-wingers (for the most part).

The main problem here as I see it (and I have mentioned this many times) is that you almost cannot sort fact from opinion in modern news stories and newscasts. The journalistic rules seemed to have changed. Yes, once American journalism was just opinion essays. I’m not a journalism historian but I think modern news reporting began in the American Civil War. The news was what was going on at the battlefield, not whether slavery was right or wrong. The recent invention of the telegraph made it possible to send dispatches to far away places right from the battlefront. But those dispatches had to be short and to the point, lest the lines be cut or some other circumstance of battle got in the way. Thus a new style or method of news writing emerged, the inverted pyramid. Like just the facts mam. You placed the most important facts right up front in as few words as possible and the rest followed in descending order. If part of the dispatch did not make it, then at least something, the most important news, would, hopefully. And of course all of this was transmitted via the dot dash of Morse Code and then had to be translated back into written form at the other end.

And while we went through a period of what was called “yellow journalism”, basically propaganda designed to sway public opinion via slanted news — It was said William Randolph Hearst got us into the Spanish American War through slanted reporting of his newspapers — over the years a more factual-based, balanced form of journalism was developed. It was taught at colleges. Both my father, who was a journalist, and I, who worked in journalism for many years, used the same journalism text book, “Interpretive Reporting”. He went through school in the 1930s. I took journalism classes in the 1970s. Don’t let the name fool you like it did some of my classmates and me as well. Interpretive sounds like one putting a spin on something. But actually, except for first-person accounts, such as in natural disasters, news stories are usually an interpretation of what took place, such as at a public meeting (which I covered far too many of; enjoyed it at first). How else would you do it? You could simply present a transcript or you could show a video of the meeting but what good would that do? It would still require the reader or viewer or listener to makes sense of it all and he or she would have to sit through the whole thing (and I almost guarantee you would get lost; they often speak in shorthand). The job of a reporter is to develop an understanding of the issues involved and the participants and to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, but just as important, to present a balanced and fair report. The reporter’s job is not to inject opinion or unfairly just report one side or write quotes out of context.

But of course reporters have opinions and even if they try to be fair, those opinions, which often seem like no more than common sense, can find their way into a story.

Be that as it may, for decades the rule was — and now I am talking about the old relic called the newspaper — to separate the straight news columns from the Opinion Page or from clearly designated opinion columns. And I know here I am repeating myself from other blog posts, but there was that hybrid of straight news and opinion called “news analysis”. To me that is often closer to an opinion piece than not. But I think most news stories, whether they are in newspapers, on the air, or on the web, fit into analysis nowadays.

People don’t have time to sort through things. They just want the headlines. And you know important people are always depicted as not poring through detail but depending upon their minions to present them summaries. I often wonder why the minions are not in charge. Like you know presidents who have to be coached. Why not put the coach in charge?

(There are exceptions. Some public figures were supposedly known for deep reading, such as Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, Bill Clinton? He was a policy wonk.)

Newspapers lost their circulation when people decided it was easier to catch up on the news from talking heads on TV and radio and they lost their supporting advertising revenue to the broadcast, the internet, and Craig’s List.

My hometown newspaper gave up on lengthy stories and wide coverage. I quit subscribing. They wanted me to pay more for less.

But for a long time now, the style of reporting has become more aggressive, with writers rightly or wrongly zeroing in on what seems to be the inner truth and running with it, often leaving little semblance of objectivity.

But a CNN truth can often differ from a Fox truth. Presidential spokesperson Kellyanne Conway famously suggested that there are “alternative facts”.

No, the facts are the facts but are often or usually difficult to discern. It takes objective reporting and open-minded and objective readers to get to the truth or at least the truth as far as it can be discerned.

So now I have just discovered by writing this that the problem lies with both the authors of news reports and the readers or viewers and listeners.

But I would like to see a return to a more balanced approach to the news.

But there can be no control of news in a free and democratic society.

It is chilling when the president of the United States lambastes all news and calls it fake if he does not like how it portrays him or his policies and when he singles out individuals and calls them by derogatory names and when he threatens to change libel laws to make it possible for public figures like himself to sue journalists for stories he does not like. A famous case called New York Times versus Sullivan made it more difficult for public figures to sue for libel — they can but they have to show malice and intent.

We are in the midst of a great constitutional crisis right now with the president defying the lawful powers of the congress and disregarding the constitution.

A free and responsible press (or media) can keep our democracy on track. But the public must play its part as well by paying attention and being more particular about its news consumption. Just reading what appeals to your belief system is a little pointless to say the least.

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