Sunday, September 17, 2006

Agendas At The Lassen County Times

This is from an email message I received from the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times discussing my suggestion that the Times is afraid of facts. I won't bother with the whole thing, but here are my comments (in black - the editor's comments are in red). The whole issue is that she's apparently upset that I think the Times has an agenda and that I accused them of being malevolent in their editorial on teachers. Well, I think they do have an agenda and the following comments explain why:

We are not afraid of facts; we have rules to go by. We will not bend our rules for you or anyone else. It is not good business practice and it leaves us open to have to publish everything even if it libelous. I am sure you as a Professor can appreciate that all institutions have standards and that is ours.

Well, I didn’t ask the Times to break the rules; in fact I specifically said that I realized the letter was over the limit imposed by the Times and that they were free to publish it as an editorial instead. I also said to either publish it in its entirety or not – I don’t care for the way the staff edits letters to conform to space limitations. I will also say this:
- my experience with the Times is that those “rules” are not hard and fast and plenty of people extolling the virtues of God and Country have been allowed letters beyond the 500 word limit (other points of view may occasionally be permitted in excess of the standard length but preference is clearly given to the conservative side);
- I also know from reading the Times that they frequently allow multiple opinion pieces and also allow some to run at absurd length (see my comments on the Bill Ashmore piece I responded to several months ago, also here and here – and which got a lot of play around the internet, thanks to PZ, Pandagon, Beware of the Dogma, and some others). The Times has the ability to accomodate more viewpoints than they typicall publish, but I think refuse to do so.

I read your opinion and disagree with many assertions about the staff's believes and why the editorial was written.

As I previously posted, I don’t know for sure what the staff as a whole believes. I can only surmise based on what they’ve written and regularly publish. I will note, however, that the very bottom of the editorial blasting teachers contains a list of people on the “editorial board” (which, let me clarify, is what I am really referring to when I indicate “staff”) that includes the publisher, managing editor, and news editor. Here is what I regularly accuse the editorial board on the Times of:
- they fail to back up their editorials and news reporting with facts, particularly when those facts disagree with their position; they appear not to do any research but generally take the Coulter, O’Reilly and Hannity route to intellectual development: if it doesn’t fit your model, ignore it and make stuff up that does.
- they use significant amounts of space in the paper conducting “ideological posturing”. In this case, what I mean is that they overemphasize fundamentalist Christian news and viewpoints and frequently downplay or denigrate other points of view (including other Christian perspectives);
- they selectively report; again, they emphasize certain perspectives and downplay others; they fail to consider the opinion of people knowledgeable in their fields of expertise;
- I believe they have an agenda, like many conservative papers, to evangelize the local community with positive stories about Christianity (specifically fundamentalist Christianity) while failing to report the factual errors often presented. They also fail to report (or purposely bury) other special interest stores (local kids working to promote a rock concert get a paragraph buried back a few pages; a couple of local kids in a Christian band get front page and half – for example).

This flows into the next series of comments:

To better understand your point of view can you take the time to explain what you mean by

The editorial was a purposeful and malevolent misrepresentation of teachers’ work efforts and it belies a broader underlying agenda that most of us suspect is behind the Times’ selective reporting efforts. [emphasis mine - she's quoting from my letter]

As managing editor I do not believe in selective reporting…I have had no problem publishing your opinions in the past, as you know, though on a personal level, I never agreed with anything you have written.

Ok, first, yes the Times has generally printed everything I’ve written; usually as a Letter to the Editor, but I have one editorial as well. That’s really not what I mean by “selective reporting” although my conversations with people on the street are that they reject far more objections to their weekly reporting than they let on.
This is what I mean by selective reporting:
- two local residents take a trip to Israel, work at an archaeological site and then get front page headlines for three issues on how they’re archaeologists “proving the Bible correct”;
- Carl Baugh, noted fraud in science, gets a fairly descent sized article on his visit to town;
- Missionaries get front page news headlines and several pages of coverage;
- Huge stories are run on the students rights to promote their religion publicly
- Stories are run on prayer circles at the high school
- Editorials criticize school teachers for getting upset that students are proselytizing to others in a setting in which students are forced to attend;
- Bill Ashmore, local pastor, gets an editorial the length of which I’ve never seen in the pages of the Times, making absolutely ignorant statements about geology, weather and God’s revenge on American for having gay people;
- Other pastors get editorial space writing absolute drivel and historically inaccurate statements regarding the Bible;
- A new pastor gets a half page devotion in the same issue the editorial board doesn’t bother with facts and blasts teachers as lazy and money hungry;
- Summer bible classes get incredible coverage;
- And the list goes on…

Certainly, other stories appear, but they seem to rarely get the headline coverage ascribed to fundamentalist Christian activities of the most mundane newsworthiness. Should the Times stop covering such issues…of course not. But they should damn well bring more balance into the picture and stop relegating positive stories about anyone who doesn't flaunt their Christianity to the back pages. Or ignore legitimate arguments against myth being presented as fact.

As for the managing editor not agreeing with any of my editorials or letters to the paper:
1) in response to inaccuracies presented as fact in a series of stories on local residents playing archaeologist in the Holy Land I made the following points:
- Carl Baugh is not a professional archaeologist, has never published a serious article, and his "discoveries" are all fakes; I have made similar points since starting this blog;
- The Times presented Carl Baugh and his group has being professional archaeologists who were invited by the Israeli government specifically to work on these sites; the Times also clearly gave the people of Susanville the impression that Carl Baugh was directing the excavations and not simply a volunteer working with actual professional archaeologists who were calling the shots and publishing the results - I questioned this in an editorial and follow-up Letter to the Editor and published a short article on it for the NCSE (Carl Baugh...Archaeologist?);

So because she doesn't agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks Baugh is a credible, professional archaeologist, with legitimate discoveries?

2) In response to Bill Ashmore's ridiculously error ridden diatribe suggesting earthquakes are associated with gays, I suggested the following:
- Ashmore "selectively used" data (granted, citing someone else's book) to suggest there is a correlation between earthquake activity and the rise in gay rights activism; I simply looked at the real data and concluded otherwise.

So because she does not agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks America is being punished for allowing gays within its borders and not taken a harder stance against them? I am also to conclude that she thinks geological data actually support this?

3) In a Letter to the Editor I wrote (not published, but I blogged about it) responding to talk about town that Susanville should start Bible classes at the public schools, I simply requested that if they do that, they should discuss everything about the Bible. Of course, that's not happening in public school Bible classes that are supposed to be objective.

So because she does not agree with what I have written, I am to conclude that the Managing Editor of the Lassen County Times thinks the Bible not only should be taught in public schools, but should be taught as historically accurate and from a "correct" fundamentalist perspective?

So, from all this should I really draw the conclusion that the Managing Editor at the Lassen County Times does not have an agenda?

Finally, this is just incredible:

The editorial has provoked many people though most have read it completely out of context.

I’ve heard from several teachers who talked to her that she now claims the editorial was read wrong and there is no intent to offend teachers. Here, word for word, are some comments from the editorial:

Teachers only work 182 days out of the year compared to the average worker who works 250 days. Teachers work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break. That is on average a six-hour day compared to the average worker who works eight hours...
That all boils down to the average teacher is paid to work 1,092 hours a year: those are part time hours. The average person works 2,080...
There is no doubt teachers have an important job and deserve fair compensation, but at whose expense?...

…their job is a calling not a way to make money.

How could she not possibly come to the conclusion that this would be offensive to teachers? First, the stats she reports are complete fabrication, made to make the teachers look like money-grubbing politicians.

Second, there are only two reasons to print this: either you’re really, really stupid and just don’t know what teachers actually do to get kids educated, or you have an agenda to make school teacher look bad and promote a lack of confidence in the public school system.

Well, I don’t think the managing editor is stupid....

1 comment:

prayforjes said...

my. my. my even the good professor has resorted to Eileen Spencer tactics to get his anti God opinion across. The managing editor may well no agree with anything you wrote but she may not agree with anyone else either.
Did she not run you tripe in full and unedited. I saw it and was ashamed to be part of the education community.
Are public schools the best place to educate children? Where is the proof. Why not teach the Bible as historic? Why not pray silently? Free speech is for everyone but Christians/
I have talked to Ms. France when she was news editor about her coverage of the Israel story. I too was concerned but why do you not mention that the Susanville team and Dr. Baugh did help uncover the Pool of Siloam?
As for covering religion, she told me that the paper will cover any religious group Christian or otherwise. Open your eyes O'Brien the fundamentalists tell the paper their story. Ms. Ashmore did a story on Muslims a few years back with the prison chaplain.
People who are afraid of Christian thougt and who are almost fearful of the conservative right are also afraid of God.
At least now we know where you stand and can make sure our sons and daughters who attend university can be forwarned.
Thank you for adding one more nutcase to the Lassen County peanut barrell