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Inside the First Amendment

  • Written by Gene Policinski

Executing journalists a savage and futile act

When will these ISIS terrorist thugs realize that the phrase “U.S. journalist” concerns geography, not political science?

Killing journalists from this county does get you headlines, but history tells us that it’s an ignorant, tragic and foolish belief to think that the government of the United States will change geo-political directions because journalists die.
Clearly, those who Tuesday killed journalist Steven Sotloff — and who killed photojournalist James Foley on August 19 — are as ignorant or deliberately dismissive of how a free press functions as they are brutal in their methods of gaining the world’s attention.
Journalists from a nation with a free press do not control the news. They do not make the news. And they do not collaborate with, nor are they controlled by, those who do. Here’s a headline from the real world: There is no direct line between the Pentagon, White House and any news organization in America where policy is set or strategy is determined.
For more often, the press in America — whether reporting domestically or from other nations — is seen as a counterweight to official statements by U.S. government officials, and a watchdog on whether the nation’s leaders are doing what they say they are doing.
Yes, at times, the U.S. press wrongly has taken government at its word: The failure to fully pursue what turned out to be unsupported claims of “weapons of mass destruction” still echoes today. But more often, journalists operating under the shield of the First Amendment have been seen as critics or even opponents of what the nation’s political leaders recommend or the course being pursued.
Famously, a U.S. press reporting freely from Vietnam is blamed by some as a reason “America lost the war.” Reports from journalists on the scene called into question information from U.S. military briefings and enemy body counts. The famed “credibility gap” that plagued several administrations was rooted in the difference between what high White House officials said about the progress of that war and what the nation on a daily basis read in newspapers and saw on TV.
It’s difficult to think of an important public issue on which there is not some American journalist asking the difficult questions or challenging official accounts, which makes the fate of Foley and of Sotloff — who disappeared while reporting from Syria in 2013 — as senseless as it is tragic.
If ISIS was serious about changing American public opinion, it would not do so with tactics that will simply harden public support for U.S. military strikes against it. We need look no further than the most serious terrorist strike against America, on Sept. 11, 2001. American policies in the Middle East hardened amidst a surge in patriotism and increased public sentiment for a military response against those who carried out the attack.
A sad irony also follows both deaths. Neither Foley nor Sotloff’s work focused on the political or military aspects of whatever ISIS wants from the Obama administration. Each was focused — and perhaps more vulnerable to the abduction that put them in ultimate harm’s way — by reporting directly on the “people” angles of the Syrian civil war and other conflict in the region.

A loathe of bread

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideQuinn’s camp rips on Rauner’s riches

When I was a boy, my dad cut our lawn with a push mower.
Governor Quinn also uses a push mower to cut his grass. Don’t believe me? It’s the focus of his latest TV campaign commercial. Quinn, donning a blue polo shirt and khakis, cuts the grass while talking about cutting state spending, closing state properties and suspending legislators’ pay along with his own.
The governor, you see, is a regular guy. He’s just like you and me. At least that’s what he wants you to believe. Or, it’s what the people managing his campaign are hoping you believe.
It’s important for Quinn to portray this image because he wants to position himself as the polar opposite of Bruce Rauner, his opponent in the November election.
Rauner is a millionaire many times over. And a rich guy like Rauner couldn’t possibly understand the problems facing the state or have any chance at solving them. At least that’s what Quinn wants you to believe.
Rauner is out of touch with the problems encountered by the average Joe, who works a second job to make ends meet and maybe scrapes together a few extra bucks to buy a Bears ticket.
I doubt Rauner cuts his lawn—not even with a riding mower. Instead, he sips wine with other members of an exclusive club who pay big bucks to “collaborate with the winemaking team on every detail of your wine, from blending to barrel toast,” according to a story in the Washington Post.
Rauner’s membership in the club cost $100,000. When the wine club story broke, it was accompanied by a 2010 photo of Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel outside the Paradise Valley Grill in Montana. Emanuel is holding a bottle of Napa Valley Reserve, a wine produced by the invitation-only club.
Rauner’s relationship with Emanuel is the larger story here, one that voters should carefully consider before making a decision between the two gubernatorial candidates. But the media preferred to focus on Emanuel with a bottle of pricy wine in his hand.
Quinn, meanwhile, recently told reporters that he had eaten graham crackers for dinner in a quest to live on the minimum wage for one week. He also attempted to spend just $79 in one week — the cost he calculated is leftover each week for minimum wage workers after taking out housing, transportation and taxes. 
Quinn can eat crackers, mac and cheese or ramen noodles all he wants but it won’t do anything to change the plight of people forced to live on the minimum wage. It’s a stunt designed to portray Quinn as the everyman—an advocate for the poor and struggling.

Some pain and humor surviving domestic violence

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorDomestic violence?
At Vacation Bible School?
Yes and no.
It’s complicated.
Okay, so three years ago, I asked my husband, Don, to complete one simple task.
I told him, while he was nodding without blinking: “When you drop Donae (our then-four, now seven-year old daughter) off at VBS, don’t forget to give her the Bible on the front passenger seat.”
Sometime I think if I’m animated he’ll actually pay attention when I’m talking.
To my complete and utter dismay, when I returned to pick Donae up, I discovered he’d given her more than just the Bible. Earlier that morning I attended my weekly moms group. This particular day there was a guest speaker on the topic of domestic violence.
She gave us several pamphlets of which I left on the front seat of the car.
Don unknowingly sent our child into VBS with a pamphlet that had a teary-eyed, little girl with the caption saying, “Sad is How You Feel When Mom is Being Beat.’’
I gasped and thought, “Great! Now the church folk think I’m being abused!”
I hurriedly shoved the pamphlet back into the Bible and immediately began to worry what that perception would do to Don’s reputation. When I got home, I shared my concerns with him. He stared at me for a long period followed by a burst of laughter. “That’s a good one!” He said. His reaction made me feel silly and then I let out a little chuckle too.
I can make light of it today because it’s not my reality.
But, there was a time when it was. From my late teenage years through my early twenties, I was abused. The psychological effects of this abuse lingered for years. Even while being in a healthy marriage, achieving academic success and having a respectable career, I struggled with my self-worth for a long time as a consequence of that relationship.
But the good news story is, I survived. Today, I live with confidence and I’m no longer in fear for my life. My only regret is that I didn’t get out sooner.
While some may find it uncomfortable sharing their painful history, I’m actually liberated in doing so.
Survivors can help to de-stigmatize victims by speaking out, especially now that human trafficking is running rampant. Just last year, our President signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a measure intended to promote state and local efforts to combat rape and domestic assault.
Over the next five years, there will be increased funding for programs that provide legal assistance, transitional housing, counseling and support hotlines to victims of rape and domestic abuse. VAWA credits its greatest success to be its emphasis on the coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services, and the private bar currently work together in a coordinated effort that had not heretofore existed on the state and local levels.
The Illinois Department of Human Services has domestic violence agencies listed by city on their website www.dhs.state.il.us if yours isn’t listed, please contact the state of Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line at 877-863-6338 for an agency closest to you.
You can live triumphantly after abuse. I’m a testament to that.
Don’t wait, get help now!

Inside the First Amendment - Blasphemy, free speech and the ‘black mass’ in Oklahoma

  • Written by Charles C. Haynes

  Nothing does more to erode public support for the First Amendment than public stunts deliberately designed to offend people of faith.

  Think Fred Phelps and his minions waving hateful signs outside churches during military funerals. Or Terry Jones shouting, “Islam is of the Devil,” and setting fire to the Quran.
  No wonder so many Americans think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees — 38 percent according to the most recent survey from the First Amendment Center.
  Just when you think offensive speech attacking religion has hit rock bottom, along comes a new candidate for the Rogue’s Gallery of culture war provocateurs.
  Meet Adam Brian Daniels, the leader of a satanic group called Dakhma of AngraMainyu (don’t ask) and organizer of a “black mass” to be held at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City next month.
  Everyone from the city’s Catholic Archbishop Paul Coakley to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has denounced the planned event — to no avail. The First Amendment protects the right of any group to rent space in the Civic Center, as long as they obey the law.
  A black mass, for the uninitiated, is intended to be an inversion of the Catholic Mass — a ritual designed to mock the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist that involves nudity, bodily fluids and disgusting acts not printable in a family newspaper.
  On his website, Daniels promises to tone down the ritual to keep from breaking Oklahoma laws concerning public nudity, sex acts and other elements of the ritual. He originally planned to desecrate a consecrated host that he claims to have acquired from a priest in Turkey.
  But after Archbishop Coakley filed suit to recover the host (arguing that all wafers blessed by a priest belong to the Catholic Church), Daniels backed down, handed over the host, and agreed to use black bread instead.

It’s hard work to go on vacation, but well worth it

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B Side  The trouble with a vacation is coming back from vacation.
  I stepped into the house Monday evening after being out of town since Thursday night and immediately began making a mental checklist of things that I had to accomplish as soon as possible. Truth is, I started the list while on the drive home.
  Writing this column was atop the list, especially because the Reporter lost a valuable production day Monday, which was a holiday. So, I’m thinking, B-Side needs to get written so I can spend some time later Monday night on a personal project, unpack and organize.
  Then, I can hit the office Tuesday and have decent chance of squeezing two days work into one. Something might fall through the cracks, but it’s important that I give myself the best chance possible to meet my deadlines and accomplish all my work.
  Of course, I’m not alone in this frame of mind.
  My 15-year-old daughter wasn’t home an hour before she got back to the homework that’s due the following day. She tried to do some in the car on the trip, but the back seat isn’t the best place to study.
  So she strived on Monday night to study for a quiz and complete an outline for the AP history course. She, too, is never truly “away” from school, as she has the ability to check grades online.
  Her mother, meanwhile, was making sure we have everything we need for Tuesday, though she was smart enough to extend her vacation until Wednesday.
  It’s tough for most of us to throw the switch and just go on vacation— a full and complete vacation that includes nothing but rest and relaxation, fun and frivolity.
  Years ago, being away from the job meant exactly that. Today, it’s nearly impossible to truly get away. Instead, we’re tethered to our responsibilities via cell phone calls, texts, e-mails. I was only gone from the office for one workday, yet I checked my email regularly while away.
  When I saw an email from my editor that didn’t require a response, I responded anyway. Force of habit, I guess. Then again, an email reminding me to submit my picks for the Reporter’s Football Forecast went ignored.
  And this particular trip was just a long weekend. A full week off requires many of us to work twice as hard before we leave. It’s unfair to leave our colleagues behind to do extra work. And, in my case, my editor worked his tail off before going on his vacation so I wouldn’t have too many additional tasks.
  Vacations might be tough to take, but they’re well worth it. My family and I easily could have spent a week in northern Michigan (and we’ve already talked about how such a trip might come together next year).
  On this trip, the fulfillment was found in the little things.
  For instance, my wife and I spent every night sitting at the bonfire the resort provided, sharing a bottle of wine. Other resort guests would arrive, relax in the Adirondack chairs and help their young children make s’mores.
  We met Bob and Peggy, who hail from Windsor. They’d been to the resort many times, but this was the first time without their children—a very different experience that they seemed to be enjoying quite a bit.
  Bob and Peggy were engaging folks, and we spent hours talking kids and comparing U.S. and Canadian cultures. It was an enjoyable evening.
  The next day, we took a trip to Mackinaw City, where I met a retired local newspaperman who has written three books about the Mackinac Bridge. He told me fascinating stories about the five men who died building the bridge that connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.
  We could have talked for a long while. Here was a veteran journalist, who compiled information for his Mackinac Bridge books from his own reporting and research he conducted. He told me about the number of babies on the bridge and host of other factoids.
  We spent time in the hot tub and swimming pool as my daughter asked me, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “What’s next?”
  “Nothing,” I told her. That’s the beauty of vacations. They don’t always go as planned. You let the day come to you.
  Of course, my daughter’s not a little girl anymore and doesn’t need a flurry of activities to enjoy a vacation. She had fun, she told me, and didn’t want to leave.
  Neither did I.