Menu

Inside The First Amendment - Social media no longer just free expression ‘toy box’

  • Written by Gene Policinski

 Time to take social media out of the freedom of expression “toy box.”

Serious issues and serious work now abound in this relatively young method by which we not only exchange information, but also to rally to causes and hold public officials accountable.
Just a few years ago, scarcely a few percent of Americans turned to Twitter, Facebook and the like for real news and issues. The medium was dismissed as the stuff of gossip, personal notes and largely meaningless personal snapshots. 
And ok, fascination with the “selfie” persists today.
But from controversy in Ferguson, Mo., to tragedies in the Middle East to the flap over hacked nude photos of celebrities to serious debate over domestic abuse and pro athletes, social media is driving public discussion and debate that is the essence of First Amendment freedoms.
The passion of public protest (in other words, the freedoms of assembly and petition), was extended and multiplied in Ferguson, Mo., where street demonstrations over the shooting death of Michael Brown instantly reached a world audience – and may well have been eclipsed in impact by virtual protests.
A photo posted on Aug. 13 of more than 200 Howard University students with their hands and arms in the air, accompanied by the Twitter hashtag “#dontshoot,” became an iconic expression online, and prompted hundreds of posts of similar poses – and thousands of comments.
Even as what many saw as a stereotypical and negative photo of Brown was released by authorities – showing his hands making what some claimed was a gang sign – thousands posted online photos at “#iftheygunnedmedown,” showing two images of the same person side-by-side, one playing to a violent image but the other showing innocent scenes, often with family members and young children.
  The ISIS thugs chose to use social media to post horrific videos of their brutal slayings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, and they reportedly also make sophisticated use of the online medium to recruit others to their ranks. In effect, these terrorists used “freedom of speech” for vile purposes.
  Even what is not on social media gets attention: Using their own free expression rights to determine what content will appear in their sites, social media operations made decisions to remove and prevent reposting of the ISIS murder videos, and took quick action to prevent the spread of purloined nude photos of several celebrities.
All just new aspects of an age-old question for editors and broadcasters: What to do with graphic, disturbing and or vulgar images that are in the news?

Book it – Oak Lawn author beat odds getting story published on his first try

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorPath Press, Inc. said it was love at first sight with its title, “The Black Knights.”
During my recent interview with J. Marcellus Burke, of Oak Lawn regarding the release of his new book, “The Black Knights,” I found myself enthralled by how easily he became published.
Burke is the subject of a front-page piece in this week’s Reporter that I wrote but that article doesn’t explain how Burke went from being a writer, carrying around a manuscript, to published author, with a traditional publishing company after just one solicitation.
“They looked it over, told me to clean it up, and gave me a contract.” Burke said.
I sat down with Path Press President, Bennett J. Johnson during a book signing for Burke, at the American Legion in Chicago Ridge. Johnson stated, a-matter-of-factly, “‘The Black Knights’ was published on the merit of the author’s skill. Read it and you’ll find out for yourself.”
Perhaps Johnson didn’t want me to misconstrue him giving Burke an on-the-spot contract with him being inexperienced. Because, then he exclaimed, “Let there be no mistake, I’ve been in business since 1961.”
Those were his words, but if I could guess his body language, it might have sounded more like…“This ain’t my first rodeo. I know a good manuscript when I read one.”
Johnson’s rare first-try-contract spared Burke the arduous process most aspiring authors’ experience. Even an optimist like myself would tell an unpublished writer to expect to query at least 20 publishers or literary agents before getting a contract. Once a signed contract is in place, it may be 18 months to three years before the book hits the market. Nevertheless, time can be salvaged by pursuing the appropriate establishment.
Budding writers are commonly advised to look for publishers that specialize in the genre of which they’ve written. Being that Burke’s book is about WWII fighter pilots of African descent, he said he felt Path Press was a great place to start.
He was right.
Johnson said Burke’s manuscript fit perfectly into the criteria of his company’s mission.
“We seek to provide opportunities for people of African descent and Third World heritage to write stories in a way that expresses their ideas or concerns on topics about political, philosophical, social or any other aspect of human existence.” Johnson said.
Path Press, Inc. is a small company but it is long standing.
“I founded one of the first black-owned publishing companies in the United States — we launched in Chicago in 1969.” Johnson said.
Johnson said he ceased production with Path Press for a number of years and began working with Third World Press as its vice president. One of their main achievements was the publication of “The Covenant with Black America,” by Tavis Smiley, which became a New York Times bestseller in 2006. Smiley is most known for his radio talk show, “The Tavis Smiley Show.”
However in 2012, Johnson decided to reactivate Path Press to pay homage to his late friend and co-founder Herman C. Gilbert. He said, “I’ve acquired several manuscripts that are outstanding in creativity. My goal is to continue to produce quality work.”
At Burke’s rate, he just might be the next New York Times bestselling author Johnson helps bring to the forefront.
Good luck gentlemen, I salute you both.

  Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Evil by any other name: Why branding ISIS matters

  • Written by Charles C. Haynes

Evil by any other name: Why branding ISIS matters

“ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State — or whatever you want to call it.”
That’s how one NPR reporter referred to the new face of terror this week as the United States prepares for another long, hard struggle against a brutal enemy of humanity.
What’s in name? After all, evil by any other name remains evil.
When it comes to terrorism, however, branding matters. ISIS leaders may read “Islam for Dummies” to fake the world into thinking they know something about Islam (according to news reports), but they are no dummies when it comes to waging a war for the hearts and minds of young Muslims.
After a murderous sweep across Iraq in June, ISIS declared an Islamic “caliphate” — and renamed themselves the “Islamic State.” At first most media outlets stuck with ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) — both acronyms that obscure the “Islamic” part.
But “ISIS” and “ISIL” have been gradually supplanted by “Islamic State” in a growing number of news stories and commentaries about the conflict.
The media drumbeat that our enemy is an “Islamic State” is a significant propaganda victory for ISIS, an extremist group that seeks to recruit young Muslims to help “restore” what ISIS misleadingly describes as an Islamic order that will unite all Muslims.
The power of the term “Islamic State” is clearly not lost on governments organizing to fight ISIS. The Obama administration, for example, uses “ISIL” and avoids uttering the words “Islamic State.”
Not surprisingly, Muslim leaders in the U.S. and around the world are especially disturbed and outraged by the appropriation of “Islamic State” by militant thugs. As Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, explained last week in a column for Time.com:
“Every time we refer to ISIS as the ‘Islamic State,’ call its members ‘jihadists’ or in any way grant it the religious legitimacy that it so desperately seeks, we simultaneously boost its brand, tarnish the image of Islam and further marginalize the vast majority of Muslims who are disgusted by the group’s un-Islamic actions.”
American media outlets, of course, are free to print the self-description used by militants in Iraq and Syria — even when that description offends and disturbs people of faith. Consider how many Christians are repelled by news accounts of the “Christian Identity” movement, a hate-filled, white supremacy group that is antithetical to the teachings of the Gospels. Or how many Baptists cringe every time they read “Westboro Baptist Church” in the headlines.
But media outlets are also free to make judgment calls about what best serves the public interest. Nine years ago, for example, many newspapers declined to publish the Danish cartoons that denigrated the Muslim faith. And today, a growing number of newspapers are opting to stop using the term “Redskins” when reporting on the Washington, D.C. football team.
Given the high stakes in the fight against ISIS, I can only hope that news organizations will consider following the lead of The New York Times, which has stuck with “ISIS” even as many other news outlets have switched to “Islamic State.”
Call ISIS what you will, there is no “Islamic State.”

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001. Web: www.newseuminstitute.org/religious-freedom-center Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Just give me ‘O-B’ and Buffone, not the rest of those buffoons

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI love football—Chicago Bears and Notre Dame football.
I’ll occasionally watch another college or pro game if it seems interesting, but Fighting Irish and Bears football are the only required games each weekend.
I don’t have the NFL Ticket package or multiple TVs in the family room so I can watch more than one game at a time, and I don’t understand anyone who does.
I have a very simple routine on football Sundays: turn the TV on as close to kickoff as possible in the hope of missing all pregame gibberish. I then watch the game and listen to the post game radio show hosted by former Bears Doug Buffone and Ed O’Bradovich.
There are post-game shows on numerous Chicago radio stations, but Buffone and O’Bradovich are hands down the best. They are both former Bears from a bygone era and their passion for the team and game is unmistakable.
If the Bears win, they are as excited as any fan. If the team loses, they won’t pull any punches. They call out coaches and players alike and routinely rip ownership for its missteps. You can find them on WSCR (AM 670) and should give them a listen if you’ve never experienced their show.
When their show concludes, so too does my football weekend. I don’t watch Sunday Night Football nor do I waste time on the Monday Night edition. Ditto for football on Thursdays.
(A side note: the Chicago Blackhawks begin play in 22 days. I will try not to miss a game.)
I don’t wager on football, and for the past few years I have not been involved in fantasy football. From time to time I’ll find out that I missed a really great nationally televised game, but I can’t get that excited about a contest between two teams in which I have no rooting interest.
Back to the Bears and local sports radio.
The Bears post-games shows are just the start of the incessant analysis conducted by these stations. It goes on all week. The early part of the week is dedicated to the previous Sunday’s game, while the later part of the week is reserved for a look at the upcoming opponent.
I recently heard a program host tell his listeners he’d post more game analysis on his blog on Monday after he watched the game again.
Again? A second time? Who does that? I understand the folks in the sports radio industry have to keep a keen eye on football and other pro and college sports. It’s how they make a living.
Somehow, though, I think a guy watching a Bears game a second time, hitting the pause button on the remote to see if Peanut Tillman got burned in coverage, furiously taking notes as he watches, wishes he were a coach.
Listen to these guys sometime. They love to work into their commentary the jargon used by coaches. And listeners must enjoy it because a fair number of them call these shows talking in the same language.
But their commentary is only part of the non-stop Bears coverage. Each sports radio station seems to have a former Bears player who makes a weekly appearance to talk about the team. There are daily reports from Bears practice, and head coach Marc Trestman’s press conferences are carried live.
Why does anyone want to hear the head coach of a team answer reporters’ questions? I can understand a 30-second sound bite or coverage of a serious issue that extends beyond the scope of the game—Ray Rice and domestic abuse being one example.
But sports radio stations promote “breaking away to carry the Trestman press conference” as though President Obama was addressing the nation about ISIS.
There are three all-sports radio stations in town, plus six hours of weekend talk on WGN. That doesn’t include pre- and post-game shows dedicated to the pro and college teams in town.
Some shows are better than others. I enjoy some hosts and find others unlistenable. The thing is, these stations have time to fill—lots of time to fill. So, in a year when our baseball teams are long ago out of contention, the topic is Bears and more Bears.
I remember when WSCR “The Score” became the first sports radio station in town. I was excited. New York City had a similar station, WFAN, and now Chicago would have its own sports talker. At first, the station broadcast only during daylight hours—in retrospect, maybe that was enough.
A few years later, WMVP (AM 1000) came along as competition, and earlier this year, “The Game” (87.7 FM) hit the dial. There stations talk Chicago sports almost exclusively, which is why I tire of them. I’m a sports fan. I really am interested in other teams—pro and college—as well as discussion of larger issues: NHL expansion, college recruiting, the baseball playoff chase—it beats all Bears all the time.
But these stations are convinced that sports fans want wall-to-wall Chicago sports talk, 24/7.
Where have you gone, Chet Coppock?

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.