Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

unpaid-internshipsA court victory for unpaid interns today and possibly a wake-up call for corporate America. Yesterday, New York federal judge William Pauley ruled in favor of  two interns suing Fox Searchlight over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group. The Hollywood Reporter says the court’s summary judgment was also certified as a class action  The lawsuit was filed two years ago by interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt who worked on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and claimed the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

Fox issued this statement to The Hollywood Reporter on the ruling: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings.  We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, an opinion article from the Guardian newspaper on unpaid internships prompted an interesting discussion among colleagues in our college this past month.

In the article author David Dennis notes that media companies that rely on unpaid interns marginalize the voices of low-income communities and minorities. A graduate from Northwestern University, David writes: “And therein lies the issue with unpaid internships. The practice of asking recent graduates to spend their days working for free while paying rent and living in a city like New York is a barrier for entry to students from mid- to lower-class backgrounds.”   

Specifically, Dennis wrote that unpaid internships become barriers for low-income and minority candidates access to their professional fields because they can’t afford to work for free without incurring debt. This, argues Dennis means we have less diversity in the media.

Dennis writes: “Recently, I wrote about how stories of crime in New Orleans or Chicago’s Southside are under-reported on the national level, and one of the reasons is the fact that voices from these areas aren’t making it to the national conversation to influence the direction of national discourse. Media workplaces are becoming populated by those who can afford the jobs. Those who can’t are being shut out.  How many journalists can say they have firsthand knowledge of the mentality of someone from the inner-city? Many of these voices have been muted just because they simply can’t navigate the landscape of privilege that most modern journalism encourages.”  

I agree with Dennis’ opinion on unpaid interns. The International Business Times recently mentioned a well-known 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute whose authors argued  persuasively, that “the choice to take an internship is not only contingent on a student’s qualifications, but also his or her economic means, thus institutionalizing socioeconomic disparities beyond college.”

unpaid-intern-2I also believe some for-profit companies use unpaid interns to save labor costs. There are recent legal cases to back this observation and to disprove it.  I believe this is, in part,  due to poor Fair Labor Standards Act enforcement by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding unpaid internships. I also believe this hurts those businesses who try to compete while providing paid internship opportunities.

Something else is hidden in the unpaid intern debate. My belief is that unpaid internships are a double whammy for some college graduates. They struggle to get jobs because the services they’re qualified to provide employers are already being provided by unpaid interns.

I said I agreed with Dennis’ views against the inequity of unpaid internships. Not everyone sees it that way.  Click here to see  how Denver Fox affiliate KDVR “Everyday Show” co-hosts Chris Parente and Melody Mendez put their spin on the topic of unpaid interns.

My response to KDVR:

 “I watched your treatment of this issue from your morning show. If you think a part of an unpaid intern’s job is to fetch coffee and dry cleaning for employees at Fox31 I would advise my students from interning at your TV station. That’s an exploitative mindset. An internship should provide students the opportunity to gain real world observations, experience and contacts in a professional workplace that ties directly to their future professional interests. They’re not unpaid personal assistants. So, please keep the focus on providing interns opportunities that will make them better potential future employees and managers for Fox31 and get your own coffee and dry cleaning.”

KDVR host Parente appeared to struggle in his understanding of the Dennis article. Parente incorrectly referred to Dennis as a woman and a “journalism ethics expert. Dennis is actually creative director at The Smoking Section website and a freelance writer.

Mendez commented that she once had an unpaid internship in college AND worked a part-time job. “It is possible to do both,” said Mendez.

To opinions such as Mendez’, Dennis wrote: “All of my classmates were qualified to work in any newsroom or publication in the city, but those who could afford the lifestyle got their feet in the door with internships. Sure, it’s possible for someone to work 40 hours a week without pay while also waiting tables at night, but it sure is easier when you don’t have to worry about earning a living – or paying student loans.”      

I’ll go one step more on unpaid internships- 

According to the Department of Labor internships in the “for-profit” private sector are most often viewed as employment. This means interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the  minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a work week.

Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s six criteria for-profit companies must meet in order to legally use unpaid interns:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the
internship.

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist says the U.S. Department of Labor and the for-profit company may use unpaid interns. Otherwise, minimum wage and overtime provisions do apply to the intern. Or as Judge Pauley wrote in his opionion which sides with the unpaid interns in the “Black Swan” case:

After going through the experiences of Footman and Glatt on Black Swan, here’s what Judge Pauley concludes:

“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ‘employees’ covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The benefits they may have received — such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school. This is a far cry from [the Supreme Court's decision in]Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.”

The latest court ruling means a victory for those who argue against unpaid internships, particularly when they may involve doing work that other employees are paid for performing in other work settings. It may also signal the court’s willingness to limit, even end unpaid internships used as a guise by some employers to limit their labor costs as well as employment opportunities for students and other qualified workers.There will be more legal battles on this case and victory for the plaintiffs is far from certain at this point.

I’ll sum it up with the ending of the International Business Times article on unpaid internships because it captures the “anecdotal reality” many recent college grads may be living. It uses HBO’s hit drama “Girls,” character Hannah who works as an unpaid publishing intern, despite having graduated college two years earlier. After she’s told by her parents that they will no longer fund her post-collegiate escapades, Hannah explains to her boss that she can no longer afford to work for free. His reply? “I’m really going to miss your energy.”

 

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

The snow-covered view out my Andersen Hall window at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Photo: Barney McCoy

In Lincoln, Neb., the snow that pummeled this stretch of the Midwest yesterday has given way to sunshine.

UNL classes have resumed. Despite the usual weather related accidents, traffic has returned to near normal. Businesses are open. Life is good again for most of us.

Snowmageddon” was the term some used to describe the weather event dubbed “Q” by the Weather Channel.

To be sure, it was a significant snowfall, but not as bad as some meteorologists claimed it would be. We received about 6 inches of snow. Other parts of the region received up to 20 inches of snow.

Nor was the storm, as nasty locally as some gleamy-eyed TV news anchors and reporters made it sound on Wednesday and Thursday.

Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear much about the benefits of this storm; The badly needed moisture it brings farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and municipalities that have been locked in a serious drought for almost a year. The latest reports say more than 75 percent of Nebraska is in an “exceptional drought” which is worse than an “extreme drought.”

The insulated coating of snow that protects the seeds planted for the coming year from direct exposure to freezing conditions. A chance for corn farmers to have moist soils this spring to get their crops planted and off to a healthy start. That’s a good thing too.

We need these benefits of a big snow more right now than the temporary transportation inconveniences and ever present dangers associated with navigating snow-covered streets and roads.

Last season, Nebraska’s corn crop took a quarter billion dollar loss due to the drought.  Ranchers were forced to sell cattle because the drought dried up the grass they feed on. Cities like Lincoln are talking stricter water conservation measures and higher costs for water users. Other places worry there may not be enough water available at any price if the drought persists.

This moisture, from this snow, may help keep the drought-driven crop and livestock losses we had last year from happening this year.

The region still needs four to eight inches of new moisture to free us from the drought. Keep in mind that experts say it takes roughly a 10 inches of snow to equal an inch of moisture; More if the snow is powdery and dry, less if the snow is wet and heavy.

Let’s hope more moisture, in any form, arrives soon. Meanwhile, let us tolerate, even enjoy, what nature has delivered to our doorstep.

Manti Te'o Photo: US Presswire

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (Photo: US Presswire)

It’s the dangerous side of sloppy journalism and poor independent fact checking.  Often, the size of the news organization has no bearing on who gets facts right, or in this case, gets it wrong. And some news organizations wonder why the public’s perception of their credibility keeps slipping.

It happened this week with the surprising revelation by Deadspin.com that Manti Te’o, Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame University, was tied to a hoax. The hoax was that Te’o’s girlfriend died from leukemia. It was a false story amplified by news organizations who accepted fantasy as fact. The fake story played on the sympathetic emotions of millions of people.

Deadspin.com reported that it could find no record of the existence of Te’o’s alleged girlfriend Lennay Kekua.  Te’o claimed she had died Sept. 12 of complications from leukemia.

What’s unclear at this point is if Te’o was part of the hoax or victim of it.

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te'o's story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. Photo: US Presswire

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te’o’s story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. (Photo: US Presswire)

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the news media Wednesday that Te’o was a victim of the hoax. Swarbrick said Te’o only had phone or online conversations with Kekua but had never met her in person. There’s some confusion here, at least according to an article written by South Bend Tribune reporter Eric Hansen last October.

In the article, Hansen described Te’o’s first face-to-face meeting with Kekua  after the 2009 Notre Dame- USC football game.

Wrote Hansen:

“Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes. They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets. Te’o had plenty to preoccupy himself that November weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 2009.” 

My question to Hansen: @hansenNDInsider Did you independently verify dead girlfriend claims when you wrote the Oct. 12 story?  I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

CBS also displayed this photo of the ficticious Kekua several times throughout the Morning Show report.

CBS also displayed this photo of the fictitious Kekua several times throughout the CBS This Morning show report. (From: Deadspin.com)

The myth wasn’t only perpetuated by the South Bend Tribune, the newspaper closest to the Notre Dame hoax story. The fake story was also given national life by Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox Sports, ESPN, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.

As Deadspin reported: “Te’o’s story moved beyond the world of sports. On the day of the BCS championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, CBS This Morning ran a three-minute story that featured a direct quote from Lennay Kekua:

“Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you’ll stay there and you’ll play and you’ll honor me through the way you play.””

See CBS report on Te’o

Today, CBS reporter Chip Reid appeared on CBS’ This Morning again with a story explaining the latest in the hoax story. “It turns out we were all duped,” said Reid. He didn’t explain if he had ever independently fact checked the story before originally reporting it.  (The report has since been pulled from the Internet by CBS.) 

Who knew what, when?
According to Swarbrick, Te’o told Notre Dame on Dec. 26th that he had recently learned Kekua never existed. Notre Dame sat on the news until after Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the Jan. 7th BCS National Championship Game. Swarbrick said the university did so to independently investigate Teo’s’ claims. Swarbrick added that a motive for the hoax was unclear.

What is clear is that, until the Deadspin report, news outlets didn’t fact check the story. If they had made a few phones calls the hoax would have been revealed immediately.  

The news media would have discovered:

  • Lennay Kekua was a fictitious name
  • She never dated Manti Te’o

According to the Deadspin article:

  • Lennay Kekua never existed
  • She was never in a car accident
  • She never battled leukemia and never died
  • She wasn’t a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when she and Te’o, according to the South Bend Tribune, “exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.”

A story as popular and widely reported as this, and no news organization flagged the inconsistencies in it until Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey started asking questions.  Their answers, with solid attribution, told them the Lennay Kekua story was false.

What Burke and Dickey did was admirable. It was also basic, solid journalism. That’s what journalists are supposed to do every day. Burke and Dickey kept digging though. I suspect they’re still digging hard today to find out the motive for the hoax. For this Burke, Dickey and Deadspin.com deserve praise for excellence in journalism.

By the way- Wednesday night it appeared the South Bend Tribune had pulled Eric Hansen’s October 12th story about Manti Te’o from its online archives. It’s been restored now and you can see it here. 

  • Or you can read Hansen’s story which also appeared in the Irish Sports Report.
  • Or you can see the full version of his story that I captured below complete with my mark-ups raising questions about Hansen’s missing source attribution or information in conflict with Te’o’s present claim that he never met Lennay Kekua in person.

What Dreams May Come Manti Te'o Article

I was compelled to watch our oldest daughter Emily McCoy Glover talk about marriage tonight. What are the secrets to a lasting marriage?

Emily was a guest on a live global video chat hosted by the Huffington Post.
Emily married last year at the age of 20.

At first, wife Joanne and I thought age 20 was way too young for our daughter to be married,, or to stay married for long.

Then, after meeting Emily’s soon-to-be husband Dan, we agreed our daughter and future son-in-law were mature enough, committed enough, realistic enough, and in love enough to stay married. It probably helps that Emily’s maternal grandparents have been married for 60+ years (talk about role models) and that Emily and Dan’s parents have been married for 20+ years.
The other guests on the video chat segment included the Catholic Renewal Campaign’s Martha Lyles, who’s been married 43 years, Jennifer Nagy, a PR professional who whose marriage fell apart while in her 20′s, and Dr. Karl Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University and a founder of the Legacy Project.

Click here for the video replay of the Huffington Post video chat.

What are your thoughts about what it takes to make a marriage last?

p.s. Emily writes a pretty good blog too: Pursuit of Healthfulness

The author holds up corn stalk leaves the August wind has carried from miles away into Lincoln, Nebraska neighborhoods as many farmers are being forced to harvest their drought stressed corn for silage feed.

I’ve never seen it before.

Across Lincoln, foot-long dried corn leaves are flying in from miles away, blown by the wind, scattered across city lawns and parks.  The browned corn leaves that seemingly have a life and journey of their own, are another sign of the worst drought in decades. It’s taking a heavy toll on crops, livestock and lives across the Midwest this summer.

In this case, many Nebraska farmers are harvesting their corn for livestock silage because it’s been so damaged by our drought conditions. Many of the same farmers have benefited from historically high crop prices and yields in the past several years. It’s scary to see how quickly things change.

Drought footprint

It’s this way across much of the corn belt. According to the latest United State Agriculture Department report, the U.S. corn harvest got off to the fastest-ever start last week as early planting this past spring and record high summer temperatures accelerated crop development.

Corn plants damaged by extreme heat and drought conditions stand in a field in Carmi, Ill. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

The USDA this week rated 51 percent of the corn crop as “poor” or “very poor” because of the drought’s effect. The latest national crop loss estimates for this year are running at $20-billion.  Despite the fact that this was the largest corn crop planted since 1937, production is projected to be down 13 percent, the lowest output since 2006, said the National Crop Insurance Service.

Not getting better

According to the Daily Nebraskan, the 2012 drought shows no sign of slowing down.  Extreme drought can cause major crop losses, widespread water restrictions or shortages, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in UNL’s National Drought Mitigation Center.

“We’ve seen the drought progressively getting worse,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the center told the DN.  “About the only thing that has saved us in the past few weeks is the temperatures have finally cooled off,” he added, referring to recent highs sometimes 20 degrees cooler than much of the past two months. Nebraska is forecast to remain dry into November, Fuchs said. Currently, more than 90 percent of Nebraska is in extreme drought, with a strip 300 miles long of exceptional drought — the most severe level — in the state’s western half.

 

Last week, the Drought Mitigation Center released these updated statistics on the drought:

  • The total area of Kansas in exceptional drought jumped to 63.3 percent as of the Aug. 14 map, up from 38.58 percent the previous week. The entire state continued to be classified in severe drought or worse.
  • In Missouri, the area in exceptional drought as of Aug. 14 increased to 35.51 percent, up from 13.89 percent the previous week, and the entire state was in severe drought or worse.
  • Oklahoma saw the area in exceptional drought increase to 38.86 percent as of Aug. 14, up from 16.03 percent the week before, with the entire state in severe drought or worse.
  • In Nebraska, exceptional drought expanded to 22.53 percent of the state, up from 3.46 percent, and the entire state was in severe drought or worse.

Across the Missouri River in Iowa, conditions are just as bad. According to the Sioux City Journal, the severe drought is prompting tri-state farmers in the worst-hit areas to salvage what they can now before the stalks dry up even more.

“Our corn is too far gone,” said Akron, Iowa, area farmer Randy Kroksh,who chopped 40 acres of silage Monday. “I have some fields that won’t yield anything. In some places, there might be 50 bushels per acre, but I doubt it.” Kroksh told the SCJ his farm hadn’t had any measurable precipitation since Memorial Day weekend.

Who pays for the losses?

While much of the drought damaged crops will be covered by insurance, the insurance coverage itself typically pays farmers for up to 80 percent of the production costs in the event of a total crop loss. “It won’t cover our sweat equity,” said a colleague of mine this past week whose husband grows a corn crop in the Lincoln area each year. My colleague also reminded me that a drought next year could make things even worse. Crop insurance claims this year will send next year’s crop insurance premiums higher, out of reach for many farmers who may not be able to afford the higher insurance coverage costs next season.

Joe Fischer, a farmer, held ears of corn showing the variety of kernel development on Thursday at Fischer Farms Inc. in Owensboro, Ky. Photo: John Dunham/The Messenger-Inquirer, via Associated Press

And for the many farmers who are harvesting their damaged corn for silage; The silage harvest typically pulls more nutrients from the soil than mature corn crops. This means higher expenses for fertilizers and other soil conditioners next year to return the nutrients to the soil robbed by this season’s silage harvest. According to the University of Missouri Extension Service, a 100-bushel corn crop harvested as silage removes more than twice as much nitrogen, three times as much phosphorus and 10 times as much potassium as when the crop is harvested for grain. The removal of the stalks accounts for the extra nutrient removed from the land.

Consumers also pay 

For consumers, the crop losses mean higher food prices. Less corn being converted to ethanol may also contribute to higher fuel prices because less ethanol based fuels are being produced. Consumers, (taxpayers) will also help foot the bill this year to help pay crop insurance losses.  According to a CNN Money report, The federal government pays on average 60 cents of every dollar of premium sold for crop insurance. Last year, the federal government recorded $11.9 billion worth of crop insurance premiums, $7.4 billion of which was paid by the government, according to figures kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency.

So, when I see those dried and shrunken corn leaves hoisted by the wind in Lincoln, I say a prayer.  I pray this drought will end soon, that it won’t return for a long time to come. That our weather this year is an anomaly, not part of a new weather norm that could change our lives in profoundly negative and permanent ways.

Additional drought resources:

  1. Statistics for the percent area in each category of drought are automatically added to the U.S. Drought Monitor website each week for the entire country and Puerto Rico, for the 48 contiguous states, for each climate region, and for individual states:http://drought.unl.edu/MonitoringTools/USDroughtMonitor/DroughtMonitorTips.aspx
  2. The National Climatic Data Center maintains drought data based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index, calculated to the beginning of the historic record:http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/sotc/drought/2012/06/uspctarea-wetdry-mod.txt
  3. U.S. Drought Monitor: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu
  4. Seasonal Drought Outlook: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html

Harry Truman holds up Chicago Daily Tribune headline that inaccurately reported his defeat in the 1948 presidential race. The Barack Obama mock photo courtesy of YFrog.com displays CNN’s inaccurate website post of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the president’s health care law to be unconstitutional.

It’s what CNN and Fox News didn’t do about yesterday’s inaccurate reporting on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that will likely impact their credibility. More for CNN. Less for Fox News.

Got it first…Got it wrong
In the race to be first to report the court’s health care ruling CNN and Fox news got it wrong. They initially reported that the Obama administration’s health care law had been ruled unconstitutional by the high court.  Either CNN and Fox didn’t take the time to read the decision, didn’t understand it, or both.

CNN and Fox News initially got it wrong when they reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the key individual mandate provision in President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.


CNN
The trouble started shortly after 10 a.m. for CNN when Congressional correspondent Kate Boulduan reported that according to CNN producer Bill Mears, the individual mandate provision of “Obamacare” could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer reacted: “Wow, that’s a dramatic moment,” he said as a “SUPREME CT. KILLS INDIVIDUAL MANDATE” chyron popped onto the TV screen.

CNN failed to discern that the individual mandate provision had been upheld by the court as a tax.

“The Justices have just gutted, Wolf, the centerpiece provision of the health care law,” John King said, adding that it was a “direct blow to President Obama.”

Later, Boulduan returned to correct her 10:07 report, calling the court’s decision “thick” and “legally dense.” Why didn’t Boulduan or someone else at CNN ask someone at the U.S. Supreme Court to help interpret the ruling’s impact?

Fox News
At 10:08 Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer announced, “We have breaking news here on the Fox News channel. The individual mandate has been ruled unconstitutional.”

Thirty-six seconds later Fox News reporter Shannon Bream , clutching pages of the ruling in her hands, read a section of the decision which was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts. Bream reported, “He (Justice Roberts) says the individual mandate cannot be sustained under Congress’ power to regulate commerce. That means the mandate is gone.”

One Washington insider noted something I had missed: The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are both owned by News Corp. The Journal got the Supreme Court ruling right and they got it right shortly after the court’s Thursday decision. Fox News didn’t.

Damaged goods
CNN and Fox News put being first above getting it right.  Their viewers were poorly served as a result. The credibility of their news staff suffers. It’s not poor journalism. It’s not journalism at all.

The Washington insider also noted these news organizations, had they done their reporting homework, should have known an alternative argument had been advanced in support of the individual mandate provision and waited to hear the ruling on that argument before broadcasting any bottom-line conclusion.

The Fox News view
I believe most core Fox News viewers discount the muffed handling of the decision because it squares nicely with their view of the Fox News brand of reporting. That is to say Fox News’ reporting runs counter to many mainstream journalism rules of accountability. 

Fox knows this. When it makes inaccurate statements it doesn’t have the same impact on Fox News ratings as it would on CBS, NBC or ABC News. This was reflected in Fox News’ Executive Vice President of News Editorial Michael Clemente’s statement after yesterday’s mistake:

Fox News Executive Vice President of News Editorial Michael Clemente (CREDIT: ABC/ STEVE FENN)


    We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it. Bill Hemmer even added, be patient as we work through this. Then when we heard and read, that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well—all within two minutes.

    By contrast, one other cable network was unable to get their Supreme Court reporter to the camera, and said as much. Another said it was a big setback for the President. Fox reported the facts, as they came in. - Fox News Executive Vice President of News Editorial Michael Clemente

CNN spin
Most CNN viewers, on the other hand, probably won’t forget the inaccurate reporting by the cable news network. They tend to be more ideologically diverse as a core audience.

CNN is the original 24 hour news network.  Like me, I suspect many viewers believe CNN’s best journalism and timely, dependable, accurate reporting are in its past.  What’s worse, I, and I suspect many CNN viewers, see this week’s blunder as further evidence that CNN doesn’t seem eager to correct this negative perception. 

This is one important reason I believe CNN’s sinking ratings ship continues to take on water. According to the New York Daily News, in the second quarter of this year CNN averaged 446,000 total viewers in prime time. That was down 35 percent from the second quarter of 2011.

Splashy promotions touting CNN’s global leadership in news coverage won’t overcome reporting mistakes like the ones that happened yesterday.  Nor do corrections such as the one issued by CNN after the Supreme Court health care ruling reporting meltdown:

In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling. CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.

Fixing it
Right now, it sucks to be CNN. I know a few CNN employees who reluctantly admit as much.

Apologies alone though won’t convince most CNN viewers the cable network cares enough to fix what’s broken. Accountability will, even at the risk of CNN news employees being suspended or losing their jobs if they report inaccurate information.

What will it take for CNN to win back viewers? I believe CNN will have to prove its reporting is accurate and dependable, its journalistic standards consistently applied, even if at the cost of being first.

That’s not a profound statement. For CNN the challenge is to avoid the competitive trap of rushing to be first, if only by a few seconds, versus getting it right the first time.

CNN Senior Vice President and Washington bureau chief Sam Feist

Today, Politico reported that CNN Senior Vice President and Washington bureau chief Sam Feist sent a memo to bureau staff announcing that CNN was ‘looking into’ its inaccurate report about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on healthcare. “Today we failed to adhere to our own standard, namely it’s better to be right than to be first,” wrote Feist. “We take mistakes seriously, especially mistakes on such important stories. We are looking into exactly what happened and we will learn from it.”

I hope CNN will be equally transparent with its viewers in this review. The viewers are the ultimate boss in passing judgement on a news organization’s success or failure.

Getting a scoop on an important story like yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling is memorable stuff; for journalists, their employers, and the audiences they serve. Getting it wrong though in the quest to “get it first” creates a memory far more damaging and lasting. It sends a message to viewers that the news organization they thought they could believe, can’t be believed at all.

A chilly fall day raking leaves. As my wife and I watched our dog Makai frolicking in the leaves I was reminded how dogs (kids too) are so great at living in the moment. Shouldn’t we too? Click the video below and enjoy the joyous moment.

Pieces of the Keystone XL pipeline await construction in South Dakota. Photo:North Platte Post

Every big controversy seems to generate its own information fog.  Facts may be  incomplete or missing altogether. Reporting can get fuzzy.

The debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is no different. Rhetoric abounds. Facts may be iffy.

The question is whether the fact omission is deliberate or accidental.  Both happen. Either may detract from what should be an informed, vigorous public discussion.

Take Darrin Goode’s Politico article this week entitled “On Keystone XL Pipeline, Democrats slow to probe.”  Goode writes:

“Labor unions — an important constituency for Obama and a lot of other Democrats — are backing the pipeline and the jobs it could bring.”

Goode’s statement is inaccurate. Early today, I wrote the following to Mr. Goode and requested a correction in his Politico article.

“You did not note that large labor unions also oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. They include the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The two unions represent more than 300,000 workers in the U.S.
These unions are calling for “New Deal” type public investments in infrastructure modernization and repair, energy conservation and climate protection as a means of putting people to work and laying the foundations of a green and sustainable economic future for the United States.”
I ask that you add this correction to your story for the sake of fair and balanced journalism.”

I will let you know if Mr. Goode agrees with my clarification and makes a correction. I should note that the Politico article is not the first to make the false assumption that labor stands unified in favor of the proposed pipeline.

TransCanada's Keystone pipeline, shown here under construction. Photo: The Globe and Mail

Meanwhile, in the comment section for Goode’s Politico article I received this reply to my clarification from a reader.

“Barney,
While the ATU & TWU represents a measly 300,000 workers opposing the pipeline, they are trumped by the AFL-CIO (11,000,000 members), Teamsters (1,400,000 members) and LIUNA (630,000 members).

Last time I checked, 13,000,000 is more than 300,000.

Need more proof? Here:
“It’s the vision and competence of TransCanada in the U.S. that provides our skilled local workforce with the means to perform the trade they have been taught while contributing to their communities.” – William Hite, General President, AFL-CIO.

“TransCanada has a solid reputation for its responsible construction practices, and Canada is our largest and most responsible oil supplier. Allowing the project approval process to move forward was the right decision to make.” – Jim Hoffa, General President, Teamsters

In a protest, debate or fist-fight between a group of Environmentalists and Union workers, I will place my money on the Union workers everytime!”

To which I replied:

“Hello Van-

Yes, some unions and union members support the XL pipeline. BUT- The ATU and TWU are in fact AFL/CIO member unions who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Many other unions and union members in the U.S and Canada have also stepped forward opposing the pipeline.

Examples: The Alberta Federation of Labor and the CEP (Communications , Energy and Paperworkers Union), the Canadian union that represents the tar sands and refinery workers who would work on the project oppose the pipeline claiming it is “unsustainable and cuts off the possibility of creating a democratic energy policy that benefits workers in Canada for the long haul.”

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) is opposed to Keystone XL. “The pipeline will create environmental destruction, take potential upgrading and refining jobs away from Canadians, and put our country’s energy security at risk,” says CEP President Dave Coles.

The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), Alberta’s largest labor organization, thinks the pipeline shouldn’t go ahead. “Members of the Alberta and federal governments have been acting like sales executives for pipeline company TransCanada, travelling to the U.S. to persuade Americans what a great idea the raw bitumen pipeline will be, but they are ignoring what’s best for Alberta and Canada,” said Gil McGowan, AFL president.

These examples disprove your contention that this debate is strictly between labor and environmentalists.  In fact, hundreds of thousands of union members on both sides of the border are against the XL pipeline. They’re joined by nine Nobel laureates, ranchers, farmers, first nations members, students, NASA climatologist James Hansen, politicians, clergy and others.

In short, you made a poor bet backed more by rhetoric and less by fact when you assumed all labor unions and all union members (of which I’m one) support the XL pipeline.”

Pieces of the Keystone XL pipeline await transport. Photo: National Radio Canada

Let there be a fair, factual and informed debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. Likewise, let there be fair, factual and informed reporting on the topic.  It’s in the best interest of our democracy and the credible journalism citizens rely.  It’s also how society can best demand transparency, accountability and clarity on an important issue.

Alaura Luebbe was overcome with emotion as she described her concerns that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would threaten her family's Nebraska ranch. Luebbe's comments came during a U.S. State Department hearing last Friday. Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg News

The controversy surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline reached new heights Friday when the U.S. State Department hosted the last in a series of public hearings on the 1,700 mile pipeline. It would carry tar sand crude oil from Canada to Texas.

Graphic: New York Times

The Washington, D.C.  hearing drew the national news media’s attention.  In turn, the news reports that followed missed the most important point behind the controversial project.

They suggest the proposed pipeline is a trade-off pitting environmentalists against new jobs, lower oil prices and a dependable foreign oil supply.

 NPR reports: This one pits potential job growth versus environmental concerns.

The Washington Post reports: Hundreds of members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America filled the auditorium at Friday’s hearing; Brent Booker, who directs the union’s construction department, said the project will provide “thousands of jobs” to his members….Shortly afterward, two Nebraska women broke down in tears as they testified. Alaura Luebbe, a rancher’s daughter, sobbed as she spoke of her ranch being threatened by the project, while activist Jane Kleeb declared, “We are the Sand Hills lovers. We are the Ogallala Aquifer lovers. And we are begging you — not asking, we are begging you — to deny this pipeline permit.”

The real story: The Keystone XL pipeline is a litmus test of President Obama and our political leadership’s resolve to make a true commitment to alternative energy in America and ween ourselves from foreign energy reliance? It’s also a test of the American consumers’ ability to consume less energy and create less waste.

It won’t be easy. If our leaders, as well as and you and I are sincere about America’s  security, energy independence and guiding our own national destiny we can do this. A sustained move to alternative energy sources is a commitment we’re better off making today, before we deplete traditional energy sources, cause more pollution and burden future generations of Americans.

Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Suncor Millennium mine, an open-pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada's oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of soil must be stripped off to reach many deposits. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

To be sure, other concerns have been expressed by opponents and supporters of the project. Supporters say the Keystone XL project could create 20,000 pipeline equipment and construction jobs, and give us lower oil prices courtesy of a more dependable foreign importer. Opponents say the costs will be  the pipeline’s “dirty” extraction process, human health problems, permanent damage to Canada’s forests and a pollution threat to places like Nebraska’s Sand Hills country and the Ogallala fresh water aquifer.

The mowed strip across Nebraska's Sand Hills counrtry is what plaintiff groups claim is evidence of Keystone XL pipeline construction before federal approval is granted for the project. Photo: Bruce McIntosh, Center for Biological Diversity

Conflicting jobs message: If the pipeline is approved, most or all of those 20,000 jobs will end when the construction’s complete. It should be noted that according to TransCanada data supplied to the State Department, the project will only create between 2,500 and 4,560 construction jobs in the U.S. A recent Cornell University report says “[the pipeline] will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Instead, lets get back to Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan of two years ago. It envisioned creating about 500,000 jobs by making new investments in clean energy, doubling the production of alternative energy over three years and improving the energy efficiency of government buildings and homes.

Lower oil prices? Maybe not. Here’s another reason Mr. Obama, the State Department and politicians from  both parties might be better off denying a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline-  Many pipeline supporters suggest it would lead to more stable or lower oil prices due to the new influx of up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada.

CNN reports: “For the Obama administration, having an answer to high prices will be much more important in 2012 than it is today,” said Kevin Book. managing director at the research firm ClearView Energy Partners. “We think it will get approved.”

According to a CTV report, the Keystone XL pipeline might actually increase oil prices. It would do so by reducing the crude oil over-supply problem in Cushing, Okla., one of the largest crude storage facilities in the world. Industry analysts say this has driven prices down.

Via CTV:  “We have a unique problem now with North American supply,” said Mike Ming, Secretary of Energy for the State of Oklahoma. “We’ve brought on more oil supply than we really have outlets to get it to market and it’s tended to bottle up at Cushing.”  Cushing is the prime delivery point for New York oil futures contracts and helps set the value of West Texas Intermediate, North America’s benchmark oil price.”The problem is, we’ve got too much oil in Cushing relative to our pipeline capacity to get it out to the Gulf Coast mainly, because that’s where the majority of the United States refining capacity is,” said Mike McDonald, the former Chair of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association… If it is approved, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline would link Cushing to refineries on the Gulf Coast with a 500,000 barrel-a-day spur line, helping to relieve the glut and the pressure on West Texas Intermediate.

Conflict of interest? Finally, the proposed pipeline permit should be denied because of the real or perceived conflicts of interest involved in this project.

On October 7th, The New York times reported: The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects…The E.P.A. has criticized two prior draft environmental impact statements prepared by Cardno Entrix on Keystone XL as “inadequate” and providing “insufficient information,”

A few days earlier-

The New York Times reports: The State Department has also faced charges of political conflict of interest over its handling of the Keystone XL application because TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was a top official in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Beneath a green sweep of fen and forest in northern Alberta lies a promise of wealth—vast layers of hydrocarbons that can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline. Undisturbed until now, these trees may soon fall: This land has already been staked out by prospectors. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

What is the state of our nation’s political accountability and transparency? Can we create sustainable energy policies that support our economy and democracy while, at the same time, provide America greater control of its destiny? These are real questions. The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project will tell us if the Obama administration is truly willing to act in the best interests of our country and set us on a new course of self-reliance and energy sustainability.

What are your thoughts on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal? I’d like to know.

I was 45 years old and reporting for WBNS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbus, Ohio on September 11, 2001. Photo: Chris Hedrick

It’s a collective freeze-frame in the consciousness of America. We were all swept into it.

Anyone alive on September 11, 2001 can tell you where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing the day four hijacked airliners crashed in New York, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.

Snapshot of when I first heard the news: I was standing in my living room with videographer Chris Hedrick. We were about to leave town to report on a feature story for WBNS-TV (CBS) in Columbus, Ohio.

The terrorist attacks changed who we are and how we perceive the world. We are more wary and less secure.  For many of us, the weight of 9-11-2001 will always linger. That’s a certainty for the family and friends of the 2,977 victims who died in the suicide attacks. We didn’t ask for it. Many of us still can’t quite believe it. We begrudgingly accept it. Or do we?

Videographer Chris Hedrick and I spent six days covering the 9-11 attacks in New York and New Jersey.

I was a reporter for WBNS-TV on that day  10 years ago. That morning, good friend and videographer Chris Hedrick and I were supposed to drive to northern Ohio to work on a feature story.

Not long after we hit the road, we learned that a third aircraft had slammed into the Pentagon.  A fourth plane crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field. We got a call from  WBNS-TV boss John Cardenas. “I want you and Chris to head towards New York City.” said John. “We have a satellite truck less than an hour behind you.”

And so we went. Chris and I turned our Ford Explorer east. We drove eleven hours and some 535 miles that day across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. We arrived that night at Liberty State Park. It’s on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River across from the World Trade Center.

Members of the Central Ohio Search and Rescue Team assisted in the search and recovery effort following the 9-11 attacks in New York City. Photo: Chris Hedrick

Along the way, we were riveted to the radio, listening to the non-stop reports that poured across the airwaves. Whenever we stopped for gas we caught glimpses of the television coverage that left people glued to their screens that day.

It was soon confirmed by federal officials that the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and two more airliners that crashed in rural Pennsylvania and into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. had been hijacked. We knew thousands of innocent people had died or were injured. Most were Americans. We wondered what other acts or terrorism could follow.

You can see the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center over my left shoulder during this live shot across the Hudson River. Photo: Chris Hedrick

That night, we did our first live shot a few miles southwest of the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. The entire south end of Manhattan was plunged into darkness save for the white glow of the emergency lights powered by gas generators that crews erected near the collapsed twin towers.

You could see the large plume of white smoke drift through the night sky. It washed over the filtered generator lights behind us in Manhattan.

This candlelight vigil in Jersey City, N.J. was one of several we covered in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Photo: Chris Hedrick

We stayed the rest of that week, working 18 hour days, reporting from New Jersey and New York on the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history:

The rescue effort that quickly turned into a recovery only effort.

The outpouring of volunteer assistance from across the country and around the world.

Candle light vigils for the victims who died and their surviving families.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about 9-11-2001. So many thoughts have been expressed. So many words have tried to describe what happened. I still search for words to describe what happened that day, how I felt and how 9-11 changed me . But,  I would like to share a few of my memories:

Barney McCoy reporting on search and recovery efforts at 2:00 a.m. near Ground Zero in New York City. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The Jersey City, N. J. police captain who tirelessly  coordinated the volunteer relief effort that streamed across the Hudson River to Ground Zero and back again from the Jersey City docks. The captain always had words of support and cheer for the thousands of people who arrived to do something…anything, to help in the days that followed the WTC attacks. His tireless humor and positive attitude lifted everyone around him. I shed bittersweet tears when I later learned the captain and his wife had buried their young daughter, a cancer victim, just days before 9-11.  In one of his darkest hours, he shined so brightly. Where did he get the strength?

Interviewing New Jersey firefighter Joe Titone who participated in the search and recovery efforts following the World Trade Center attacks on 9-11-2001. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The New Jersey firefighter who I interviewed,  exhausted and covered with dust and soot after spending 12 hours recovering victims from the World Trade Center rubble.  At the time, there was a real danger that several buildings damaged by the collapsed south and north Trade Center towers could still  collapse. If they had, they could have killed or injured the rescue workers who risked their own lives in the recovery effort.

When I asked the firefighter why he  risked his life he pointed towards Ground Zero. That’s where 343 NYC firefighters were killed evacuating World Trade Center employees.  He said “Because I have brothers and sisters in there who would do it for me.”

An American flag flies over the recovery efforts at Ground Zero after the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The trip under the Hudson River on a mostly vacant subway car the morning after the attacks. I’ve never seen a subway car with fewer people. It was quieter than a Sunday morning. Eerily quiet that day. One passenger, a young woman in business dress, sat across from us lost in thought. I caught her eye for a second and tried to smile. She looked back with a smile that quickly trembled and faded as tears washed down her cheek. There was no need to explain. There was no way to explain what had happened less than a day before.

Looking east across the Hudson River at the burning ruins of the World Trade Center. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The morning Chris and I left Columbus it was a bright summery day. When we returned home to our families six days later, the weather had cooled. It felt like fall.

So much had changed in these six days of my life.  So much more has changed in the 10 years that have followed September 11th, 2001.