In (Partial) Defense of Liz Cheney

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Category: Civil Rights, Media & Journalism, Public
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Cheney sisters

Is it possible to support a loved one’s life choices if you believe those choices should not exist? Consider the following hypotheticals:

Scenario #1: Your teenage daughter tells you she is pregnant from her no-good former boyfriend, and that she wishes to terminate the pregnancy. You are pro-life. Yet you realize that your daughter is the only one who can decide what to do (assuming she is not subject to parental consent laws, and perhaps even if she is). So you drive your child to her doctors’ appointments. You also tell her that despite your fundamental objections to abortion, you will do your best to make peace with her decision.

Scenario #2: You strongly believe children are entitled to information about their genetic parents. For this reason, you think sperm and egg banks should be allowed to work only with donors who consent to the disclosure of their identity and some basic information, and who agree to a minimum number of visits with any genetic offspring. Your sister has a baby conceived with sperm from an anonymous donor. You were beyond thrilled when she told you about her pregnancy, and you love your new nephew to pieces. Your views on the need for regulation of sperm and egg donor banks have not changed.

If these scenarios sound plausible, it is because our moral convictions don’t always dictate our personal interactions. Nor should they. The ability to appreciate that others may embrace values that are different from our own, and to react to their decisions with understanding and even respect, is a sign of maturity. Read more »

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Pulitzer Winner Calls for News Reporting Focused on Solutions

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Category: Media & Journalism, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Solutions journalism – what’s that? A leading advocate for this approach to news reporting told an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” audience in Eckstein Hall on Wednesday that it was, at the same time, a simple concept and an important change from the historic practices of most news organizations.

“The reigning myth of journalism is that we cover problems, and that’s all we do,” said Tina Rosenberg, co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. ”The solution to the problem is not our business, someone else will come and take care of that.”

But, she said, “That model has failed. It’s not a good model for helping society learn what it needs to improve itself, which is what the purpose of journalism should be. Our view is that it is a perfectly legitimate part of journalism to cover, in addition to problems, what is going on to respond to those problem.” Read more »

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Milwaukee Area Divide in Voting Is Unusually Deep, Gilbert and Franklin Say

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Category: Marquette Law School, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette


It isn’t just that we disagree whether we prefer pepperoni or anchovies on our pizza. We disagree about what pepperoni and anchovies are. And we disagree in increasingly strong ways.

That’s one way that Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, described the sharply partisan atmosphere of American politics. He spoke Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall in the first session of the 2013-14 season of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.”

Franklin and Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, presented some of the early findings of research the two are conducting on polarization in politics, especially in the Milwaukee area and Wisconsin. Gilbert is on a six-month leave from the newspaper to take part in the project, supported by the Law School’s Sheldon B. Lubar Fund for Public Policy research. Read more »

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Manipulation by the Media: Lessons to be Learned from Zimmerman v. NBC

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Category: Civil Procedure, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Public, Race & Law

George ZimmermanNow more than ever, journalism appears to be no longer about reporting facts or the search for truth, but instead about manipulating facts to maximize ratings. A case in point is the complaint George Zimmerman filed last December against NBC. The complaint alleges NBC’s use of edited 911 audio, as part of its coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death, was defamatory and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The transcript of the 911 call, released by the City of Sanford, begins as follows:

Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. . . .

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring . . .

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area . . .

Zimmerman: . . . looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK . . .

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK – you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse . . .

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the – he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Zimmerman’s complaint alleges “NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,” reported a “reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims,” and created a “false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s own words, splicing together disparate parts of the [911] recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.” Read more »

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Celebrating Poetry

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Category: Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Popular Culture & Law, Public
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wordsApril is National Poetry Month, which may be Marquette University President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.’s favorite month.  And for good reason.  Poetry can sometimes say what we can’t; it can touch our hearts and our souls with its inspiration, its longing, its joy, and its sadness.

Last year, on this blog, several of us wrote about poetry, sharing our favorites, composing new poetry in both traditional and different ways, or exploring poetry in and about the law.  As student Gabe Houghton noted this post, there are some judges who compose opinions in verse.

As April closes, I just wanted to remind everyone that poetry should be celebrated all months and remember that there are many kinds of poetry.  Songs can be considered poetry set to music. There are also poetry slams.   My favorite in this last genre is Taylor Mali, teacher and poet.  You can see him perform his poem “Totally like whatever, you know?” here.  It’s a nice reminder for those of us who love language that what we say, as well as how we say it, matters.

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Some Thoughts on Violence in Israel and the U.S.

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Category: Media & Journalism, Public

I was part of the group of students and faculty that recently visited Israel. It was truly an amazing trip, and it reshaped my perception of everything from the Syrian civil war, to Biblical history, to the contemporary political dynamics that complicate efforts to secure peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to life in the United States. I do not purport to be an expert on anything pertaining to Israel, and my thoughts on the trip are still a bit scattered, but I thought I would share at least one major impression: Israel felt more secure than I thought it would. Having read about the country’s various security problems for years, I started the trip with some anxiety about traveling in what was for me unprecedented proximity to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. To borrow the title of an 1980s sitcom, I thought that anti-Western groups would be a little too close for comfort.

But I felt completely secure, and I think everyone else did, too. It appeared that Israel’s citizens manage to live normal lives in basic safety notwithstanding the various security challenges they face. Markets, tours, businesses, restaurants, and schools all operate without any apparent sense of danger. The external threats are serious, but none of them appeared to be terribly consequential on a day-to-day basis for the individuals who live there.  Read more »

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The “Feisty” Secretary Clinton—An Object of Media Bias?

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Category: Feminism, Media & Journalism, Public

Regarding the recent Senate committee hearings on the September 2012 attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, several major media outlets described Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as, among other things, “feisty.” Strictly from a definitional standpoint, the media’s characterization appears unobjectionable. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, for example, most relevantly defines “feisty” as “quarrelsome, aggressive, belligerent, etc.” and these words arguably capture at least some aspects of Secretary Clinton’s remarks.

A modest examination of American English usage suggests that “feisty” is commonly used to refer to the behavior or character of people in a group (e.g., “the candidates had a feisty debate” or “it sure is a feisty crowd”) or to an animal, particularly a small rambunctious animal (e.g., “that there is one feisty critter”). Indeed, the word’s proximate origins concern the temperamental nature of mixed-breed dogs, and its earliest origins concern the malodorous passing of gas—hence a “fisting hound” in late 17th-century England was an undesirably flatulent dog.

The term “feisty” can also be used, of course, to describe the demeanor or behavior of an individual person. When used in that way, however, it seems more frequently to describe the elderly (“feisty octogenarian” retrieved 17,200 Google hits), the relatively young, and—it appears—women, or at least certain women. Read more »

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Before the Sports Broadcasting Act: Professional Football Fifty Years Ago

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Media & Journalism, Public, Sports & Law
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Warning:  This essay contains pure, unadulterated nostalgia for the professional sports regime of the middle third of 20th century America.

I remember watching the 1960 World Series on television, but the first year that I really followed major league baseball was 1961, the year of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s historic assault on Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. When the baseball season was over, my new-found enthusiasm for sports led me to become a pro football fan as well. Read more »

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Do We Need an Anti-Siphoning Act in the United States?

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Category: Media & Journalism, Public, Sports & Law

The remarkable Milwaukee Brewers have now reached the second round of the Major League Baseball play-offs, but many Brewers fans have yet to have the opportunity to stay at home and watch the team play post-season games on television. The reason, of course, is that this year all first round play-off games as well as the second round of National League play-offs are shown only on cable television. Those who don’t subscribe to cable are shut out of watching the Brewers on television, unless they can make their way to Long Wong’s Sports Bar on Blue Mound Avenue, or some other similar establishment.

This was, of course, not always the case. Until 1996, all Major League Baseball post-season play-off games were on free television. That year, ESPN won the right to broadcast any first round play-off games not aired by NBC or FOX, then Major League Baseball’s primary broadcast partners. Since that time, the number of play-off games on pay television has been steadily creeping upward.

In Australia and in many European countries, the local equivalent of Major League Baseball’s playoff games would be required by law to be broadcast on free television. Called anti-siphoning statutes, these laws dictate that certain sporting events must be made available for broadcast on free, open-air stations, if they are broadcast at all.

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The Shocking Testing Scandal in Atlanta

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Category: Education & Law, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public

I don’t think “Bad Teacher,” the movie currently playing in theaters, is going to do damage to the reputation of teachers or education in general across the United States. It may be gross, dumb, tasteless, and a lot of other things, but it’s a movie.  People can grasp that it’s not a documentary.

But the current test-score cheating scandal in Atlanta is a different matter. It is pretty much the most disturbing and shocking single episode in American education that I can think of in the last decade. This is a case of teachers and administrators being shown in real life to have engaged in vividly discrediting educational practices. 

I heard or read often in recent years about the successes of the Atlanta public schools. Test scores had risen, the elected school board was a model case for those who opposed mayoral control of schools, and Superintendent Beverly Hall was one of the most honored and respected school leaders in the country. I remember then-MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos telling me several years ago what a great person Hall was, and that view was definitely in the mainstream of educators.

All of that makes the scandal that has been unfolding in Atlanta for months all the more stunning. The Atlanta Journal Constitution deserves a lot of credit for pushing hard to bring to light a sweeping culture among teachers and their superiors, right up to Hall, in which doctoring students’ test scores sheets was done routinely, almost openly, and with indifference to both the rules and to children’s actual education needs. A culture of cheating, with a partner culture of intimidation of those who might resist it, pervaded Atlanta’s school system.  Hall has resigned and is now considered highly discredited, the school district has fallen into turmoil, and criminal charges may lie ahead.

The Journal Constitution’s story about a special investigative report released by the governor’s officeTuesday, summarizes the scandal in revolting detail.

Critics have long argued that standardized testing is a bad way to judge kids and, among other problems, leads to cheating by educators who have strong incentives to show good results for their students. My guess is even few of the critics thought there was a scandal of the dimension now unfolding in Atlanta. From now on, the word “Atlanta” is going to be to debate about high stakes testing what the word “Columbine” is to discussions of student violence.

Will the Atlanta situation change the course of the movement that has made standardized testing a key part of accountability around  the US? My guess is that overall, it won’t. But it certainly should cause everyone to think deeply about how to make testing a constructive step. That includes more work on improving test security, creating climates of ethical practices around testing, and monitoring the pressures being put on educators to come up with good results.

Results on state standardized tests for Milwaukee school children may be discouraging, but at least they are, to the best of my knowledge, generally honest. I’m only aware of one real cheating scandal in Milwaukee Public Schools in the last decade or so. It involved one school a few years ago, and, while MPS succeeded in keeping most of the details from public view (it was labeled an employee discipline matter), best as I could tell, the district dealt with it reasonably well.  (By the way, speak up if you know differently, not only with MPS but any school or district.)

I used to think it would be nice if Milwaukee had Atlanta’s record when it came to rest results. Obviously, it is time to think the reverse, especially when it comes to integrity.

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The Media and Dominique Strauss-Kahn

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Popular Culture & Law
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Last month I was contacted by the Italian newspaper Il Foglio and interviewed regarding criminal proceedings against Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  A French banker and head of the International Monetary Fund, Strauss-Kahn has been charged with sexually assaulting a maid for the $3000-a- night hotel suite in which he was staying in New York City.  To my surprise, the reporter was not interested in the legal proceedings themselves but rather in the way the case was being presented in the American mass media.

The case is still another example of the way the prosecution of a rich and/or famous person can be and frequently is presented to the public as a type of contemporary morality play, that is, as a dramatic allegory about temptation, sin, and – in the end – either damnation of salvation.  Comparable media packaging of cases involving O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Eliot Spitzer spring to mind.

The added twist in the Strauss-Kahn drama is that the featured player in the morality play is a wealthy and worldly European who found out the hard way about down-to-earth American norms and values.  The best comparison might be to the mass media’s packaging of the attempt to extradite the Polish filmmaker Roman Polansky, who allegedly raped a teenager in California.  Lionized by the French artistic community, Polansky squirreled himself away in Switzerland and in the end avoided the grasp of the American authorities.  Strauss-Kahn, meanwhile is under house arrest in Manhattan and waiting trial.  Might Attica be his hellish fate?

The Il Foglio article appears on the front page of the “Martedo, 24 Maggio 2011” edition, but since the article is in Italian, most of us will require the good services of colleague Irene Calboli in order to read it . . . .

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What? Pay to Get the News?

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Category: Media & Journalism
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So what’s the New York Times worth to me? And how high are the stakes attached to the answers that I and millions others will give in coming weeks?

Are people ready and willing to pay to get stories from the Times? How about from other news organizations – the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CNN, or whoever you turn to for information?

A long-awaited major moment is at hand for the news industry: The Times’ Web site is the premier American site for world and national news. And they’re about to start charging serious users for access. .

This is, in some ways, a great period to be a reporter for a major news organization. Readership is very strong, if you include both Internet readers and traditional print readers. The reach of a story is fabulous – a piece published in Milwaukee can be (and often is) read immediately on the other side of the globe. Read more »

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