Saturday, March 12, 2011

News judgment “errors” stealing attention this week from more worthy issues

It is a common question among reporter-types when it comes to news judgment. To what degree should we play down a story because its premise is, for lack of a better word, stupid?
BLAGOJEVICH: Too late to surrender

Some people argue that is an abuse of authority on a reporter’s part, to be making judgment calls that something being said by someone somehow makes no sense. Who are we to judge what is practical and feasible? Just report, and let people realize how stupid someone is being on their own.

NOW A LOT of times when this argument is made these days, it is from conservative ideologues who want to promote a certain idea, and are willing to give their credibility to questionable facts or details that make their cause look good. I have no problem weeding those stories out of my mind. They come off as so tainted that I can’t envision anyone of sense taking them seriously.

But there are other instances where I don’t detect an ideological bias. I just detect a reporter-type person being so lazy that they don’t want to take the time to figure out something being said or proposed makes no sense.

To me, there were two stories that popped up on our local news scene this week that fall into that latter category. The end result being that I believe Rod Blagojevich and Scott Lee Cohen both got far more news coverage than either man deserved.

In the case of our state’s former governor, Blagojevich had a court appearance meant to prepare the scene for his second trial, beginning next month in U.S. District Court. It shouldn’t have amounted to much, except for the fact that Blagojevich has the ability to be absurd at virtually any moment.

HE DIDN’T LET us down this week. His attorneys came up with a legal motion that proposed their client should just be sentenced for the one measly “guilty” verdict that prosecutors were able to get out of the first trial.

No second trial. No more of anything. Just send Blagojevich off to receive his “Oxford education” for a couple of years, and the whole matter will be over. Blagojevich himself is willing to give up the legal fight.
COHEN: New senator? Not likely!

What a compromise! What a deal! To listen to the tone of some news coverage, particularly the broadcast type that is hampered by time constraints (my typical commentary on this site contains about as many words as an entire five-minute radio newscast), this whole issue was going to end soon because Blagojevich himself was on the verge of compromise.

That’s nuts.

WE SHOULD HAVE been ignoring this legal rhetoric big time, because it is not for Blagojevich to say whether federal prosecutors drop the 20 counts they still have pending against him. There is nothing to indicate that prosecutors are in any mood to do anything that could be perceived as showing sympathy for the former governor.

Now because I read some more detailed reports, I understand that the real intent of this offer by Blagojevich’s attorneys is to ensure that they are compensated for their work. They don’t really expect a quickie sentencing for their client.

But I realize many people relied on those quickie headline services, which may well give them the impression that Blagojevich has any say in what happens to him. He doesn’t.

Almost as ridiculous are the reports that have cropped up in the past couple of days saying that Scott Lee Cohen is on the verge of serving in the Illinois Senate. To believe the reports, he will be the replacement picked for now-former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, who quit last month for health issues and partially in disgust for how irrelevant his influence had become.

NOW I DON’T doubt that Cohen would be interested in the post. It would make relevant again the former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee who became an independent candidate for governor after da Dems dumped him shortly after the primary – after the sordid, sleazy details cropped up concerning his divorce and other women he had been involved with.

Sadly enough for him, the only way he’s ever going to get a political post is by buying it (he had the wealth to overcome the campaigns of the preferred lieutenant governor candidates, and to force Gov. Pat Quinn to pay attention to him during the general election cycle.

There is no way our state’s political establishment voluntarily picks him as a replacement for Hendon – not even if they were anxious for that Near West Side legislative district to have an outspoken lawmaker who would make “Hollywood” look downright meek and timid by comparison,.
Look down to (magnified) corner for Amazon Tax story

So Cohen as a member of the Senate Democratic majority? I doubt it, particularly since I could also see the Legislative Black Caucus causing an uprising of its own if that majority African-American district were handed over to a “white” candidate – albeit one who is as far from a WASP as one can get.

ALL THIS ATTENTION paid to Blagojevich and Cohen makes me wonder what stories got downplayed as a result (there is limited airtime and/or space)? I can’t help but think that the “Amazon Tax” got short-changed, since much of the coverage I have read centers around the people who want to complain that making Internet-based businesses charge the same sales taxes in Illinois as other businesses is somehow downright un-American.

I realize the reason this change in state law got approved was because of business interests desiring protection from what they perceived as Internet businesses being allowed to operate under different rules.

I can’t help but agree with them. Maybe more attention paid to this issue would make us realize that business is business, and that what these Internet companies have been trying to do is operate under differing rules of their own creation. Why not let all business do the same?

As for those people who now complain that it is our “right” to shop on the Internet so as to avoid paying sales tax, I say that perhaps Blagojevich and Cohen are part of the reason that we don’t just see those people for what they truly are – using sanctimonious rhetoric to cover up the fact that they’re cheap.


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