Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Is For Real In Journalism World?

News & Commentary

By ANDY THIBAULT
The Cool Justice Report
www.cooljustice.blogspot.com
Feb. 8, 2007


EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com


Is Ken Krayeske any less of a journalist than those who process the low-grade vomit of politicians, business leaders or police chiefs over the course of many years in the same job?

The short answer, of course, is no.

Let’s look at it another way. Suppose you’re a bowler. You have fun bowling. You’re pretty good. You join the pro bowlers tour and earn some money. Guess what? You’re a professional bowler.

For those mainstream journalists who still don’t get it, a slut – male or female – is an amateur. A whore is a pro.

Clearly, the bar one must hurdle to become a so-called professional journalist is pretty low. I contend this is a good thing.

Anyone and everyone should be able to stir the pot of democracy and enhance the public discourse. As I tell students, to be journalists, they must hang out with people. They must gather facts. They must have a focus. They must write simple declarative sentences. They must revise their writing.

Ideally, this would be a meritocracy of sorts.

Readers, viewers and listeners make the call on legitimacy by their choices of venues. Increasingly, they are looking for alternatives.

Whereas citizens used to go to newspapers to fight corruption when the system failed them, now they must go elsewhere. Newspapers, tv and radio stations have shown they are not interested.

Many citizens now go to blogs and other alternative media for their news.

For those unfamiliar with Krayeske, he is the journalist and political activist who was arrested for taking photographs of Gov. Rell’s inaugural parade in Hartford last month.

The cops and courts have closed ranks on the Krayeske case. Yeah, we circulated a flyer about this dangerous vegetarian / pacifist before the parade, but we knew it was Krayeske and we didn’t know it was Krayeske when he took those photos – er, “breached the parade route” by stepping off a curb and/ or he was riding his bike too fast near the parade. We forgot to give him a speeding ticket. We did remember to take his freedom for 12 or 13 hours until the inaugural festivities were over, but that was just a coincidence. We jacked his bond up to $75,000 and hassled him for wanting a lawyer, but that’s nobody’s fault.

Should any citizen – even a journalist – be treated this way?

Many members of the establishment press are not very concerned. Some are threatened by Krayeske.

Krayeske went off the track. He had something greater than a one-dimensional life. Besides working for conventional dailies and weeklies, he wrote for High Times and managed the gubernatorial campaign for a Green Party candidate last fall. He has been busted for civil disobedience at an anti-war protest.

He writes with a point of view and makes no attempt to disguise it.

Mainstream journalists would never do that. Some hide behind a cloak of objectivity and actively support the status quo. The best among them try to be fair. Others take the tack: Let’s screw this crook in as fair a way as possible.

As the historians Judith and William Serrin put it in the book, MUCKRAKING, The New Press, 2002: “Journalists wear disguises, and one of them is the disguise of objectivity ... All good journalists have agendas. They wish to put the crooked sheriff in jail. They wish to unveil the patent medicine fraud. They wish to free the innocent man from jail.”

Some journalists want their readers to get angry. They want to see wages go up and the death rates of babies go down. They want to see changes in a political judicial system that results in more minorities and the poor going to jail than to college. They wonder why some people are in jail while powerful people who commit crimes are untouchable.

I got fired up about this column after I read a piece in The Connecticut Post by Ken Dixon. Dixon is a decent guy. He is basically a solid reporter. He really missed the boat, though, on the Krayeske case, providing some cover for those who would turn away from police and government misconduct.

Krayeske, Dixon asserts, “should be happy that the Hartford police did not massage his noggin ...”

It appears this is something Dixon would like to have done himself. I gather Dixon is pissed off that Krayeske dared to mingle with reporters and ask a question of Gov. Rell during a campaign stop.

“He crossed the line ... ,” Dixon wrote. “This is a no-no and working reporters don’t like civilians – let alone opposing campaign managers – chiming in as if they were reporters too.”

Oops, Mr. Dixon. I must diagnose you with a case of too much time in the Capitol Press Corps. So what if Joe The Hot Dog Vendor or Jane The Janitor have questions for the governor as well? The mainstream press doesn’t own this space. We all do.

Worse than the noggin comment, Dixon also wrote: “[Krayeske’s] even tried to shame the Connecticut Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists into funding his little winter promo campaign ..”

Forgive me, but here are a few facts:

When cops violate the civil rights of citizens, said citizens tend to be charged with criminal offenses. The classic example is cops charging interfering after they beat someone.

Krayeske was covering the parade and his photos have been published widely. Prosecutors are dragging out Krayeske’s case, refusing to look at witness statements exonerating Krayeske.

There are very few capable and tough civil rights lawyers in Connecticut, and these lawyers cost money. At the national level, the Society of Professional Journalists does not have much of a problem supporting bloggers, videographers, freelancers or others outside the mainstream.

Who’s naked now, Ken Dixon? Who’s flacking for whom?

Why wouldn’t a state Society of Professional Journalists stand up against civil rights violations of anyone, whether they are mere citizens, journalists or hacks? Why wouldn’t a state Society of Professional Journalists respond to inquiries from someone whose civil rights have been violated?

A good reporter would not need a travel budget to find shame in this matter.

Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. He also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com


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  • 2 comments:

    a rose is a rose said...

    thanks for forwarding me this story. i've linked to it on my blog

    this is such an important tale to me. it's such an injustice and i'm afraid NOTHING will come of it.

    be well

    rose

    Anonymous said...

    I found Ken Dixon's editorial amusing. I always find it amusing when mediocre minds proudly offer their calling cards to announce themselves.

    Link to Dixon's column: http://www.connpost.com/kendixon/ci_5155736

    Lawyers working with the press fret over the shield laws contemplated on the state and national levels because they appear to grant privileges to institutions rather than rights to people and offer narrow definitions of the press that threaten traditional reporters like Ken Krayeske. Ken is not newfangled, he is oldfangled, he is the oldfanglist type of reporter America knows, squarely middle of the road of American journalism. (Read your history Dixon.) What is new are journalists such as Dixon, who are eager to grab these privileges in a Brave New World and seem to consider a morally relativistic and weak new press as an improvement.

    Amusing to read Dixon contrast himself with the riff raff intelligences and crude bullying of the Hartford Police Department. Instead, he asserts in clever tones fit for some fantasy of civil society, that what Krayeske did wrong is break the rules that define Dixon's privileges. For this, he should be happy Hartford police did not "massage his noggin," Dixon thinks.

    One gets the sense that Dixon is wholly unaware of how new these privileges are, and how leaders in the press are beleagered by the trend that threatens to embed them permanently at great cost to our democracy.

    Dixon is exhibit A of what is to come from that -- an army of reporters blind to their fundamental rights and grasping at any special dispensations they can get from the powers that be.

    It should be noted that Dixon characterization of Krayeske's resume is truly unfair. I wouldn't be surprised if Krayeske's career as a journalist is longer than Dixon's. He leaves the impression that his career has comprised a blog and High Times. That isn't true.

    Dixon also makes no effort whatsoever to get to know Krayeske's philosophy. He isn't doing this by the seat of his pants. His role in today's press is seen as unconventional but is the product of deep and abiding beliefs and years of experience.

    DIxon's complaints are based on an unwritten etiquette book, truly a seat of your pants product. Indeed, he says Krayeske did a "no-no" by asking a question at a press conference. He adds that working journalists -- oh wait, another peccadillo of Dixon's -- not 'working journalists' but 'working reporters' "don't like civilians ... chiming in as if they were reporters." Civilians. Speak for yourself, please. This is a question of principle, not consensus anyway. Does Dixon know the difference? Probably not.

    For all Dixon's preciousness you would think he developed his career at the New Yorker, not the inky nasty newsrooms of daily newspapers. He criticises Krayeske's intensity as if reporters at newspapers are fired and stripped of their titles -- you know, that thing of privilege - for getting intense. The fact is, newsrooms are notorious places for rampaging nutcases, miserable bullies, sometimes violence, screamers, hypocrits and even shakedown artists who often manage to hang on to their careers and even get promoted. Since it is nearly impossible to come up in the business without encountering some of that, it seems Dixon is a hypocrite as well. Maybe he is letting us in on a desperate wish for a more civilized profession.

    Well, should that be a surprise? Look at the history of this profession. Look at the unapologetic rogues who owned newspapers and established for us the rights we so rely on now.