Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, January 25, 2007 12:00 PM
Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher was online Thursday, Jan. 25, at Noon ET to discuss looks at D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's decision to invite homeless people to watch the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness," a proposal in Virginia to bar reporters from approaching families struck by tragedy, and the big changes in Washington's radio scene.
Check out Marc's blog,
In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.
A transcript follows.
Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks -- a lot going on today, including the Virginia state senator who wanted the state to make it illegal to approach the home of a grieving family within a week of a tragedy, a darkening future for the Virginia Republicans' compromise solution to the state's transportation woes, anti-war demonstrations coming up this weekend on the Mall, and various controversial changes on the Washington radio dial.
So, on to your many comments and questions, but first: The Yay and Nay of the Day....
Yay to D.C. roads officials for finally getting started on lowering the Frederick Douglass Bridge, which would open up the streets around the new stadium on S. Capitol Street. So, now will they do something about that single lane access to Capitol Street coming off I-395? Because that promises to be one of the great congestion nightmares of all time once the baseball park opens.
Nay to the House of Representatives for wasting time on a meaningless debate about giving the District's nonvoting delegate an equally meaningless vote on amendments to bills on the House floor--a purely symbolic gesture that steals attention and momentum from the far more important effort to give D.C. voters actual voting representation in the form of a member of the House.
Your turns starts right now....
Pushy reporters: Marc:
You were right on in your blog about reporters interviewing people shortly after a serious tragedy in the family. Previously, I worked in TV news and can tell you that sometimes the families would call us for their chance to talk. In some strange way, many of them feel it's part of the process now, for them to have their moment in the media spotlight, painful as it might be.
Marc Fisher: Quite true -- I'm hearing from lots of reporters around the country this morning, all telling similar stories about dreading that moment when your editor tells you to go see the bereaved family, and then when you do it, you find that they are, counterintuitively, desperate to tell their story and grateful that you've come to do that.
Arlington, Va.: Marc,
I also don't like the bill you referred to today as drafted. But your closing line, "...if you have to resort to writing a law in an effort to command human decency, you've already lost the battle," would have more weight if journalists, like other professions, enforced a code of conduct. Lots of journalists hound crime victims and their families for quotes. We've all seen the media packs following whoever the latest target of the day is. If journalists did more to clean up their own trash, maybe well intentioned but poorly drafted laws like this one would not see the light of day.
Marc Fisher: Obviously, reporters should adhere to a basic code of conduct, but that code is the same one that governs all of us -- the code of basic decency and humanity. There's no call for a formal code because journalists ought not be banding together to set common restrictions on their own behavior; this is a competitive business and each news organization should make its own rules to govern its employees.
Marc Fisher: Here's the link to that blog item...and here's an update: A Senate committee has killed Cuccinelli's bill. Reason prevails.
Arlington, Va.: Marc, I'm sympathetic to your opposition in the Raw Fisher blog today to Cuccinelli's proposed ban on reporters approaching accident victims. It's probably a First Amendment violation in any event.
Still, I'm sympathetic to Cuccinelli's impulse as well. As a lawyer, the rules of my profession prevent me from reaching out to an accident victim or bereaved spouse, and the rule is there to protect against exploitation of someone who is emotionally vulnerable. Obviously, there are lawyers who break the rule, but there's at least the possibility that they can be disciplined. Isn't the journalism profession essentially saying only "trust us, we're mostly good guys?" Lawyer jokes and First Amendment concerns aside, why should we afford more trust to reporters than to other professionals?
Marc Fisher: The two businesses serve different purposes and therefore ought to have different standards. A lawyer can certainly be helpful to a person who has suffered a tragedy, but there's no larger public interest in the choice of lawyer that the individual makes, and there's no reason to force such a choice on that family in their moment of grief.
The news media's function is to give the public details about events in their community, so reporters need to be able to ask those families if they would like to tell their stories. Those families have every right to say "Go away." But you're right: There ought to be more public shaming of reporters who persist even after being told to scram.
In both cases -- lawyers and journos -- you have for-profit businesses that could be construed as trying to make a buck off the tragedy, and in both cases, there is some larger good being served. Lawyers do some self-policing through bar codes; similarly, news organizations should report on the excesses of their competitors.
Dear Scuzzball: I don't doubt that talking to someone who will relay to the world what a great person one's departed love one was can be psychologically helpful to someone in grief.
But if five newspapers and four TV stations all want exclusive responses to "How does it feel?" isn't their life turned upside down for the benefit of the media companies?
Marc Fisher: Absolutely, and that's almost always a disastrous and ugly scene.
But I don't see why that should be regulated by law. If news organizations were smarter about it, they'd report aggressively on the unseemly methods of their less scrupulous colleagues.
Brandywine, D.C.: For the nay of the week -- I nominate Barbara Bullock, who said in her sentence reduction hearing "I'm sorry for what I did," she told the judge. "I can't do any more than that." A little more remorse and acknowledgment of wrongdoing would be nice!
Marc Fisher: Good choice! The former D.C. teachers union chief had the gall to seek a reduced sentence this week and from the news reports, she sounded as if she could use a longer sentence instead.
Falls Church, Va.: Mark, thanks for your
I'm one of those who have let the station management know that I'm pulling my financial support due to this decision; they have not responded.
Marc Fisher: Thanks -- WETA is trying to turn their station into an ALL-classical format because there's research showing that those folks who most value classical radio really don't want anything else on their station. But the problem with both commercial and public radio these days is that it is so research-driven that decisions are made without regard to local passions and preferences, or to the original mission of public radio, which was expressly to serve minority musical and cultural interests that the marketplace cannot or will not serve. Cliff's show is a classic example of that.
Triangle, Va.: Interesting week for D.C. radio, to say the least. WETA returns to classical (though thankfully WAMU's addition of its "Prairie Home Companion" won't cut back on my beloved "Hot Jazz Saturday Night"!) and Tony Kornheiser is back, now on WTWP (a perfect complement to Nationals baseball -- now just fix the rest of the station!). I only wish that instead of a silly faux "Jack" format("George 104"), Bonneville had shown the courage to run its own all-sports station, calling Danny Boy's bluff and giving us a station that realizes there's far more to local sports than a certain pro football team.
Marc Fisher: Well, did the market need a third sports talk operation anymore than it needs a third classic rock-oriented FM music station? The new George 104 is slightly different from what's on The Arrow, Big 100 and Mix 107.3, but only slightly.
What's missing here is the courage or creativity to offer something completely different.
Leesburg, Va.: I'm curious about this "deal" between WGMS and WETA. What exactly was dealt? Call letters; a substantial CD library? And what did WETA give up?
Other than its standing in the community, that is. It seems to me to now to be totally irrelevant as a "public" station, first for ignoring its own contributors in the decision making process, and second for the decision itself, to divest itself of all but the vestiges of its NPR programming.
Marc Fisher: My sense is that there's less to the deal than meets the eye. No money changes hands. WGMS gives WETA its music library, which is a nice gesture, but WETA had not given away its old classical library, so much of what's been donated will be superfluous. The primary point here is that WGMS bails out of the classical format, clearing the way for the public station to move back into it. And Bonneville, the owner of WGMS and Washington Post Radio, gets to save face and avoid being tagged as the company that eliminated classical radio in the nation's capital: Don't underestimate the importance of that point. This was important enough to Bonneville that they brought in their CEO from Utah for the announcement. No big broadcasting company wants to risk ticking off Congress and the FCC by wiping out a 60-year tradition in the regulators' backyard.
Montgomery Village, Md.: Marc
Nice column today about acoustic music. When do you think the last time the word "hootenanny" appeared in The Post? I used the word around the office a year or so, as in "When are we going to get this hootenanny started?" and received more than a few puzzled looks, particularly from anyone younger than 35.
Thanks for the memory.
Can "shindig" be far behind?
Marc Fisher: Before today's column, the most recent use of the word in the paper was by film critic Stephen Hunter, in a review in December of the movie "Curse of the Golden Hunter." He described a battle scene thusly: "one of the most complex CGI dancing-electron hootenannies ever programmed."
In the past two years, three Post writers have used the word "hootenanny": music critic Richard Harrington twice, music critic J. Freedom DuLac four times, and Hunter three times. It's a great word.
Arlington, Va.: Hi
First...thanks for the writing!
Losing Mary Cliff is a hard blow for the local music scene.
But one thing the local music scene could use is support from The Washington Post.
The Post's coverage (I know this is not your beat) of the local scene is almost non-existent. It would be a huge boost to a lot of bands if The Washington Post did some stories on some of these bands. There are also many local musicians who are deserving of profiles, etc.
It would also be nice if once a year you did a good job covering the Wammies. (The local D.C. music awards). You usually do a small piece on it and don't even bother to provide a list of the winners.
Marc Fisher: Good ideas -- I know the aforementioned Mr. Harrington writes quite often on the acoustic scene locally; he's extremely well plugged in with many of the local music communities. But we can always do more.
Takoma Park, D.C.: That's really sad about Mary Cliff. I'm 55 and, except when in college and grad school, have been listening to her for 50 of those years.
Surely some other station will pick up her program? Please???
Marc Fisher: Well, she's only been on the air for 40 years, but who's counting?
In any event, there are all sorts of rumors about other stations picking up her show (there are really only two stations that would consider it: public WAMU and listener-supported WPFW) and I know WAMU is trying to figure out how to rejigger its schedule to pick up some of the programs dropped by WETA. We shall see.
Oddly enough: After all the complaining about terrestrial radio format, I absolutely LOVE the new 104.1 station! Not necessarily any new music, obviously, but I feel like I'm getting a good mix of songs I haven't heard in a while. Or maybe it's just the lack of commercials.
Marc Fisher: The lack of ads is a relief, but the canned, automated sound bothers me. That's only temporary, though; the architect of George 104 tells me that the station will eventually add personalities and more of a local sound. The station's playlist consists of about 1,500 songs--way more than the usual 300 or so on a classic rock (Arrow) or classic hits (BIG) station.
Fairfax, Va.: I get the newspaper delivered daily to my apartment, the door of which is outdoors and on the top floor along with three other apartments. The deliverer kindly lodges my newspaper right in between my mat and door, and I pick it up daily around 5:45 a.m. However, on the days I oversleep, my newspaper is gone by the time I leave the house (8 a.m.). I really need my paper version of the paper, daily, because I ride the Metro and buses about 2 hours every day to work and to class. I end up buying it when it's taken -- it's THIRTY-FIVE CENTS -- but I don't like this feeling. Like one of my neighbors is doing a totally unkind thing that has nothing to do with financial need but just -- I don't know. There's a WashPost box on the premises; it's not difficult to get.
I lived in an apartment on Columbia Pike for two years and never had this problem. On my walk to and from the Metro, I see Posts tossed on lawns that no one takes. I don't know how to handle this; it's bad enough to oversleep, worse yet to find my Post missing. Any advice?
Marc Fisher: First, a correction: The movie review by Hunter that I mentioned earlier was of "Curse of the Golden FLOWER." Wrong word typed in above.
Okay, onto your problem: I've had this problem in at least three places that I've lived. I have resorted to setting the alarm for a preposterously early hour and staking out my own front door. This, of course, always failed. The culprit evidently sensed my presence or something. I've left notes for newspaper swiping slime. I've seen on the Interweb where some folks have set up surveillance cameras to nab the offending neighbor.
I recommend any and all such measures. I had a helpful carrier once who happily helped me out by literally tying the paper to the knob of my front door. That actually worked nicely -- a week of that and the culprit was gone forever, even after the carrier returned to just plopping the paper down.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Marc,
First, congratulations on your book. I heard you on Kojo yesterday, and learned a lot just in that hour. I'm curious about the process and results of writing a book like this. Obviously this is a passion of yours, and I'm sure your first concern was not how much money you might make off it. But how much time did you spend on it? Would it be the equivalent of a year of full-time work? And does the money you might make reflect that? I don't mean to pry, but with so many books out there catering to niche audiences, how many of the writers end up living off those writings, and how many tend to give up in desperation after one slow-seller?
Marc Fisher: Most writers I know don't give up even after one, two or three of those slow-sellers don't make much (or any) money. Most books are the result of a great passion that compels the writer to push ahead even without a publisher. So far, this book seems to be doing decently well, but we shall see. I spent about five years working on it, but none of that was full time; I was working at The Post throughout. So it's probably the equivalent of a couple of years of work -- hard to say.
And no, unless you're a Woodwardian bestseller, the money never comes close to paying for all those hours.
There's more on the book, including audio clips of the major characters from their original broadcasts, at http://www.marcfisher.com/
And I'll be reading from the book and discussing it tonight at 7 p.m. at the Prince George's Public Library in Hyattsville, 6532 Adelphi Rd. - (301) 699-3500
Classic Rockville: Marc,
I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your visit to the Don and Mike show yesterday. I can't wait to check out your book.
Question: Do you find the D.C. radio stations to be more racist than most? Top 40 stations will edit out any smattering of rap in a song. Easy listening stations will advertise their lack of rap programming. Why are programming executives proud of segregation? Can't we all just get along?
Marc Fisher: Radio, along with church, is probably the most segregated institution in the nation. It's one of the last industries in which it's routine to speak of black businesses and white businesses -- and in this market, as in a few others, black-oriented radio stations dominate the ratings. Most of the other stations react by pitching their programming largely at whites. Very few stations seek a racially mixed audience -- the smooth jazz format and the all-news stations are pretty much the only ones in town with a listener base that's as diverse as the population itself.
Sweden: Did you know Bjorn Ulveaus's, of ABBA and the musical "Mamma Mia," first band was called Hootenanny Singers? Useless knowledge and a good excuse to use the word again.
Marc Fisher: I had no idea but I am grateful beyond words for that information.
Of course, in Swedish, "hootenanny" means "insipid pap." Had we only known.
Germantown, Md.: Hey Marc, I haven't seen a Gallaudet update lately. What's going on at the "Gally" these days?
Marc Fisher: Outgoing president King Jordan had an eye-opening op-ed in The Post earlier this week in which he put out the alarm and said that all is not well at Gallaudet, warning that the faction that seeks to define out of deafness those who would use cochlear implants has gained the upper hand.
Washington, D.C.: I work at a transitional women's shelter where the residents, while fighting various addictions, have been through treatment programs and/or otherwise demonstrated that they are candidates for an intensive program to help them get back on their feet. So they are likely much better candidates for economic self-sufficiency than the men Mayor Fenty took to see "The Pursuit of Happyness."
We offered our residents the chance to see this movie around Christmas and about 10 of them took us up on our offer. While I thought it might be too hokey for words, I was pleasantly surprised. It's apparent from the start that the homeless person has an education and other attributes that set him apart from the so-called "rank and file" homeless. But the movie is well done. It's not preachy or condescending. It's gently encouraging and supportive. Many of the women have children, and some have lived with them in shelters, so they identified with this aspect of the movie.
And while we don't yet have a millionaire alumna, we do have a former resident who became a commercial leasing specialist and now makes $140,000 per year (more than the entire paid shelter staff!) We have some smaller success stories as well. So something like this is a possibility, albeit a very small one. And, as you say, I'm sure the men enjoyed the time inside and the two free meals.
Marc Fisher: Terrific post -- many thanks for telling that story. As I said on the blog yesterday, I have very mixed feelings about the mayor's office's invitation to 120 homeless people to go see Pursuit of Happyness this morning. But your post makes me think maybe my initial queasiness about the idea should be put aside.
Sarasota, Fla.: I volunteered almost full-time at a D.C. homeless shelter for 20 years before retiring to Florida in '04. I'm helping out a bit here, as well, where the problem is not keeping the homeless from freezing in winter but in saving them from heatstroke and dehydration in the summer.
When I first heard about "The Pursuit of Happyness," I thought it would be another feel-good Horatio Alger story that would further convince conservatives that anyone can be successful given enough elbow grease and self-discipline. But many people, including your colleague Desson Thomson (with whom I usually agree), say that this particular movie rises above that, that it's not particularly preachy and has some realistic touches. I don't know -- I still haven't seen it! If I do, I'll be sure to let you know my reaction.
Marc Fisher: I still haven't seen it either; my kids did, and they said it was way too formulaic and predictable. But as the mayor's deputy chief of staff said in response to my blog item, the idea here is not necessarily to lord the Will Smith character's example over the homeless people, but to give them a couple of free meals and a chance to spend the morning at the movies, with a flick that perhaps speaks to them in some way.
D.C. 20008: I went to the Wizards/Celtics game last Saturday and was appalled that several young men were inducted into the military at halftime. Ironically, this followed honoring military personnel recovering from wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq, where many of the new inductees are undoubtedly headed. There was some cheering when this happened, but my companion was equally appalled and several of our neighbors were clearly upset. Do you think this is appropriate?
Marc Fisher: Recruiting excesses are indeed troubling -- when you hear from parents about how the military appeals to high school kids, it's a bit disturbing. And there does seem to be a real disconnect between the reality portrayed in the military's TV ads and the reality of Iraq. But on the other hand, why shouldn't those who choose to serve their country be celebrated in a public way? Surely no one can look down upon those who choose to serve.
Chantilly, Va.: Hi Marc: Great appearance on Don and Mike yesterday. One of their rare interviews in which they aren't goofing on the interviewee.
I have checked out the new George 104. It's not bad but the question is why?? There is overlap not only with 94.7, 100.3, and 107.3, but also with Jack 102.7 (which I can pick up even west of Dulles airport), 106.9 out of Hagerstown (which has good coverage to the west of D.C.), and even DC101. You could hear many Rolling Stones songs on every one of those stations. Just pathetic.
Marc Fisher: Thanks -- the real Don and Mike, as opposed to the characters they play on the radio, are extraordinarily generous and thoughtful guys. And just as Rush Limbaugh off the air is a flaming liberal (well, okay, maybe not), Don and Mike aren't quite what they seem to be on the radio.
As for the lack of imagination in putting new stations on the air, well, when huge media companies buy up thousands of radio stations and go into huge debt to do so, they have every incentive to then milk those stations for all the money they can squeeze out of them, and the easiest and best way to do that is to stick to what they know works. That means you hear the same formats over and over all across the land.
Washington, D.C.: To the newspaper theft victim: I had the same problem several years ago, and knew exactly which "neighbor" was responsible. Eventually I took an old paper, dumped in that morning's coffee grounds and the contents of the litter box, folded and put the paper in a delivery bag, and put it outside the apartment building door at 5 a.m. Sure enough, the thief took the bait...and I never had that problem again.
Marc Fisher: Another strategy. Thanks.
Fairfax, Va.: While I certainly sympathize with Fairfax's plight, I couldn't help but being reminded about on of my favorite Dave Barry lines: he said that during the 1996 Presidential debates, Bob Dole had the look of "someone who believes that you, personally, have been stealing his newspaper."
Marc Fisher: Great line.
Dole would have joined me in my stakeout of the front door, I know.
Woodbridge, Va.: I'll listen to whatever music station drops live turkeys over L'enfant Plaza from a helicopter for its Thanksgiving promotion.
Marc Fisher: I am so there for that one, but I fear we are heading into a period of far greater dullness in the stunt world, thanks to the lawsuit filed by the family of the California woman who died of water intoxication after taking part in a radio station's contest to see who could drink the most water.
Now, how is it the radio station's fault if someone decides to drink a zillion gallons of water?
Cap Hill: Another horrible irresponsible misleading headline by The Post on the stadium.
"D.C. Stadium Costs rise again"
Then you read that it's for streets near the stadium and that the money was budgeted for it in 2004 and that the mayor, who was against the stadium, doesn't even think it comes out of the ballpark budget.
Who supervises the headline writers? My bet is it will be changed before the chat starts but it's there now online.
By the way, I usually love The Post.
Marc Fisher: The headline in the newspaper is "Stadium Cost Cap Exceeded, Some Say." The attribution makes a big difference, in my view.
We, and the D.C. council, can debate until the 2020 World Series which costs count as ballpark costs and which are just things the city would be doing anyway. It is true that the District was going to rebuild the Douglass Bridge whether or not a stadium was built; those plans were in the works years ago. But it's not at all clear that the expansion of the Metro station serving the stadium would have happened without the stadium. Anyway, you can parse this out a million ways. The bottom line is that the city will end up spending more than it wanted to on the whole project. That's the nature of such enterprises.
The city will have another chance to do it right with the soccer stadium. But the issue, in the end, is much simpler: Do stadiums create enough development to expand the tax base so that the project produces more revenue than the city spends to put the thing up in the first place? And the answer is: Sometimes. It depends on where the stadium is built and what the surrounding area was and what it turns into.
Radio Stunts - Dropping Live Turkeys: That actually happened. A station in Georgia did it back in the '70s, and found out the hard way that turkeys couldn't fly. That's where "WKRP" got the idea.
Marc Fisher: Is there footage?
To the newspaper saboteur: Dude, that's evil. And hilarious!
Marc Fisher: But why do people steal something that costs 35 cents? And more important, why do they steal it from a neighbor, presumably from someone they at least vaguely know?
Washington DC: Newspaper stealing? I'm so glad I don't live in the suburbs, or an apartment building.
This is an anonymous forum. Any newspaper thieves out there? We'd love to hear from you. Maybe you have a good reason.
Marc Fisher: Good idea -- anyone?
Raw Fisher: C'mon Marc, have a contest and give something away...anything!
Marc Fisher: Your wish is my command. A fine prize from the Vast Vat of Values will be awarded during next week's show, right here next Thursday.
The Pentagon: Look the US military has rules regarding recruitment of high school kids which must be followed. If parents or the recruit think they were misled or lied to, there are avenues to remedy this. Marc, you yellow-bellied, elitist miscreant, you really need to read more about recruiting and parents you need to educate your children. Stop blaming the military. And thank God someone is enlisting to protect your yellow-bellied, cowardly, liberal butt!
Marc Fisher: In this increasingly obese nation, now even some butts have bellies, it seems.
Anyway, I would think that pro- and anti-military folks alike could rally around the idea that recruiting campaigns should present some reasonably accurate sense of what service entails. The cleaned-up fantasyland in the military videos we see at movie theaters plays on adolescents' dreams without the slightest nod toward any sense of sacrifice. I'm not saying that recruiting ads should show victims of roadside bombings, but a stirring message about sacrifice and duty might be mixed in with the snazzy graphics about the military's supercool computer capabilities.
newspaper thief: I stole my neighbor's NY Times for years...not every day, but once or twice a week. Boy, was I stupid...
Marc Fisher: What made you decide you were stupid, other than the fact that you were reading an out of town paper?
RE: Newspaper thief here: I'm lazy, self-centered, a kleptomaniac, and jealous of your life. Oh, and I can't afford toilet paper.
Marc Fisher: Newsprint serves many household functions quite well. Taking the place of TP: Not our best use.
However, I did once visit a phone booth (yeah, I'm that old) in which someone had used a newspaper that was turned to MY STORY as, um, a urinal. It handled the job quite nicely.
Just wondering: Why would a newspaper thief be reading the Post online -- when he can get it for free on your doorstep?
Marc Fisher: I like the concept: We should charge for the online paper and give away the dead trees edition. Hey, at this point, it's worth a try, no?
Mount Vernon: Yeah of the day goes to the Fairfax County Public Schools who, for once, didn't go into their normal "safe to the point of insanity" role and only closed the schools for two hours on Monday. I was sure the 1 inch of snow we got would close the schools for at least a day and was happily surprised when it was only a two-hour delay.
Now if they would only let my kids play dodge ball and tag again.
Marc Fisher: Too bad Montgomery County missed a chance to shut down --their calendar already had them shuttered for the day for non-weather reasons.
Marc Fisher: Here's that King Jordan oped I mentioned earlier.
Maryland: Marc, you are definitely not a scuzzball. Maybe a twerp, but not a scuzzball.
Marc Fisher: I'm grateful for small kindnesses.
another paper thief: I stole my neighbor's Examiner for many weeks and when he found out he thanked me.
Marc Fisher: Now there's a real public service. Have you ever tried to get them to stop dumping that thing on your lawn? I eventually managed to do it, but it took nearly a dozen calls.
Not a thief...: But if my neighbor habitually got the paper delivered and never picked it up, I'd start taking it. Then the old neighbor moves away, a new one moves in, I don't realize it ...
Marc Fisher: Well, sure, it's a neighborly thing to do to take in the paper when someone forgets to have it stopped while on vacation. But aren't you then supposed to deliver the papers to them when they get home?
Foggy Bottom, D.C.: Why is it that NYC can build stadiums but not memorials and DC can build memorials but not stadiums? Just a culture thought.
Marc Fisher: Somewhere in there is an interesting thought. But our track record on memorials hasn't been the best of late, either. The World War II Memorial, for example.
Back when I delivered the newspaper...: This was long before the paper would seal what they called the inserts into a plastic bag. One woman called the paper every Sunday morning to complain her TV guide was missing. We would stand out on her sidewalk every Sunday morning and check - yes, the TV guide was there. But she would still call the paper and complain. One morning we took the paper inside the plastic sleeve we used, stapled it many times, and put about 15 rubber bands around it. We never heard from her again. Turns out her kid got up early and took the TV guide for himself.
Marc Fisher: Excellent story.
McLean, Va.: Marc,
Didn't you have an encounter with Katie Couric's crew when you tried to interview the family of a murder victim in Miami?
Marc Fisher: Not quite -- you're conflating two stories.
The Couric adventure took place when we were both covering the funeral of a murdered man. I sat in a pew, unnoticed by anyone, declining to take notes because it didn't seem to be in the spirit of the moment. The TV crew came barging in, lights glaring, and marched down the center aisle mid-service.
Washington, D.C.: It's the radio station's fault because they made it worth her while to drink a zillion gallons of water. And, they didn't remind folks that water, necessary for life, is also toxic in large quantities. Most people don't know that.
Marc Fisher: Shouldn't people know that? I feel bad for the woman and her family, but I just don't buy the idea that it's a business's responsibility to issue warnings about eventualities that are common sense. It's like the classic McDonalds hot coffee case; I don't want any restaurant to have to warn me that hot coffee might be...hot.
Journalistic Ethics: Marc, like most practicing journos you miss the point entirely. Some where along the way your profession confused the First Amendment with a job protection program, decided you like it that way, and lost all accountability in the process.
You'll never post this because I'm going to use specific Post examples, but here goes.
Look at George Will. He recently manipulated the quotes in the Bush/Webb exchange to make his "side" look better, dropping out the middle part of the exchange. Under basic J-Ethics, that's huge. You don't drop quotes without using ellipsis or some other notation to do so.
Has The Post dropped his column? No. Have the suspended it? No. Have they printed a sidebar noting Will did that? No.
Georgie's penalty? Continue to rake in the big, big buckarinos as though he did nothing.
A lawyer would have been before the bar and suspended for such a fundamental violation of ethics.
Ceci Connelly did similar games in the 2000 elections. Same result.
I could go on (easily).
The lack of any responsibility or accountability, hiding under the First Amendment as a job protection program, has led to a discounting of said Amendment in the public. Judith Miller was caught over and over basically retyping Chalabi without fact checking. The NYT and the profession blew off the complaints, even though they were heavily researched and annotated.
Then you were all surprised and horrified when no one in the public cared she went to jail. To most people's minds, she simply got jailed for what she deserved to get jailed for...uncritically retyping "leaked" spin. She wouldn't have been there had she behaved ethically to start.
Either your profession stops using the Amendment as jobs protection and takes self-policing seriously, or the public will stop caring about the Amendment.
Marc Fisher: Angry?
Well, in the George Will case, you're right, he did use only portions of the full quotation that were convenient to his argument. And he got called on it, in print, by the very same news media that you're blasting.
I don't know anything about the other case you mention.
As for Miller, if you'd read the papers you're so busy maligning, you'd know that there was widespread unhappiness in the journalism world for the way Miller handled that story, and even in some corners, some ghoulish satisfaction that she was punished.
Finally, if journalists are trying to use the First Amendment for some sort of job protection, as you put it, we're not doing a very good job of it. Journalism jobs are dying off at a remarkable pace, and as newspapers shrink their ability to keep institutions accountable, we will all suffer.
D.C.: My first concerts were with my big brother at a bar in East Lansing. I was a minor, he a student. So, it's a shame to me that Michigan State Alum Jim Graham is trying to shut down all-ages music shows. Kids spend hours and fortunes on iTunes and MTV, and never see live music, acoustic or otherwise.
I hope the all-ages music isn't the baby getting tossed out with the bathwater.
Marc Fisher: Really? I can't see any justification for mixing underage crowds with a drinking crowd at a nightclub. It's easy enough to have one or the other --what possible reason is there to have both?
Note to WAMU: In your rush to accommodate the shows dropped by WETA, don't give up "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."
Marc Fisher: My bet is it finds a new home -- I base that on zero inside knowledge.
Hootenannyville, D.C.: Anyone who grew up listening to the Replacements will still have "hootenanny" in their active vocabulary (title of their 1983 album).
Marc Fisher: Another hootenanny heard from. We may be setting a record for a single hour.
Washington, D.C.: I have to disagree with your distinction of the "punishments" for lawyers and journalists.
You say that "Lawyers do some self-policing through bar codes; similarly, news organizations should report on the excesses of their competitors." Sometimes news organizations even do reporting on their own excesses (see Newsweek's manic coverage of the Duke rape case). But what is the result of that reporting on excesses? Newsweek's circulation and prestige presumably hasn't been hurt, and the harm done by their initial reporting hasn't been addressed. There is no restitution to the "victims" of excessive journalism and there is no "punishment" for the excessive journalist. Just putting it out there in public that there was excessive journalism doesn't seem to solve it.
I guess I'm saying that I think your remedy for the excesses of journalism are insufficient. Not that I think that law was a good idea.
Marc Fisher: I believe the shining of light on a misdeed is a good in and of itself, but I also believe that it has a great impact. Look at how the New York Times has scrambled to address credibility questions following the plagiarism scandal it suffered a couple years back.
Stadium Parking: Marc,
I'll bet you a dozen of your favorite donuts that the parking garages for the stadium are NOT done in time for the opening.
Just seems to be the way things happen in the District.
Marc Fisher: Sorry, can't take that bet. I'm confident that you're right. But unless you're a high roller, you needn't care about that -- those two garages on the stadium site will be reserved only for the swells in the $100 seats and luxury boxes.
Washington - WETA programming: Will WETA at least keep some locally produced non-musical programming? "Jim Lehrer's Newshour" is produced at WETA-TV, and I enjoy having it on the radio. (It's not a very visual program anyway).
Marc Fisher: Yes, they're keeping Newshour, alas. I'd far rather they keep All Things Considered in the same hour--it's actually a radio show, rather than a TV show that makes no sense on the radio. And the 7 p.m. hour is exactly when WAMU is dumping All Things Considered.
N.W. D.C.: Marc --
I'd like your opinion on D.C.'s "Freedom Plaza" downtown by Pennsylvania Ave.
I'm personally a regular user of D.C.'s public spaces -- Meridian Hill Park is perhaps my favorite, but I also enjoy Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Lafayette Park. Even Franklin Square is coming along nicely, though still a bit of a homeless hangout (not that it's their fault -- they don't exactly have anywhere else to go, but I'm commenting purely from a perspective of my PERSONAL enjoyment of public spaces).
Anyway, I'm continually mystified by the harsh, marble space that is Freedom Plaza. Not a fountain, not a tree, not even a decent wooden bench really. I seems perfect for a skateboard park, but skaters are (at least on paper) banned.
I like the D.C. street plan they have, and some of the quotations are enjoyable, but given the climate in D.C. (cold in the winter, hot in the summer) I cannot understand why this exposed, shadeless and windbreak-free space was commissioned.
Given some of the vastly superior spaces in the immediate area (Pershing Park, the area around the Ronald Reagan Building to name two) I cannot understand why Freedom Plaza is so user unfriendly.
Marc Fisher: It's occasionally used for demonstrations and protests and serves that function well. And if skateboarders are banned, they don't seem to know that. I like watching the boarders there; seems like a perfect use of that barren expanse of stone. I can't imagine why anyone ever thought that was a good use of the space. I'd put a bunch of stores there if it were up to me, but you probably knew that already.
Washington, D.C.: The more I read your chats and columns, the more I think that you reach strongly held convictions with little information or thought. For example, your position against the proposed requirement that D.C. pre-teen girls be inoculated against HPV. In a chat, you expressed a concern that pre-teens were being protected against a sexually-transmitted disease and that it might send a message that sex is acceptable at that age. First, there is ample evidence that sex-ed and the provision of contraception -- sometimes cited by conservatives as encouraging sexual activity -- do not encourage sexual activity. Second, children already receive a required vaccination against a disease that is largely transmitted through sexual contact (Hepatitis B). Do you oppose that? Third, public health needs required vaccination programs to be effective. The timing of the vaccination is a balance of safety, access (to the population to be vaccinated), and endurance (hoping for lifetime protection). Given these constraints, inoculating the pre-teen population seems best. What age would you suggest waiting until? An age when some children at greatest risk for this virus (those with early sexual activity) have already been exposed to HPV? The HPV vaccination is only one example of your tendency to reach conclusions without information. I hope you'll rethink your position on this vaccine (and perhaps take a public health course). But more importantly, I hope you'll recognize this trait in yourself and work to combat it.
Marc Fisher: Sorry, but I don't see any cause to change my view on this one, though it is not, as you put it, a strongly held view. Rather, it's a casual reaction to a proposal that seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way: Why would you require a vaccination that medical authorities say is new and not well proven? Why would you require a vaccination against a sexually transmitted disease for girls well before any usual age of sexual activity? Surely, the vaccine should be made available to those who want or anticipate needing it. But I'd far rather wait to see how well the vaccine performs and what its side effects turn out to be, especially when the number of cases we're talking about is so relatively low.
Hot coffee: Marc,
I will defend the woman in the hot coffee case to my dying day. I think it is entirely reasonable to warn people if the hot beverage you are selling could cause 3rd-degree burns if it touches your skin. That is out of the norm that any person would expect. Think about hot food: you know it's hot, but by the time you have grown up, you have formed a set of expectations about the hotness of anything you might eat. Freshly cooked hamburger: you can take a bite right away. Fresh French fries: you have to wait a minute until they are cool enough to eat. If you spilled a hamburger in your lap and suffered major burns, wouldn't you be surprised? We just don't expect our edibles to be dangerous, with very few exceptions. McDonald's stood out for having coffee that was much hotter than normal. Some people liked the coffee for that very reason, but all McD's ever had to do was mention that their drink was hotter than other versions, and caution might be warranted.
Imagine if a Slurpee was so cold that you burned your mouth with the first sip. Wouldn't you be surprised and annoyed?
Marc Fisher: I might be surprised, but I think most of us would approach any traditionally hot or cold item with a bit of caution -- a sip rather than a gulp. The difference here is between those who believe that we're responsible for our own actions and those who seek to blame those around us.
Do you know what time it is? : Working overtime?
Marc Fisher: Time to go -- thanks for the reminder.
And thanks to all for coming along.
More next week at the usual time. I'll be reading from and talking about my book, "Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation," tonight at 7 at the Prince George's Public Library in Hyattsville, and again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Borders in Vienna, VA
(8027 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182,
I'd be honored to see you there.
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