Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug Call me "Old Fashioned", many do, but I used to believe that journalists at least paid lip-service to the stories they commented on, before opening their mouths and demonstrating that they hadn't.

This story is minor. It is small-beer, a fluff piece at the end of a broadcast. This story would pass unremarked upon by me, were it not for the simple fact that day after day, month after year they behave like this; and I am left to wonder the extent to which any of them try to bring us the stories, and their implications.

So, small story or not I am going to run with this one, as I rather suspect that it serves to demonstrate a much larger problem.

I watched the CBS Evening News the night the SCOTUS ruled on Arizona 1070. The news team reported the decision, then largely accepted the Jan Brewer framing that a significant portion had been left intact. We now understand that it was a developing story, and what the Supremes had actually done was a complete gutting of the law, with one provision kicked down the road for gutting later.

I gave CBS a pass on that one. There was confusion and mixed stories all over the place. But here is something that typifies the day-to-day irritation that is Local News:

The local CBS Affiliate in Tulsa is News Channel Six. As local Affiliates go they are decent. It's a small media market (Tulsa) and they have a helicopter with HD cameras, and they have a weather service second to none.

If you want to know "who shot whom, where and when", "where was the latest motorcyclist to die without a crash helmet to be seen", or "which is the latest school to have a coach suspended for child abuse"; then News Channel Six is the place to go.

We also very much appreciate their attention to the weather, because around here the weather can kill you, and they do a very good job helping to keep us safe from harm.

They rarely touch upon the major, National stories, and when they do it is usually a mere passing mention. I guess the Editorial team knows their audience and around here the audience is ... well it's Oklahoma!

The other day, at the end of the Five O'Clock News, the anchors and their version of "weatherdude" were commenting on a Utah story.

It is the sad tale of what passes for Jurisprudence in Small Town Utah. The tale of the Judge who, in his infinite wisdom, offered a teenage girl the chance to swap 150 hours of Community Service in exchange for a "haircut", right there in his Courtroom.

I heard this story when it was news. I was pretty disgusted at the number of legal principles that were breached. Even accepting that the Judge may have acted within his authority under Utah State Law, the egregious way that sets aside the principles of Common Law should concern us.There are good reasons why we do not practise "an eye for an eye", why the meeting out of "summary justice" is usually no justice at all. Yet this was Utah, the defendant appears to be a girl who deserves little sympathy, and I can readily see how this might seem to be a good idea to those not versed in "implications"

I do not expect journalists to be pandering to these views. I rather hoped that they might investigate this story, understand the implications and report them. Even if they did so with a "wry grin" .... but no, what we had was the News Anchor, Lori Fullbright, commenting "what a good idea".

Really Lori? A good idea? On what basis is it a good idea? So I asked her:

Dear Ms Fullbright,

I listened with some interest to your throw-away comment on the 5pm News regarding the incident of the Judge offering "hair-cutting" as an alternative to hours of Community Service.

You expressed the view that you supported this action.

Here is the problem. That is called "summary justice". It has no part in American Jurisprudence for some very good reasons.

Firstly, it follows the priniciple of "An eye for an eye". You cut my daughter's hair, so your hair gets cut. Apart from this having nothing whatsoever with the legal remedies open to the Judge, it is also more a feature of Sharia Law than it is of American Law. I feel confident that you do not wish to see Sharia Law in the US.

Secondly, it removed any right of Appeal that the young woman might have enjoyed. It is not for no reason that summary justice is never applied in the US.

It really is incumbent on you to practise "journalism". Before commenting without engaging your thought processes, you might consider the effects of your remarks on the viewers.

This young woman deserves to be punished. It is also clear that the Judge exceeded his authority and placed this family in an impossible position. He will lose if a complaint is registered.

And we all will lose if he doesn't.

Steve Bracken

To be fair to Ms Fullbright, she probably didn't expect her remark to be taken to heart, and she probably wasn't expecting that email. On the other hand, News Anchors influence opinion, and I believe they owe it to the viewers to report and comment accurately. See, I told you I was old-fashioned.

Anyway ... credit where due, I got a reply:


I don’t regret my comment and I do think it was a reasonable alternative for the judge to give, because he did not order it done, he allowed the girl to choose to skip half of her community service.

She and her mother could’ve easily have said no and the appeals process and everything else would’ve been kept intact, but, thanks for writing.

Props to her for responding, and I added a bit of formatting that the message could be read more clearly. Line breaks are wonderful things.

Here is what makes this worse. Not only did Lori Fullbright not research before commenting, she now doubles down in a manner that suggests that she really doesn't need to. She believes it to be appropriate, and reporting her belief now passes for journalism.

Slice by tiny slice, from the non-stories like this one, to the ground-breaking Legislation that is the Affordable Care Act, the journalism, and the reporting has been woeful in terms of informing Americans what the real implications are.

No attempt to address the points raised. No suggestion that she had considered the implications and every indication that she will continue to report the side of a story that confirms her personal beliefs. I am not down on Lori Fullbright. It is perfectly possible that I could write this piece about any, or many of them. Lori at least responded. She is a popular anchor, round these 'ere parts and I have absolutely no personal axe to grind, nor do I bear her any ill will.

This, as I said, is not a story worth getting all worked up about, but the manner in which it was reported, and the apparent reluctance to engage in any form of debate about the merits does make one wonder how journalists go about reporting stories that really do matter.

Maybe she should be asked to preface her remarks with "Lori thinks", thus informing the audience that it is opinion and commentary, rather than news.

What really upsets me, and the reason I was prompted to Diary a bit of a "non-story" was my recent concerns about the behaviour of the Media in general, and the implications for the 1st Amendment.

It was quite astonishing that the Founders not only included the "Free Speech" provisions, but very specifically identified the Press as a group that could not be Legislated against. I think it is generally accepted that this was done that the Press would act as one of the "checks and balances" so necessary to a free society.

I has struck me before that the concentration of the Media in the hands of a tiny number of Oligarchs, is detrimental to the intent of the Founders. What is more, the failure of the FCC, and hence the Government, to control this, and ensure a thriving "free press", is probably unconstitutional.

Good luck in getting Mr Originalist Scalia to agree with that :)

Originally posted to Every Part of You Belongs to You on Wed Jun 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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