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January 2, 2013

Mourning the News Per Annum

Norman M. Covert

As I cogitate on the New Year this “Eve,” a sober attitude must serve to assess where we as a nation and community are headed. However, as the mid clucks stroke night, I am in a funk over cliff diving and embarrassment over our governmental leaders.


How soon can 2016 come? For that matter how soon can the next gubernatorial election come? Yes, that will be 2014, now that we have survived Y2K and the Mayan calendar.




·       We have a dysfunctional federal government with an entrenched Senate; a fractured House of Representatives; and an entrenched executive branch.


·       Our governor and state legislature are mired in a political quagmire of their own doing.


·       Frederick County leaders, too, stump me. Their 2010 mandate has disappeared as they jaw about library inefficiencies, risk losing the efficiencies of our volunteer firefighters and sacrifice such institutions as the venerable Montevue “Home.


·       Somewhere along the way, voters took the bait and voted for charter government here, taking us from the pan into the fire itself. We’ll see what chaos this brings.


America has survived every challenge to its Founding Fathers’ vision the past 236 years. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights don’t specify that elected officials must have integrity and competence. The assumption was the electorate would cull such scoundrels.


Past election cycles indicate we have reached what esteemed business Guru C. Northcote Parkinson envisioned in his “Peter Principle.”


Parkinson wrote: “In a hierarchy, every employee rises to his level of incompetence.”


We are talking about 62 million voters who believed that it was someone else’s fault that we have exploded to a $16 Trillion federal deficit.


That same number of voters couldn’t figure that America’s “new” foreign policy has plunged the Middle East and Southwest Asia back to tribal rule. The world is threatened with destruction from atomic weapons in the hands of regimes more oppressive and unstable than the dictators they replaced.


As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I am appalled, too, at the state of journalism. The once respected “Fourth Estate” has enabled and been a cheerleader on the path to international mediocrity. “Fact” has been overtaken by issue-driven news coverage.


The Internet influence aside, it is the news product itself that readers find wanting; the same with television news. No news, all opinion and endless prattle.


I was taught early that journalism schools produced clay that city editors could mold into reporters, who strive to learn both sides of an issue then report clearly and concisely.


It was curious, but not unexpected, to read last week that The Chicago Tribune Syndicate has dropped the venerable Associated Press (AP) as principle news provider for five of its publications, including my former daily, The Newport News (Va.) Daily Press.


The Trib reported it has dropped AP for several reasons, not the least of which is its $5 million price tag. AP, however, also has lost its reputation of getting it “right!” Back in the day, if AP wrote it, it was as solid as The Bible.


The Daily Press was part of the consortium of print and electronic media which shared in the bounty of news. Each of them paid part of the AP expenses, including maintaining its vast teletype network, national and international news bureaus.


My paper also used United Press International (UPI), which still offers nearly simultaneous coverage of national and international news. Unlike AP, UPI paid its “stringers” a stipend for stories. We had a duty to feed AP, but UPI and its Richmond, VA, bureau kept us happy with the occasional check.


Many old timers attribute The Association Press’ brand problems to its steady decline in credibility as a news service. Its once pristine reputation is sullied by advocacy reportage of the past 20 years, or so.


The Trib has decided to go with Reuters News Agency, headquartered in London. Begun in 1851, Reuters boasts of having gotten the scoop on Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.


Reuters prides itself in having a strict policy of journalistic objectivity. You can read its copy in such British papers as The London Daily Mail, which featured Reuters reports from the 9/11 Benghazi, Libya, massacre of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his brave security team. It was first to report the true events of that night.


The AP, on the other hand, reported the now-discredited administration line that a spontaneous demonstration prefaced the attack. It gave little credence for weeks to the reports of an organized attack by Muslim terrorists and has muted coverage of congressional hearings.


Reuters earned credibility, too, when it uncovered a pattern of bogus photos of “victims” supposedly injured at the hands of Israeli forces attacking Palestinian terrorists. It is all about reporting the news.


Such is the challenge for my crystal ball, predicting today’s new annum. Are we a nation in decline? Will America see the emergence of a leader who will turn the ship of state into the wind and place sure hands on the tiller, beating a true bearing?


The sage advice about how to eat an elephant perhaps should guide us the next 363 days. Let’s take the year one bite at a time, but I don’t have much appetite for it.


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