This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.
Price: In the digital age, it's harder than ever to distinguish news that's deserving of trust from self-serving, promotional, corrupt flows of information and interpretation.
So says Ed Wasserman, the dean of the School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, who spoke on "fake news" at CSU Bakersfield Thursday night, part of the Kegley Institute of Ethics' ongoing lecture series.
"Each of us has better access to information than the best sourced reporter did a generation ago," Wasserman said to the packed-house crowd of 450. "And we can reach larger audiences than the best watched news program or widest circulating newspaper had a year ago."
But with that has come, Wasserman said, "an ever more aggressive propagation of falsity."
More people believe more things that aren't true than ever before, opined Wasserman, who enjoyed a long career in journalism before hopping the fence to academia two decades ago.
But he chose to find a positive side to the scourge of fake news, the politically motivated disinformation that had many Americans believing that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump during last year's campaign and Hillary Clinton was involved in a child porn ring operating out of the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor.
"I like to think there's a healthy side to this skepticism (of the media) if it feeds a greater sophistication among news consumers and a determination to insist on media accountability," Wasserman said.
I didn't agree with everything Wasserman said (two disclosures: I'm a member of the Kegley Institute's board, and TBC Media was a primary sponsor of his address) but I share his hope that these dark days of intentionally misleading "news" will produce a public that can better parse fact from fiction and a news industry that polices itself with new resolve.
Because, as Wasserman concluded, journalism is "about calling the powerful to account, betting on the emancipatory power of an enlightened citizenry, believing that truth, however elusive, is worth pursuing — and sharing, in honest, compelling ways."
Reader: I just read Joseph Luiz's Sept. 21 article, "City Council moves forward with pot ban," and while I found it interesting I thought it was very one-sided. The city passed a ban and out of the 878 words in the article only 58 words (one quote) was dedicated to anything remotely positive about the ban.
The article ran multiple quotes from the lone opposing councilman, a pot shop attorney and a pot shop advocate, but only one quote from a councilman who voted for the ban. The other mediums, TV and radio, ran quite a few quotes including some from City Councilman Andrae Gonzales that articulated the views of the vast majority of the council that voted for the ban, but they weren't in the article. This article seems very one-sided and doesn't fairly represent what happened.
— David Brust
Price: Joseph and I agree with you — he should have included at least one more pro-ban voice, and Councilman Andre Gonzales would have been a good candidate to provide it, given his involvement.
That said, Joseph was covering his first City Council meeting for us and writing against a daunting late deadline. I give him an A-minus.
I'll add this: The council will vote on a second reading of the amended ordinance in October, so there's more to be said. The pro-ban reasoning is pretty clear: Marijuana generally goes against predominant community standards, based on Kern County's Proposition 64 vote. The anti-ban argument is more nuanced and therefore might have deserved more ink, at least at this juncture.
But one more voice would have been good.
Did you really count every word?
Reader: Really, Dana Milbank? Hunting pheasant with armor piercing bullets? Where did you get that idea? ("Assault rifles, armor-piercing bullets and silencers," Sept. 16.) Pheasant and migratory birds are hunted with shotguns, not assault rifles, which shoot shells, not armor-piercing bullets. Your entire column is filled with inaccuracies but that fact alone is enough to show that you have no clue what you are talking about. Can't believe The Californian even published such stupidity.
— Name withheld
Price: "Pheasant and migratory birds are hunted with shotguns, not assault rifles" was precisely Milbank's point. The column was satire. The bill in question legalizes armor piercing bullets and other tools of human conflict, but it's billed as a proposal that would benefit hunters.
You're not the first person to be fooled by satire and parody. Once upon a time I literally labeled satire as satire, but I decided it detracted from the intended effect. As you later noted to me, Ms. Withheld, this wouldn't be the first time someone wrote stupidity with sincerity.
Satire is misunderstood by Opinion section readers almost as often as political cartoons.
Reader: As a subscriber for more than 40 years, I decided to cancel The Bakersfield Californian newspaper. Your manipulation of the political pieces you publish became propaganda with an attempt to paint a picture of what you want/believe, not what is actually happening in the real world.
I tried my best to point out your Goebbels-esk approach to journalism and encouraged you to be more balanced, but the fake news got worse with time.
Trump won ... get over it.
When I saw, back in mid-August, you published a cartoon of Steve Bannon burning down the White House, it brought memories of another liberal, Madonna, chanting about blowing up the White House.
In my world the White House is a symbol of our country's freedom and what we stand for. The terrorists of 911 targeted the White House to blow up. For me it's not a joke to burn down or blow up a symbol of our democracy.
Feel free to print this. Bet you won't.
— Randy Grigg
Price: Randy, do you honestly believe I have the time or inclination for "manipulation of the political pieces" we publish? If anything, we publish more conservative viewpoints than we did a year ago. So I can only conclude your partisan predilections cloud your ability to count.
What do you suppose cartoonist Dave Granlund was trying to portray by showing Steve Bannon burning down the White House? Bannon, the former Breitbart editor, was a Trump policy advisor until he was recently jettisoned, probably by the president's new, no-nonsense chief of staff. Now he seems to have become a Trump detractor — something of an irony I'd say. (Google "Bannon vs. Trump" to see what I mean.)
Cartoonists must capture an often-complex idea in a single frame. I suppose this one could have drawn Brannon physically assaulting Trump. Is that any better? It's like the recent Jeff Koterba cartoon of the ship crashing into the U.S. Naval Academy to illustrate a Navy in disarray. An institution is under assault. How do you draw that?
I've got to stop falling for that "bet you don't print this" line.
Reader: Thanks for printing my (edited) rebuttal, "In defense of country music," to another reader's criticism of country music in general and specifically your article in the Sept. 15 special Kern County Fair edition, "Pretend it's 1953: The Bakersfield Sound lives again." I hadn't read "Pretend It's 1953" before that.
Always a fan of your writing because you shoot straight from the hip.
My daughter told me I should have included Beyonce's "Daddy's Lessons" as a good example of country songs sung by people of color. She's right. There's a little country in all of us.
— Kiyomi Nowatzki
Price: Thanks again for having my back on that. Country music has long been associated with white Americans and conservative politics but the truth is much more interesting.
Speaking of "Pretend it's 1953," I hope you can make the Sept. 26 Bakersfield Sound show at the county fair. It stars Johnny Owens and the Buck Fever Band, along with a huge cast of local performers. It's free with fair admission.
Reader: If you eliminate the greeting from my most recent letter to the editor (Robert) you have the magical Dianne Hardisty-mandated 250 words. Sometimes as I try to fall asleep at night, I try to cut it off at 250 sheep. I email my brother (a retired workers’ comp judge in West Virginia) and try to cut the doc at 400 words (and his responses are marathon to say the least). But I will try to keep my responses to you at the “250 words.”
“251?" "Nope, Tom, won’t work” — Dianne Hardisty.
— Thomas C. Haslebacher
Price: Former longtime Opinion section editor Dianne Hardisty was indeed a stickler for the 250-word limit on letters to the editor, a standard we still enforce. Likewise on longer op-eds, which we label Community Voices. (That limit has changed over time; it's now 650 words.) Thank you, Tom, for adhering with such resolve. Better that readers make self-edits than we dispassionate editors swoop in with our machetes.
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