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.
Reader: Regarding your Sound Off column of Oct. 14, I'm encouraged by your effort to distinguish opinion pieces from "straight news" for readers' benefit, but my experience is that "straight news" articles are often the worst offenders at promoting bias disguised as news. Following is a case in point.
On Oct. 14 and 15, two lengthy Associated Press articles (I assume AP is offered as "straight news") dealt with the termination of ACA reimbursements to insurance companies. They were titled "Trump's blow to Obamacare alarms states and consumers" and "Pro-Trump states (are) most affected by health care decision." These headlines clearly cast an unfavorable light on Trump's action.
Accordingly, over the space of 34 combined paragraphs, the writers quote several people who are opposed to the president's action, they quote several people and organizations who are concerned about their subsidies being terminated, they quote several politicians who criticize the action and predict they will gain or lose politically, and they quote several estimates of rising insurance premiums due to loss of subsidies. In sum, we have 34 paragraphs of negative commentary.
It is only in the final three paragraphs of the second article that we get details that cast the situation in a more positive light.
The sad fact is, in contemporary journalism "straight news" is often just a deceptive way of editorializing. So the question is: what label will The Californian apply to articles of this sort? How can The Californian — or anyone — deal with opinion pretending to be "straight news"?
— Kent Goble
Price: It's difficult to keep one's biases and assumptions completely out of any written work, but journalists — reporters, editors and headline writers — are trained to try.
What we're really seeing in the cases you cite, I believe, is the tendency of journalists to find the controversy in any situation. Conflict and dissent, when it truly exists, is simply more interesting than status quo. And there has been plenty of controversy in the Republican leadership's attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. The fact of the matter is that Trump's weakening of Obamacare has in indeed alarmed some, and pro-Trump states are in fact among those most affected by his move. (Pro-Trump counties like Kern are among those most affected as well.)
I believe your criticism that those articles could have given more weight to the pro-Trump side is justified, however. Three paragraphs at the end is much too little and too late.
Reader: In your Oct. 21 Sound Off, in response to a reader's suggestion that you put national columnists in the same section as world and national news, you wrote: "Readers have enough trouble discerning news stories from commentary without us jumbling them together."
So, are you saying that we, the readers of your leftist paper, are too stupid to discern news stories from commentary without us jumbling them together? Well, guys, guess what? We're not.
— Kay Lonar
Price: Um, no. I'm saying — and I thought I spelled it out quite clearly — studies have demonstrated that readers can't always tell the difference between the two, largely because newspapers do a poor job of differentiating commentary and analysis from news. Nobody is stupid — well, almost nobody — they're just occasionally confused, and often justifiably so, by poor practices on our end. When we fail to clearly delineate news from opinion, we fail both our leftist and rightist readers. We're working on it.
Reader: I am incredulous that in the wake of the development and investigation of one of the biggest scandals in United States history, the uranium-Russia-Clinton scandal, there has been so little about it in the Bakersfield Californian. How is that possible?
— Harold J. Baer, M.D.
Price: Fair question. We looked at the national stories we'd published and discovered you were right — we hadn't printed anything on the uranium story as of the date of your letter, Oct. 27. We found updates and published them Oct. 28 (""Trump wants FBI informant to testify in uranium case") and Oct. 30 ("Trump unleashes fresh tweets criticizing probe into Russian connection").
That story has been overtaken now, of course, by Donna Brazile's accusation about Hillary's alleged takeover of the DNC. I believe that scandal will prove much more personally damaging to Clinton; the Russian-uranium story has been in the news — somewhat quietly until now — for more than a year. We published an article on it June 26, 2016. But rigging the nomination? That's got political claws.
Reader: How much lower can a defense attorney, Kyle Humphrey, and a reporter, Steven Mayer, go to bashing our president again? From "Ex Fox Theater event coordinator Bob Bender files for bankruptcy," published Oct. 20: "If bankruptcy was a crime Trump wouldn't be President." What does that have to do with promoter Bob Bender filing for bankruptcy? Trump is a very successful businessman so he must be doing something right. Why can't the left start cooperating and help Trump "Make America Great Again"?
— Phyllis Adams
Price: I thought it was a pretty good line. No, it's not a crime to file for bankruptcy.
Trump has filed Chapter 11 six times, four times within two years in the 1990s, once more in 2004 and once more in 2009. The majority of bankruptcies happened as the overall casino industry struggled, so you can't really blame Trump's business acumen or alleged lack thereof.
I don't know that Humphrey or Mayer qualify as "the left." Left or not, though, Trump has a growing number of detractors on the right questioning his approach to making America great again.
Reader: I am a subscriber of the Californian and I have been for a long time. I miss seeing Charles Krauthammer's articles, opinions, whatever you wish to call it. Since I'm going that far, I would also like to see Bill O'Reilly back in the newspaper. I don't know if you choose or who chooses, if it's the money, or the big boys that run this town, as my father used to say, God rest his soul.
Anyway, I hope you can give it some consideration.
— Patti Gamblin
Price: I miss seeing Charles Krauthammer too. The conservative columnist, who has long been associated with the Washington Post and Fox News, has been on medical leave for several weeks. As soon as he's back, you'll see his column.
Bill O'Reilly does not write a newspaper column, as far as I can tell. Commentaries on his website carry "Billoreilly.com Staff" bylines.
Reader: Before you get too lazy about doing the Sound Off column, you might remember that it is the only reason some people even read the paper.
As Sarcaster in Chief, you have some responsibility to the little people who put you in that high office. Also, when you do have to skip it for some good reason, at least have the couth to put in a little announcement the way (former Executive Editor) Mike Jenner used to do. It went something like: Due to a shocking lack of criticism, there will be no Sound Off today.
What we were left with last week is a shocking lack of sarcasm.
— Larry Dunn
Price: My heartfelt apologies for taking the week off. I was lollygagging at the pool hall, as you might have expected. I assure you I didn't skip because nobody was criticizing us. There's always plenty of that.
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