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: No matter how much I lower my expectations, the “establishment media” in general and The Bakersfield Californian in particular manage to disappoint me (“Critics: Trump pardon a slap against judiciary,” Aug. 27). By printing an opinion piece in the news section, The Californian conflated fact with spin. It doesn't matter that they can claim to be reporting someone else’s opinion — they are not only putting political spin before the readers’ eyes. They are presenting an article of facts with the taint of left-wing bias.
On the one hand they present President Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio as overturning the just conviction of a sheriff who was guilty of racial profiling. They omit that the sheriff only jailed illegal aliens convicted of committing a crime. They omit pertinent facts: Like how President Clinton pardoned a fugitive millionaire who gave money to the president’s campaign fund. Clinton also pardoned a convicted Puerto Rican terrorist who refused to repent — while Hillary Clinton campaigned for the Puerto Rican vote.
More seriously, by the end of his administration, President Obama pardoned nearly 2,000 unrehabilitated, convicted felons and an accused traitor! I don’t recall any outcries from the establishment media. Sadly, The Bakersfield Californian was part of this thundering silence. Not to despair — our local sentinel has joined the campaign to punish that mean old sheriff who fed felons baloney sandwiches!
— Ralph I. Robles
Price: How, if printing the views of some of the president's critics constitutes "spin," do those views ever get aired? The fact is, Trump's decision to pardon Arpaio drew spontaneous criticism, including that of House Speaker Paul Ryan and both of Arizona's U.S. senators, who know about the exploits of the Arizona sheriff quite well. Should the media ignore their public statements because they were expressing opinions? Should newspapers have relegated them to the Opinion section? If Ryan writes an op-ed on the subject, yes. But that's not what this was. Individuals express their opinions in news stories all the time.
If this story were exclusively full of criticisms of the pardon, I might cede a little ground, but right there in the second sentence of the article you cite, the Associated Press reporter notes that "supporters counter that the veteran law enforcement officer deserved America’s gratitude, 'not the injustice of a political witch hunt.'” If that's spin, it's not terribly effective.
You say "they omit that the sheriff only jailed illegal aliens convicted of committing a crime." I beg your pardon: The story most certainly did say that. You say the article should have mentioned the controversial pardons issued by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Where? What portion of that 800-word story would you have excised so we could have reminded readers, in the case of Clinton, about a 16-year-old controversy? Every word of last week's article, as published, brought important details and context to the immediate issue at hand, Arpaio's pardon.
One can compare presidential pardons, but it's worth noting that this one was most unusual: Trump issued it while Arpaio was awaiting sentencing, and he skipped past the normal pardon process, which includes lengthy reviews by the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office. That's part of the reason the pardon drew criticism, and part of the reason it was so newsworthy.
You do bring to light an important issue, though. Part of the reason for the decline in trust of media may well be the blurry lines between news and opinion. Research by the American Press Institute suggests that readers are finding it difficult to tell the difference between the two.
The API points to a new analysis by the Duke Reporters’ Lab that finds that news organizations fail to use consistent terminology and labeling to distinguish news, opinion and analysis, and it confuses readers.
The API sees the problem as an opportunity. "With just a bit of thoughtfulness and some design tweaks," writes API's Laurie Beth Harris, "a news organization can use better labeling of news and opinion to make big strides in readers’ trust and understanding of its work."
That's something we here at The Californian will be looking at in the coming weeks.
The article we're discussing here might have merited a "news analysis" label. But frankly I would have simply called it "news."
Reader: So Bob Price wishes this was Bakersfield 1953 ("Pretend it's 1953: The Bakersfield Sound lives again," posted Sept. 6, to print Sept.16). Guess what, Bob? It still is. It is the same place with the same conservative country music imbeciles running the city and county, hurting those not as white as they are with things such as DACA. You don't really want to return the music but the ethnic majority that used to go with it.
God, if anything there is too much country music. Country music is like a Confederate monument — they are dead heroes but their groupies don't know it. What we don't need is another wave of redneck music, divisive music, or the next Ted Nugent.
Country music is racist conservative politics 101.
— Panfilo Fuentes
Price: That's one broad brush you've got there, Pete.
But you've tapped a rich historical vein. Conservative politicians like George Wallace and Richard Nixon did indeed see political opportunity in coopting country music as a campaign tool. That was part of their Southern Strategy of 1968, which successfully turned the Democratic South into the Republican South. Were some of those performers racists? No doubt some were. Marty Robbins ("El Paso"), who worked for Wallace, was legendary.
But plenty of country music performers, including many from the alt-country genre, are not particularly conservative. Listen to Steve Earle and then keep working your way through Austin, Texas. Listen to some Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash. Heck, spin Merle Haggard's "Irma Jackson." You might even like some of it, Pete.
By the way, you've misquoted me. In that article promoting a Sept. 26 Bakersfield Sound show at the Kern County Fair, I never said I "wished" it was 1953. I invited people to celebrate some of the music of that time and place.
Reader: On page 8 of your Sept. 8 edition, you've got a story that says, "Three suspects are wanted in a residential burglary that occurred Sunday in west Bakersfield." No mention as to the race of these jerks! What is wrong with including that info?
Next you will be omitting what sex they are because you may be sexist to include that too! Absolute crap!
— Anne Grogan
Price: Wow. Chill. Bakersfield Police didn't identify the suspects by race. Our reporter, Jason Kotowski, said the three of them were wearing dark hoodies. When police give us more complete descriptions, we publish them.
Reader: Thank you for soothing our emotions with some wonderful things in Bakersfield. We are interested in events in government, fires in the area, automobile accidents and shootings but these news items increase a need for positive thoughts.
Love expressed by a 100-year-old man to his wife, the Aug. 21 eclipse of the sun and all the beautiful photos shared by your readers help us progress painlessly through this world. Please continue to publish a beautiful photo whenever it is submitted.
— Doris Bondurant
Price: We've got no shortage of bad, so we do our best to deliver some happy too. Harold Pierce's Aug. 13 story on Jack and Hilda Jones' 75th wedding anniversary celebration, "She's been my everything," was one such story. Kudos, too, to Liz Sanchez, whose eight-hat collection includes one for Though Your Lens, our popular reader-submitted photo feature.