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: A common theme of this column — probably the most common theme, though not by my choice — is the matter of the media's treatment of President Donald Trump. The refrain goes like this: Journalists hate the president and seize every opportunity to denigrate and vilify him. The resounding response: Trump does a breathtakingly thorough job of doing it for us.
He's had some doozies, but this week's topped them all. In a White House meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers discussing immigration policy Thursday, Trump likened the Caribbean nation of Haiti and assorted, unspecified African countries to what I will translate as, literally, a ditch into which one toilets oneself. Trump's excretory vulgarity was remarkable not only for its stark crudeness and apparent contempt for decorum but also because it managed to impugn entire nations.
This was, naturally, the stuff of newspaper headlines. The problem was, and remains, how do media companies portray Trump's language without offending the sensibilities of our more delicate readers? Most, like this newspaper, printed that term in question only in the small-type text of the article, not in the headline. (You're welcome.) But what should newspapers do going forward? Answer: It will vary according to individual community standards.
Members of the Association of Opinion Journalists debated the question in a series of back-and-forth emails Friday.
"We did use it in the wire story, but I’m not so sure I want to run it over and over on the letters page," wrote one editor. "Anyone else confronting this dilemma?"
Some said they would continue to use the word. Some said they would use the s-dash-dash-dash approach. Some said they would find some sort of acceptable euphemism.
Me, I'm of the mind that if the president of the United States says it out loud in front of a roomful of senators and representatives, well — it's out there, and it says something about who he is and what he values.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Bakersfield doesn't want to see that kind of language in a hometown newspaper that will be shared with children and the faint of heart. No matter who utters it.
I am interested to know what readers think. Do we repeat the term in letters, commentaries and other articles that are sure to come? After all, we have all heard the term and perhaps at some point used it ourselves. (Although I haven't.) Or do we assume you've all read or heard it once now, and that's plenty? What do you think?
Reader: The lead story on the front page of last Sunday’s paper was “Hard-hitting flu dwindles supply of antiviral meds.” Rather than mindlessly parroting propaganda disseminated by the medical-pharmaceutical complex, why didn’t you focus on the real story — that this year’s flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective based on Australia’s just completed winter flu season? You buried any reference to its minimal effectiveness deep in the bowels of the article.
Without any apparent research, you have joined a massive marketing campaign with signs in front of every pharmacy urging us to get a flu shot (inferring that we are running a grave risk if we and our loved one don’t get vaccinated)? Why? Because the flu vaccine makers had to make the vaccine months ago and now the push is on to get all those doses sold lest the companies lose money on millions of unsold doses. It’s all about money! No wonder the effectiveness is not mentioned at all or buried deep within an article.
— Miguel Nidever
Price: What? We buried the reference to the vaccine's diminished effectiveness? Miguel, it was at the top of the front page, in the secondary headline: "Local health providers blame early flu season, poor air quality and a less-effective vaccine." And it was noted in the second paragraph of the story. And the broader explanation was in the early-middle of the story, certainly not in the "bowels."
Are pharmaceutical companies profit-seeking enterprises? Of course. Are the high cost of pharmaceuticals a primary reason Americans pay by far the most for health care per capita of any nation on earth? No question.
But there's a flu on the loose, a bad one, and virtually every physician and public health official in the country is urging people to get the vaccine — despite its vastly diminished effectiveness. I got mine last week.
The flu-shot marketing campaign that grabs us from the pharmacy-counter window of every drugstore in America is highly effective, I will acknowledge. But I'll wager it's also saving lives.
That's not to say U.S. health care doesn't need some reform. It does. There's no objective reason Americans should pay substantially more than the typical German or Briton for health care coverage, with poorer outcomes, but that has been our reality for decades, long before the Affordable Care Act.
Let's fix it. But let's protect ourselves from this flu first.
One could argue that it's our duty as a media company to be "mindlessly parroting propaganda" disseminated by public health agencies whose only goal is keeping people healthy.
Reader: The recent articles on highway improvements prompt me to ask why Caltrans has not included access from Highway 99 southbound to Highway 58 (Centennial Corridor/Westside Parkway) westbound and likewise from 58 eastbound to Highway 99 northbound. I have written Caltrans in the past about this issue but they have not ever responded.
I also notice that access to Highway 99 from Stockdale Highway and vice versa, both directions, has been eliminated, forcing drivers between California and Ming to use either of those highly congested streets to access Highway 99.
I am wondering why The Californian has not addressed these design flaws up to this point in time.
Price: We have addressed those shortcomings, but it has been quite awhile. Back when these plans were first being formalized, we noted that highways weren't connecting with other highways in ways that drivers would find most convenient. Part of the reason was that, at the time, much of the necessary funding wasn't available or for that matter even identified. Perhaps we're due for an update.
Reader: I believe you missed the boat when you didn't publish the article in the national news about the freeway signs that were appearing at nearly all interstate crossings into California during the New Year's holiday noting that California is now a sanctuary state and welcoming "Felons, Illegals and MS-13."
Most national newspapers carried pictures of the signs, and a short article explaining them, but the story never showed up in The Californian. Didn't Gov. Jerry Brown declare our state a "sanctuary state"? That's big news!
— Dennis Tope
Price: Most national newspapers? I found one — The Washington Times. (Correct me if you can cite others.) A handful of TV stations covered it, too — that story is so TV — but, along with Fox News, that was about it. Social media had a ball with the story, though.
Nearly all interstate crossings? Not remotely close.
Frankly, I think it's a great story — funny, with a satirical bite, whether you agree with the sentiment or not. (Yes, it paints undocumented immigrants with one horrifically broad brush.) If someone had posted signs like that in Bakersfield you can bet we'd have covered it. Not that I'm suggesting that pranksters try.
Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger told Fox News that one of the signs was taken down on Interstate 15 near the California-Nevada border and another was spotted on I-40 near the border with Arizona.
“For safety reasons, Caltrans does not permit any unauthorized signs in the state right of way," the agency said in a statement. "If we haven’t done so already, Caltrans crews will take steps to remove them.”
Reader: We see frequent contributions to your column from readers like Gerald Todd who decry how the media is trying to “undermine” or otherwise disparage the president. Just what do they expect journalists to do? Invent happy stories about the president to give the illusion of balance they seem to think is lacking? Should journalists ignore or dismiss all his ill-considered public statements and poor behavior so as to not undermine his presidency? Wouldn’t that sort of thing be the classic definition of propaganda?
The fact is, any examples of so-called “undermining” are the acts and statements of the president himself. Statements that are frequently petty, false and otherwise poorly considered. No matter what some Trump-supporting readers claim, the president lies in a bed of his own making and it’s the job of journalists to report it. That hardly defines them as “lowlifes."
— Stephen A. Montgomery
Reader: Regarding Tuesday's front-page photo of a woman walking in the rain outside the Padre Hotel: fantastic cover photo by Felix Adamo. This has to be his best yet!
— Wayne Marshall
Price: I don't know if it's his best yet — he's been taking photos for The Californian since the late 1970s — but it was definitely worthy of our front page that day.
Reader: Amid the doldrums of everyday Bakersfield life, Robert Price somehow manages to keep his humor. It is refreshing, and sometimes even painful, when you find yourself the butt of his humor.
I must admit I don't usually agree with all Price has to say, but never doubt that he agrees with nothing I have to say, and that is fair.
I must admit that even a person such as myself, who has never possessed and utterly failed to develop the gift of humor, is impressed and amused.
— Panfilo Fuentes
Price: Pete, I adamantly disagree with you on this, too.