Category Archives: Journalism

The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot, as Newsweek details.
Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot.

Three authoritative pieces about Donald Trump have emerged in recent days. These are based on solid straight-forward reporting by Newsweek, The Atlantic and Washington Post, and are followed by┬áKeith Olbermann’s oxygen depleting recitation of factual reasons Donald Trump shouldn’t be president.

These stories are all over the place today, but I’m pinning them here just in case anyone lands here who needs to be reminded what their vote for Trump is actually a vote for. Continue reading The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Inside Garbage Land!

CNN’s “Inside Man,” Morgan Spurlock, goes deep inside the world of garbage tonight on CNN. Here’s a story about his report.

Spurlock does all the things a good and enterprising reporter might do. He follows his trash from house to truck, then to the transfer station, and on to the dump. He investigates what happens to all the plastic in the ocean. He works a shift with his local Department of Sanitation workers, looks at a recycling MRF, explores electronic waste issues, and even talks to members of the zero-waste movement. Though there is no indication he visits a Prolerizer, which is something I would like to see, these are all fine topics for discussion.

garbagelandcoverAnd they were all covered extensively by my wife, Elizabeth Royte, in her 2005 NY Times Notable Book, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. Visit Garbage Land’s website here.

Spurlock was an enterprising documentarian while making Super Size Me, about eating McDonalds only, and POM Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, about product placement, and has made many other films and TV shows, including one about One Direction, so he’s likely to do a fine job on the same story in a different medium. We’ll see.

Elizabeth is philosophical. One can’t own a topic, of course. Still it’s hard to read through the list of topics in Spurlock’s show and the reportorial approach and not think of recycling.

Ta-Nehisi Coates about David Carr

Screenshot 2015-02-20 09.22.49David Carr, who died last week, was a writer about media at the New York Times in recent years, which is a highly visible beat, but before that he had a colorful life as a journalist and editor and knucklehead and fuckup. Ta-Nehisi Coates met Carr when Coates was a knucklehead and Carr was an editor, an editor who hired him and who made a profound difference in the young man’s life. In this tribute Coates explains why, and also explains something deep and abiding about growing up and becoming a writer, explains the power of David Carr’s vision of journalism and reporting, and gives the George Polk award he won this week for his powerful ┬áreported story, The Case For Reparations, to Carr in honor of all his former editor taught and gave him. Beautiful.

LINK: Joe Posnanski on Charlie Sifford, Who Died Yesterday

Screenshot 2015-02-05 08.38.36Charlie Sifford was a black golfer at a time when the PGA, the Professional Golfer’s Association of America, had in its by-laws a clause that specified that only white golfers could play in PGA tournaments.

This was a long time ago, but it was within my lifetime, and long after the ban was lifted Sifford could not get invited to the Masters tournament, because it was played at a golf club that did not allow people of color to play.

This Joe Posnanski story is about trying to write a column about Sifford and Augusta National in the early 90s(!!!), and having the story spiked (possibly? probably?) because it was critical of the club. Heck, Augusta National didn’t allow a black man to play in the Masters until 1990, under what at that point was intense pressure.

Charlie Sifford’s autobiography is called, Just Let Me Play: The Story of Charlie Sifford, the First Black Pga Golfer, and seems to cost more than $2,000 today. Posnanski’s story is a shorter and cheaper way to raise some bile and remember just how slowly change comes unless we work at it.

Ezra Klein is Pessimistic about global warming.

There is an article at Vox by Ezra Klein that is well worth reading.

He has seven reasons why America will fail at global warming. If you don’t want to read this, he also has a brief video “conversation” with Te-Nehisi Coates at the top of the page in which he summarizes the points he makes in more detail in the article.

Klein’s argument is pretty straightforward. We’re too late getting started fixing the climate (if it is fixable), and our political processes do a poor job of taking on a problem that requires long-term sacrifices for less-than-immediate gains.

He does a good job, too, of showing how the Republican position on putting a price on carbon has changed radically since John McCain ran for president (and lost). McCain supported it. He also writes about why we can’t expect to engineer our way out of the problem scientifically.

All of this is pretty depressing, but he also does a good job of covering his butt at the end, saying he is pessimistic but not fatalistic. He hopes a solution will emerge.

As I watched him talk with Coates in the video I realized that while Klein was limning the depths of the coming disaster, he was also painting this as an obvious problem for America. But as this map shows, while the US may produce a disproportionate percentage of the world’s carbon emissions, we also have one of the biggest cushions for absorbing climate change. It isn’t really our problem yet, unless we look further into the future.  (click to enlarge)

Screenshot 2014-09-23 09.39.36Klein quotes Matt Yglesias on this: “Very few of us are subsistence farmers. Relatively few of us live in river deltas, flood plains, or small islands. We are rich enough to be able to feasibly undertake massive engineering projects to safeguard our at-risk population centers. And the country is sufficiently large and sparsely populated that people can move around in response to climate shocks.”

So, the question becomes, how do we convince Americans to make significant changes and sacrifices when the short term threat level isn’t nearly as dire as the long term threat?

Marching felt great, we should do more of that, but we need to keep talking broadly about how the system works and why it isn’t really designed to answer this question. Maybe, I worry, we’re not designed to answer questions like this one as a species, but I’m not pessimistic. I’m pretty sure that we will hammer on this problem, as other ones, with increasing urgency. And while we talk about it and argue about it and elect public officials who recognize the problems, we’ll make progress.

Will it be enough, soon enough? I hope so.

LINK: How St. Louis County Profits From Poverty

Screenshot 2014-09-04 09.42.34One of the most important jobs of journalism is to explain the way things work. Or, in the case of St. Louis County and its many municipalities, how they don’t work. Radley Balko explains it all in this long and hugely worthwhile Washington Post story, which does a masterful job of making one feel the aggravating and humiliating context of the Ferguson demonstrations, as well as lining up a surprisingly bureaucratic and appalling series of villains.

In this case, a history of white flight, a checkerboard of self-serving municipalities that rely on legal fines to pay for themselves, and the slow development of a social culture that results in outstanding bench warrants that stifle the efforts of citizens to get a job or job training, or most egregiously, to run their own businesses.

Click the image to see the map of numbered municipalities larger. Each given its own stretch of highway from which to profit.