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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Year-end reflections for the media


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Here’s hoping all of you have had happy and healthy holidays. More to the point, here’s hoping you’ve had very Merry Christmases. There, I said it.

I think as media, we too often over-react and understate because we’re intimidated by the politically correct police who remain religiously on the beat. As if Christmas were nothing more than shopping on steroids and a great opportunity to celebrate the separation of church and state. As if it had no historical back story. As if by its very mention, we de facto slight and affront certain societal segments. Humbug.

And did I mention that I hoped you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year?

And while we’re taking the media to task, in effect, let’s just formulate some more media conversation into a kind of New Year’s resolutions’ format. Would that the media:

* Double down on shedding light — not heat — on the polarizing issues of these fractious days for America.

* No longer act as a publicity accomplice for: “Duck Dynasty,” Miley Cyrus, anyone named Kardashian, Paula Deen, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Snookie, Hulk Hogan, Sarah Palin, Bubba the Love Sponge, Kanye West, Charlie Sheen and Dennis Rodman. And speaking of Rodman, too bad his most recent visit to North Korea didn’t result in a longer stay and serious chillin’ time with Kim Jong Un. Perhaps family executions are hard on a bromance.

* No longer treat movie sequels, especially those based on comic books and video games, as serious fare worthy of review space comparable to, say, “Philomena.”

* Be ever more vigilant about polls in the news. They can influence — not just gauge — public opinion, and too many are push polls. The reading public has no idea of all the sampling variables as well as key contextual elements in how questions are framed or prefaced. And think long and hard about doing your own poll. Are you reporting the news — or making it?

* Re-think the uber-hype approach, especially at the local TV-network-affiliate level, in covering the weather. Could we, for example, eliminate those melodramatic, Armageddon-like weather teases that don’t actually warrant details until it’s weather’s slotted time before sports?

And if you want meteorological cred beyond a clever name for your customized radar-tracker, tell your weather guy that wearing suspenders gives a contrived, show-bizzy look.

* Stop referring to the Affordable Care Act, no matter its amateur-hour roll-out and Rube Goldberg construction, as “Obamacare.” That was a politically partisan tag line originally aimed at defaming the ACA. It’s still unconscionably careless for mainstream media to use “Obamacare” as a synonym for the ACA.

And that, ironically, goes for the president, too, who has used it in a self-effacing attempt to defuse it. It didn’t, to say the least, work. He would have been better off with “Romneycare II.”

Interestingly — but not surprisingly — polls have shown that the Affordable Care Act consistently gets higher approval ratings than “Obamacare.” That’s disturbing — but not at all shocking, which is cause for further anxiety.

* End the double standard when it comes to Lee Harvey Oswald. The mainstream media bends over backward to accord the likes of Tampa’s Dontae Morris, Boston’s Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Aurora, Colorado’s James Holmes the technical benefit of the legal doubt by referring to them as “suspects” before they are tried and convicted for what they “allegedly” did. Indeed, that is fair and proper, even though there were witnesses and video evidence. The verdict lies with the jury, not the media.

But why persist in referring to Oswald as President John F. Kennedy’s assassin — without qualifier — when he was never accorded the right to live long enough to have a trial? Let alone be convicted. Let alone explain his involvement in the beyond-byzantine world of Cold War, government-agency intrigues.

Moreover, any cursory look at how that investigation was handled would yield a classic example of tainted, cherry-picked and compromised evidence. What chain-of-evidence custody? An Oswald conviction would have been problematic.

Whatever the rationale — and I suspect ignorance, the passage of time and hypersensitivity to being duped by “conspiracy nuts” are key components — continued absence of “alleged” before Oswald as assassin, lone or otherwise, remains a breach of journalistic ethics.

* End its trafficking in clichés — starting with whoever is dubbed a “rock star” to whoever received a “wake-up call” to whoever “brought their A-game” to whoever “reinvented the wheel” to whoever determined “it’s not rocket science.”

But I say that, of course, with all due respect because at the end of the day — by virtue of thinking outside the box — we can all see that paradigms do shift and some writers have absolutely no shame when it comes to a rhetorical exit strategy.

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