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Junk Journalism

A recent story about college student housing in The Daily Oklahoman is the most biased, sloppiest piece of attack reporting published in the newspaper since archconservative Edward L. Gaylord controlled the newspaper.

Image of Picasso’s Head of a women from www.ngv.vic.gov.au

On a small level, the story represents the newspaper’s chronic failure to hire and retain real journalists and editors. On a larger level, one can only conclude Executive Editor Ed Kelley has decided to take a step back to those days when the newspaper was dubbed the worst newspaper in America. This is unfortunate for the state and especially Oklahoma City, which has taken on a more metropolitan and mainstream feel in recent years.

The story, “Million wasted; students pay more,” was published June 3, 2007. The reporters who wrote the story, Tony Thornton and Randy Ellis, are two veteran reporters whose story demands its own investigation for sloppiness, unverified claims, and conservative bias. (Perhaps, an enterprising assistant professor or graduate student at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism could dissect their overall work for an article in the Columbia Journalism Review. But then, of course, the Gaylord family also owns the newspaper.) Nolan Clay contributed to the story.

Here is the story’s first paragraph:

“Students at several Oklahoma colleges and universities are paying higher housing costs because their schools paid millions of dollars in extra fees to finance rapid construction of dorms and apartments, an investigation by The Oklahoman found.”

But the story never comes close to proving anything but the opposite. There are no facts or figures in the story proving students paid more. In fact, the story even concedes, “The Oklahoman couldn't calculate precisely how much extra this financing method cost each school,” much less individual students. One official is quoted as saying the rapid construction method actually saved students money because of cheaper construction costs. What about lower interest rates as well? Maybe students are paying more, but The Oklahoman provided not one shred of real evidence to prove it, and they can’t even suggest a dollar figure. Come on, what type of hack editor would let these unsubstantiated claims go to press? You don't even know how much the financing cost the individual colleges, but you can claim students paid more?

Here is the entire evidence the story presents that students paid more:

“…in 2004 the University of Oklahoma analyzed costs associated with both forms of financing for a $49.76 million construction project. OU officials chose the traditional method of issuing bonds through the Regents for Higher Education after finding it would save $6.3 million.” That’s it. But what about the housing projects in question? Could the universities have actually saved money by using new financing methods? Did OU have the time to wait for more traditional financing because it’s the most funded university in the state? What factors, such as underfunding for higher education, made these colleges seek out more expedient ways to get students in nicer, safer housing? How much extra money, say, at Oklahoma State University, are students paying? Are they getting an overall worse or better deal?

The point here, of course, is The Oklahoman has not proved anything, nor did it do a thorough job looking into the issue, which would have been about as easy as it gets in journalism. All the financing records are public, for example. If the universities wouldn’t provide them, then the newspaper could have made a big deal about it. Of course, the reporters and editors have to be intelligent enough to understand the financial documents and then active enough to actually interview interested parties. But then that is probably asking too much from The Oklahoman. (I’m quite serious.)

The Oklahoman makes this claim: “The schools' financing method is drawing FBI scrutiny, The Oklahoman confirmed.” What does “scrutiny” mean in this context? What does “confirmed” mean in this context? From whom did the reporters get this information? What is the FBI looking into exactly? Is it an investigation? How many agents are involved? Who might have broken the law? What would be the crime? The newspaper doesn’t give a single clue to any of these questions. Maybe there were crimes committed, but the newspaper doesn’t really suggest what they might be or who might have committed them.

The real reason for the story, of course, is that former state Sen. Gene Stipe is a part-owner of two title companies that supposedly earned some fees for the housing financing. Also, state Sen. Mike Morgan, an attorney, also apparently earned fees. Both are Democrats. But people in both their camps gave logical explanations. Stipe’s title firms knew how to handle this type of new financing. Stipe himself had little to do with the firms. Morgan saw through the complex deals for OSU and his attorney says none of his work conflicted with his work as state senator. The FBI is supposedly looking into the deal because of Stipe’s recent legal problems, but is it really? I’m not proclaiming the innocence of these two politicians, but what exactly did they do that might be criminal or cost students extra money? And did any of this really cost students extra money? Did Morgan violate state law or have a conflict? How so? Where are the documents proving this? Did he personally receive checks from the state of Oklahoma? Yes or no? Where are the copies of these checks? All this is public information. Again, the story provides no clue.

A couple days later, The Oklahoman let us know its real intentions when it published an editorial (“Links fee: Senate leader gives and takes,” June 5, 2007) criticizing Morgan for possibly committing crimes the newspaper never proved in the initial story. Here’s the important paragraph:

“The scheme may have helped colleges get student housing projects off the ground, but it does little to boost taxpayer confidence in state government and Morgan in particular. It also helps explain why Morgan has zero interest in reforming Oklahoma's legal system.” (Note the word "scheme" here. When all these housing projects were getting built years ago, The Oklahoman didn't call it a scheme.)

See, it’s about the GOP’s obsession with so-called tort reform or what is better termed as corporate immunity. The newspaper sees Morgan as an obstacle for allowing quasi-fascist, monopoly corporations like The Oklahoman to be no longer liable for their products and how they treat their employees. Consequently, they send out sleazy reporters to put pressure on him. The message is this: “Morgan, you better support tort reform or The Daily Oklahoman is going to make your life miserable. ”

In addition, Oklahoma college presidents and administrators on the financial side must be scratching their heads. At many state colleges, the housing situation just a few years ago was deplorable. Students were crowded into dilapidated and sometimes unsafe dorm rooms. As colleges across the country added apartment-style housing on campus, Oklahoma colleges took creative action by partnering in some cases with outside businesses and institutions to get housing built quickly and efficiently. At least that’s what I always thought.

Isn’t the newspaper a strong proponent of the corporate model of education and privatization of government institutions? Of course it is, but it’s against Democrats first and foremost. The newspaper story states: The investigation “has since expanded to include other current and former elected Democrats.” Who are they? What did they do? You’ll get no answers from the newspaper story.

The newspaper needs to issue some type of retraction or, at the least, a clarification. I’m behind any effort that exposes how college students get ripped off these days by skyrocketing tuition, student loan programs, textbook companies, and student housing, if that is the case. But The Oklahoman story, as usual, is all about attacking Democrats and not about the truth.

The story is just a deceitful right-wing attack on Democrats and college administrators. Even if the issue results in charges, this particular story still reeks of bias and distortion. We’ve been down this sleazy road before with the state’s largest newspaper when it relentlessly and immorally badgered former Gov. David Walters and his family. It isn’t pretty.

Coburn Supports DDT Interests

(A state GOP leader announced today local Republicans have made an offer to purchase the Oklahoma Democratic Party in a deal that would be the first of its kind in American history. Is it really true? Read about it on Blue Oklahoma, which is "anything but sad.")

Image from PhotoTune

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn continues to draw national attention for holding up a bill that would have honored the late Rachel Carson, an environmentalist whose work led to the banning of DDT as a farming pesticide.

Coburn, an ultra-conservative Republican and gay-bashing bigot, has held up a bill honoring the centennial of Carson’s birthday. She wrote the book, Silent Spring, which many people credit with starting the modern-day environmental movement. Coburn used a parliamentary tactic to prevent a simple bill that recognizes Carson and her work from receiving Senate consideration.

(You can find the image to the right and other great stuff at PhotoTune.)

Michael Roston, writing in therawstory, has reported Coburn received a $4,000 campaign donation from a corporate executive who sits on the board of a group that advocates the use of DDT to fight malaria. The group has sponsored a Web site titled “Rachel Was Wrong,” which has been highly critical of Carson’s important work.

The corporate executive also donated money to the local Club For Growth PAC, which gave money to Coburn in 2004.

Essentially, Coburn is putting his personal political interests above the environment. This is nothing new to Oklahoma, which is home to U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, another Republican corporate toady, who believes global warming is a hoax. Inhofe receives much of his campaign money from oil companies. Executives at these companies then order him to vote in ways that benefit them personally.

Inhofe and Coburn are the tools of big corporations, which are damaging the environment and making our food supply unsafe. The state’s corporate media, especially Daily Oklahoman reporter Chris Casteel, who is a Washington bigwig “correspondent” (a big joke since he really writes editorials), allow the two politicians to consistently lie to Oklahomans without offering dissenting views. (Some media insiders say Casteel is under strict orders issued by Executive Editor Ed Kelley to give the gay-bashing Coburn and Inhofe positive coverage despite their lies, contradictions and rhetorical gaffes. The somber Kelley, for example, appeared recently in a personal video lauding bigot Coburn as a Senator. What type of metropolitan newspaper editor would take the personal time to kiss the tushy of one of the weirdest right-wing Senators in the history of the United States?)

People need to wake up. How much DDT do you want to eat each day? How much DDT do you want in your children’s milk? Is one ounce of DDT in each glass of milk okay? Got DDT? If Coburn and Inhofe had their way, you and your family would be eating and drinking a lot of DDT because their sordid political careers are more important to them than anything else. Are you not reading about what corporations here and elsewhere are doing to our food supply and planet? Why not?

The state is stuck with the bigoted Coburn for a few more years, but Inhofe is up for re-election in 2008. Please sign this petition urging environment-friendly State Sen. Andrew Rice to run against Corporate Jim “global warming is a hoax” Inhofe. It will take you two seconds.

Oklahoma Democrats Should Increase Internet Presence

("If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?"

Image from http://conium.blogspot.com/2007/05/oklahoma-democratic-party-has-money.html

"Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most."--Cindy Sheehan)

One can only hope Oklahoma Democrats continue to embrace the interconnectivity and community philosophy of the netroots now that Ivan Holmes has become the party’s chairperson.

(You can find the image to the right and other great stuff at PhotoTune.)

The party’s outgoing chairperson, Lisa Pyror, made some efforts in this direction with an electronic newsletter and a party blogspot.com blog, but most of the published material was press release fluff or simply informational. It was pretty much old-school content in a new-school format.

If it sounds like I’m criticizing, well, yeah I’m criticizing, but I’m also urging the new party leadership to do much more with the Internet. The party blog, for example, should be bigger and better, and it should consistently link to and comment on the state’s progressive blogs. It should contain arguments and positions. It should go after the Republican opposition. We also need more progressive blogs in communities throughout Oklahoma. Could the Oklahoma Democratic Party help make this happen?

Holmes, who ran Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields campaign in 2006, has been quoted as saying he wants to grow the grassroots and, by extension, I hope he means the netroots, but then this is something easy to say and difficult to do.

Here are some looming questions:

(1) How do you reconcile the state party’s true progressives and the conservative Dinos? For example, there are many of us here—real progressives—who were one hundred percent right about the Iraq debacle from the very beginning. Why are we still marginalized by the so-called centrists (really, they are center-rightist) in our own party?

(2) How can Democrats recruit people to run for legislative office, especially in rural areas? The state represents a basic structural problem for Democrats. As population growth stagnates in rural areas, they become more conservative for a variety of reasons. One thing Democrats could do is promote family farms over corporate farms as part of a healthy food initiative in the state.

(3) How can Democrats here start to stand for something? Now is the time to take stock. Can we not find three simple ideas to get behind? Better wages. Better health care. Better schools.

(4) How can Democrats raise a lot more money? The netroots could help. We also need to attract more national money, but we can only do this if the progressive wing of the state party is allowed a voice.

(5) What can be done to elect more Democrats to our U.S. Congressional delegation? U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is currently hosting fundraisers with the vice president in his reelection bid, while Democrats don’t even have an announced candidate yet.

(6) What can be done to cultivate among Democrats an aggressive winning attitude rather than the current appease-the-center-don’t-make-any-voter-mad stance? Look, you’re going to make some voters mad when you speak the truth in the George Bush era of The Big Lie. But that doesn’t mean you will necessarily lose elections.

The 2008 elections right now look like a Democratic sweep on the level of the GOP’s 1980 sweep, the beginning of the so-called and over-hyped Reagan Revolution. Will the Oklahoma Democratic Party, which, really, may actually just be the understood mole-division of the Oklahoma Republican Party these days, get left behind?

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