Sunday, July 9, 2017

A strange attitude concerning press censorship

I’ve been storing a truckload of my deceased parents’ stuff. This summer, after several moves and even more years, I decided to go through it and make the hard decisions about getting rid of (at least) some of it.
In one box was a clear plastic bag with newspapers in it. Tribune-Stars, haphazardly folded, but with a similarity; they were the D section of the Sunday Trib containing my essays. My mother was saving my essays. I’d discovered a treasure trove. Until 2007ish I didn’t save my Tribune-Star essays, so these have been termed “Mom’s archive” and I’ve been digitizing them and (re)publishing them on my personal blog.
Some of these previous essays beg for updating and that is what I am doing today, updating an essay published on Feb. 6, 2005, titled “A reaction laced with hypocrisy.” The essay was about a survey published by the Knight Foundation on the attitudes of high school students toward the First Amendment. Knight has recently published another survey and given the tensions surrounding the press, its role, journalists’ rights and “fake news” it seemed ready-made for an update.
Some of the high points of the survey findings from 2006 were that 70 percent of the surveyed high school students believed that newspapers should seek government approval before running their stories and that only a bit more than a third disagreed that the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees. Those students would be today in their middle to late twenties and voting.
I wrote that this finding was a reason for concern. The Knight Foundation cited a lack of resources and extra-curricular opportunities to learn about the First Amendment such as school newspapers. I pointed to broader changes in schools and likened them to prisons as the lives of students were becoming increasingly regulated leaving less room for student agency.
The hypocrisy referred to in the title had to do with this finding: Fifty-eight percent of students agreed that high schools should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without approval of school authorities. But only 39 percent of teachers did and less than a quarter of principals did.
In 2016, 56 percent of students disagreed that the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees. For the teachers, it was 75 percent who disagreed with that statement. As to newspapers seeking government approval before running their stories, 61 percent of students and 73 percent of teachers agreed. Seems contradictory.
Ninety-one percent of students agreed that “people should be able to express unpopular opinions.” And those who more frequently consume news and actively engage with news through social media demonstrate stronger support for First Amendment freedoms. Unfortunately, the report does not include data on how many students regularly consumed and engaged with news sources. Based on my experience with my students, I would guess the proportion to be small. Of those who said they engaged “often” the smartphone was their overwhelming source for their news.
The study asked students and teachers about online news providers’ right to publish stories without government censorship. Seventy-three percent of teachers and 60 percent of students were supportive of that right, echoing somewhat the proportions responding to whether newspapers should seek government approval before running their stories. To me, this is concerning, especially now that the President of the United States is attempting to discredit the press.
Is there a difference in levels of trust for different media between students and their teachers? The highest trust for both students (83 percent) and teachers (91 percent) is news printed in newspapers. The trust placed on the information in newspapers was similar to information from friends and family. The lowest trust for both students (49 percent) and teachers (34 percent) was in social media. This was also the biggest gap between students and teachers.
The hypocrisy remains, however. Sixty-three percent of students believe high school students should be able to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities. Only 37 percent of teachers agreed. Those numbers haven’t changed much since 2006.
In an age of high levels of distrust in government, to suggest censorship is an answer to an overreach of press freedom or for it to monitor “offensive” content seems strange. Three-quarters of teachers and almost 60 percent of students unquestioningly support the First Amendment. Why not look to the “market” as the answer? Don’t like a source, don’t read it.
Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email: thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letting the authoritarians lead the way

Previously published in the 2 July 2017 Terre Haute Tribune Star.

Today, the senior demon Authoritarian is meeting with President Trump. 

“Welcome, welcome, my friend, President Trump.  Congratulations on your astounding victory last November and most recently achieving your travel ban.”

“Thank you, Authoritarian.  America has lost its way.  I will turn her back on the right road and make her great again.”

Authoritarian chuckles and waves to his nephew, Pootie Poot. “Join us Pootie.”

“Good evening Uncle and it’s very good to see you again Donald.  It has been too long.”

“Pootie Poot? “

“Just a term of endearment an uncle has for his nephew, Donald.  May I also congratulate you on your recent triumph over CNN.  The press is a great threat to your total authority.  I understand your frustration.  If I may, continue to wage war against the press.  The American people don’t care and it helps to solidify devotion among your supporters.”

“The press should not be questioning, they should be reporting.  Pootie Poot’s  press does that and those who do not are dealt with swiftly.  It is not for the press to hold you accountable.  In fact, you don’t have to speak to them at all.”

“Also, if I may, do not exalt in your victory at the Supreme Court.  What if it had ruled against you?  The courts are a potential block to your total authority.  You must continue to put them in their place.  Congress is also a threat to your total authority.  I see that the new Senator Young, from Indiana, is suggesting that Congress should assert itself over your ability to be strong with your enemies.  I would point out that his party cannot even repeal healthcare, that is, Obamacare holding all three branches of government and 33 states.  Tell him to shut up, that he is undermining the safety and security of the nation.”

“I like how you think, Authoritarian, maybe I need you on my team.” 

“President Donald, I appreciate that, but I think you are doing fine.  You made those weak democratic leaders in Europe look like lost sheep  last month.  You broke with the herd mentality on almost everything they hold dear.  And I think you could be a leader among the strongmen of the Arab world.”  To himself, Authoritarian thinks “I had great hopes for Arafat and his Pan-Arab approach.  That outpost of democracy in the middle east must be extinguished.”

“Uncle, the United States seems to be in turmoil over many things.  Americans seem riled about the repeal of Obamacare, the travel ban, education, the military, everything.  I would never put up with so much chaos, why do you seem unconcerned about it with Trump’s United States?”

“Pootie Poot, are you suffering from dementia? Do you not recall glasnost and perestroika?  Communism forced authority upon the people.  It’s better when they want it.  Glasnost and Perestroika were necessary times of chaos to show the people they wanted, needed, strong authority.  What was your last vote total?”

“I was voted in by over 63% of the voters.”

“Haha, that is even more than our new friend Donald got.  Don’t react President Trump, you will win easily the next election.  You have much power in the American Presidency, do not fear using it.  Silence the press, use the same brilliant strategy you used against the other Republicans who wanted to be President.  It should not be hard to assert your will over the shepherd McConnell.  In fact, sow more chaos and just blame Congress for it.  You can create much turmoil in the health care markets, you have a debt limit fight coming, refuse to borrow over the limit force the spending cuts that are needed.  Bend Congress to your will.”

“Refuse to pay the UN, talk of leaving that worthless organization.”  Ask one of the EU leaders to host it, Let Germany have it.  I applaud your change in policy toward Cuba.  Lifting the sanctions against Cuba only would give rise to those who wish democracy in Cuba, tightening the sanctions creates the conditions for strong Authority, to protect Cuba’s sovereignty.  This is a wonderful gift to the hardliners in Cuba and in Miami. Bravo.”

“Authoritarian, do you play golf?”  I’d love to host you at one of my exclusive clubs.” 

“Are you a betting man, Zaika?”

“What are we playing for?”


Pootie Poot interrupts, “what is this?  I think this is a listening device.  Could be NSA. “  Sound of the device landing on the floor……signal lost.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cheers to celebrating the things we value. 8 May 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 8 2005

Teaching Bible as literature? Be careful what you pray for, 18 March 2007

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, March 18, 2007

Bald eagle an inspiring sight, even on a dirty river, 30 June 2006

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 30 June 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Talk to your children about common sense on the Net now, 26 June 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star 26 June 2005

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Change, uncertainty breed the need for absolute answers June 12, 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 12 June 2005
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