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Archive for 2013



Press Clips: Kudos to Difi on Weapons — and WCs

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Amid the reeking heap of cowardice and disgrace that defined the U.S. Senate’s vote to kill gun control legislation last week, California’s senior solon offered the most trenchant commentary about the fetid mess.

“The very fact that we’re debating gun violence is a step in the right direction,” Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote in an op-ed published by the N.Y. Daily News.

“The issue has been off limits for far too long, thanks to the oversized influence of the gun lobby,” she said. “I believe the American people are far ahead of where their elected officials are on the issue.”

With 90 percent of the country backing expanded background checks for gun sales, one of the sensible proposals defeated in the Senate, there was considerable other evidence that in months and years to come, the NRA’s death grip on Congress finally will be broken.

The Senate’s deplorable action only served to galvanize gun control advocates in their push to change the political calculus of the issue, from the determination of local officials to begin holding craven legislators accountable for constantly bending over for the gun lobby and the disgusted resignation of prominent members from its ranks, to the sight of elected officials moving to expand regulation of deadly weapons in state legislatures and the fierce and heartbreaking commitment of the families of the children and teachers slaughtered in Newtown.

As Michael Tomasky, editor of the progressive publication “Democracy” put it:

Historians will see this recent debate, culminating in yesterday’s vote, as the time when the gun-control lobby grew and coalesced. The gun issue, since the 1970s a blunt instrument used mainly to bully rural-state Democrats, is going to start turning into the opposite: pressure on blue- and purple-state Republicans to vote at least for modest measures.

In decades to come, Feinstein’s legacy will be seen as her career-long championing of practical gun controls, including her signature push to outlaw the assault weapons and ammunition so often used by crazies for mass murder.

That is, of course, when her loopy Beltway colleagues finally feel the growing pressure for rational changes in the law and follow the blunt advice she offered senators during last week’s debate:

“Show some guts.”

Difi’s place in history, the sequel: Bestirring herself from a nice nappy in the Senate press gallery, NYT congressional reporter Jennifer Steinhauer stumbled on a hiding-in-plain-sight scoop: it seems the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body now includes a record number of persons of the female persuasion.

Only a few months after the launch of a new congressional session, the wily Beltway scribbler awoke and counted noses on the Senate floor, discovering that the 100-member bloviator club now includes 20 women among its ranks.

The Gray Lady ink slinger next consulted the Handbook of Great Journalism Cliches to find the perfect, hackneyed symbol with which to describe this historic development: the nation’s gender imbalance of indoor toilets:

On a practical level, the women’s growing ranks have overtaken the physical facilities available to them. There are, at present, a mere two women’s bathroom stalls near the Senate floor, which often means long lines. But the senators have learned to use the situation to their advantage: (Michigan Senator Debbie)  Stabenow said recently that she and Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, spent their time in the bathroom line strategizing over how they might get a new farm bill passed.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Ms. Stabenow said. “We have enough of us now that we can negotiate in the ladies’ room.”

Alas, in an historic perspective piece featuring cool photos of the redoubtable Margaret Chase Smith, the groundbreaking Rebecca Latimer Felton and the under-appreciated Hattie Ophelia Caraway (nice hat!), the Timeswoman missed the decisive, revolutionary role played in the restroom advancement of women played by the Senior Senator from California, then a mere member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors:

But even as Feinstein grappled with weighty issues, she also generated the kind of “only Dianne” headlines that endeared her to generations of local news editors. On July 25, 1972, she marched into the supervisors’ executive bathroom, just off the chambers, which at the time was an exclusively male province. “It’s a liberated bathroom now,” she declared when she came out, noting the unfairness of the women’s room being located far from the board’s offices.

Unfortunately for her, the saga did not end there. Her action offended some of her more macho colleagues, who refused to lock the door when using the facility despite her frequent requests, embarrassing the modest Feinstein. “I believe in equality, come on in,” Supervisor Robert Gonzales, who took particular relish in discomfiting her, would say when she walked in on him.

Dianne at one point made a political statement by having a Venus’s-flytrap placed in the men’s marble urinal. Supervisor John Molinari claimed to have watered it at one late-night meeting, after repeated warnings to Feinstein. The offending plant soon was removed.

Not long afterward, Feinstein accidentally locked herself into the liberated bathroom when a sixty-year old brass lock on the door jammed. She drew attention by banging on the door. A slender-hipped city carpenter crawled out a window and, braced by a rope made his way thirty feet along the outside of City Hall’s second story, wiggled into the tiny window of the rest room, and removed the door hinges as other city workers battered down the door. “I’m mortified,” she said as she came out to face a gauntlet of cackling newsmen.

You could look it up.

Crowd sourcing going forward: Twitter exploded with tweets from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals in and around Boston, Cambridge and Watertown who were watching and listening to the scores of local, state and federal authorities who were chasing and exchanging gunfire with the murderous Tsarnaev brothers.

Plenty of the information in the tweets was wrong – absurdly so, like the missing Indo-American college student who was first identified as one of the bombers. But much of it was an accurate depiction of exactly what was happening in real time. And the contemporaneous tweets from eye- and earwitnesses were at least as informative as the pathetically inaccurate reporting by much of the mainstream media – especially CNN, with John King’s “exclusive” on the “dark-skinned male” who’d been arrested.

(That’s not to mention the multitudes who confused Chechnya and the Czech Republic on Twitter, a spectacle that recalled Mark Twain famously admonition – “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” But we digress).

What the entire affair demonstrated was an enormous opportunity for some mainstream media outlet to alter the process of reporting by harnessing and harvesting crowd sourcing from social media. This would represent a pivotal moment in news gathering and reporting.

Here’s how it could work: When a breaking news story is happening, a news outlet – let’s say it’s the New York Times – pulls together its Social Media News Team (SMNT), dedicated to following Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the like.

The duly constituted SMNT may also use software that can identify key words and phrases. If a Twitter hashtag emerges, they rigorously follow that hashtag. It might also be possible for the SMNT to establish a hashtag, like #NYTbombing, that Twitter users can incorporate in order to become part of the news gathering stream.

The SMNT analyzes the myriad tweets that are developing on the story at hand and when the team is satisfied it has solid information, it posts its own tweet with the relevant community-sourced information. Other Twitter users following the SMNT now have a distilled piece of information about the breaking story from a reliable source.

The first news organization to make this happen will make journalism history.