Archive for 2015

Santa Barbara Spill: Case Study of Post-MSM News

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Oil-Spill-Bird-lc-630x420The most enterprising story, amid the far-flung news coverage of last week’s ruinous leak of acrid, viscid, noxious oil that fouled miles of Santa Barbara’s splendid coastline, disclosed a disturbing and intriguing fact:

The pipeline that spewed the toxic stuff onto the beach and into the water is the only one in the county not equipped with an automatic shut-off valve.

The reasons why, which should surprise exactly no one who’s not recently arrived from Uranus, derive from decades of fierce anti-regulatory efforts by the courts and Congress.

First, the oil companies that installed and operated the pipeline used their legal muscle to deny local regulators the authority to supervise it; today, the only agency with any jurisdiction is the (all rise) federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Thanks to anti-government crusaders in the House and Senate, who despise the very notion of regulation, however, all-mighty PHMSA (which, as every schoolchild knows, is pronounced “pisma”) apparently is so underfunded that it’s skimped on sending staff representatives to regular inter-agency safety meetings held in Santa Barbara.

“We’re flying blind,” said county Energy Division czar Kevin Drude…According to Drude, the equipment the county requires of other pipeline operators is so sensitive it can detect the loss of 20 barrels of oil over a 20-hour period. By contrast, the Plains pipeline leaked about 2,500 barrels worth of oil in a matter of a few hours before the company’s crew manually shut it down.

As Governor Gandalf might say: Dantur opes nulli nunc, nisi divitibus.

sea lion 2_1432305171233_18672094_ver1.0_640_480One for the J-school textbooks. The scandal came to light through the intrepid efforts of Nick Welsh, the wizened executive editor of the weekly Santa Barbara Independent, who published it just two days after the ooze started flowing at Refugio State Beach (full disclosure: at least half of your Calbuzzards write a freelance state politics column for the paper).

Beyond its immediate news value, the story is significant as part of a post-MSM journalism case study that the environmental incident provides.

As a political matter, last week’s accident received widespread media attention, less because of what happened – a relatively small amount of oil defiled beaches, killed and tormented wildlife – but more because of where it happened; another Santa Barbara oil spill, orders of magnitude larger, famously birthed the environmental movement, in 1969.

As a media matter, the event is noteworthy as an illustration of how news is gathered and disseminated in a digital world of niche operations and fragmented audiences: much of the most crucial information did not originate with huge and well-financed national outlets; rather it made its way up the news food chain, from small but energetic and highly motivated local enterprises.

Luddites and weenies: A community of fewer than 90,000 residents, Santa Barbara is a kind of media petri dish. Without a truly dominant news source in town, a small collection of startups, “alternative press” reporters and a few mainstream outlets scrambled to tell a big and fast-moving story for modest-sized and largely distinct audiences, while local citizens and out-of-town reporters alike grazed over their offerings to piece together a complete picture.

The tale of Welsh’s scoop is instructive. While others in his small newsroom moved aggressively to cover the breaking news, he worked the phones and scanned documents to excavate and master the complex and confusing details about the broken pipeline’s operation by the Texas-based Plains All-American oil company.

With less than 24 hours before the paper’s weekly deadline for its print edition – still by far the primary source of its ad revenue – he had to break his hurry-up investigation on the Independent’s website, however.

nickA Luddite throwback type, Welsh was pained to miss the dead-tree edition which, because of print deadlines, published with a full color cover boldly trumpeting some local theater awards. Only a small, last-minute strip headline signaled to readers that the paper had any coverage of the town’s biggest story of the year.

As Welsh and colleagues kept updating on the web, the MSM meanwhile engaged in some throwback behavior of its own – ripping off his story without any credit.

Two days after the Independent posted the piece online, the AP’s Brian Melley rendered his own version, which doubled back on Welsh’s sources, for benefit of a national audience. The powerful wire service put it out without a word acknowledging where the story originated.

Oleaginous icon: Lara Cooper, a reporter and photographer for Santa Barbara’s online-only Noozhawk fared better in getting credit where credit was due.

With even fewer reporters than its competitor, Noozhawk offers its readers a strictly local, meat-and-potatoes daily report that includes a strong focus on community news (“Refugio oil spill inspires hands-on learning project for Ellwood students” was the hed on one of its folos this week).

Tom Bolton, the site’s editor, is another old-school type who’s morphed into an online impressario. He’s one of those guys who likes to sleep with a police scanner, and was quick to dispatch Cooper, apparently the first newsie on the scene (she later described smelling the stench of oil from inside her car, more than a mile away; at first, she thought her engine might be imploding).

lara cooperCooper swiftly saw, captured and posted an image of a guy, standing in oily thick water and trying to reach a befouled waterfowl while his buddy strained to keep him from falling into the oleaginous mess. Hustling for a hyper-local, start-up site, she managed to produce the iconic photo of the event, which was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and CNN, and ran four columns across the top of the Washington Post’s front page..

For another distinct audience, the local aggregation site Edhat  linked to a range of primary information: top stories from various news organizations; press releases from politicians and Plains; updates from the public agencies, led by the Coast Guard, working on the clean-up.

It also carried out another key function of the digital era, serving as a public square for local reaction and opinion, by hosting the most lively comment board focused on the disaster.

More bodies into the breach: All that said, the nonpareil importance of financial resources was demonstrated anew in the comprehensive and contextual coverage of the By God L.A. Times.

Located 90 miles from Santa Barbara, the LAT launched a fair-sized platoon of reporters and photographers, emerging as the daily newspaper of record for the Refugio spill. Although the paper’s newsroom has endured multiple rounds of cuts in recent years, it still boasts roughly 500 employees, and did a nice job of covering all quadrants of the story, with breaking news, color, analysis and enterprise.

(Surprise, surprise, it also stiffed the Independent by rolling out its own version of Welsh’s excloo, a yarn that carried three – 3, count ‘em, 3 – bylines, without a word of credit to the veteran local scribbler’s outfit).

Among the highlights of the LAT’s coverage was a lovely, first-day scene-setter by Steve Chawkins, the paper’s last staffer based in Ventura County, which adjoins Santa Barbara.

On the sand, Peuyoko Perez, an auto parts driver from Ventura, sang a mournful ode — a “willow song,” as he called it — in a Chumash dialect. He said he was paying homage to nature and to the sea, and was pleading for willow-like flexibility among conflicting interests in cleaning up the mess and preventing future disasters.

“This is an attack against the land, animals, fish, human beings — and I’m tired of it,” he said. Amid darkened clusters of seaweed, he looked out at the ocean. He said he planned to burn sage later in the day for cleansing.

We await with interest a folo on how the sage burning is working out.

On the political front, it was left to our old pal Cathy Decker to put the accident in context, with an analysis comparing it to the 1969 catastrophe.

Los Angeles Times reporter Cathleen DeckerBut there is another, more positive reason why this disaster may prove less politically meaningful: So much of the organizational hard work was accomplished back then that there are fewer fixes to make.

In the wake of the 1969 spill, governmental agencies were created to protect the environment; their workers stalked the beach in white suits last week, replacing the volunteers who in 1969 tossed hay at the sea to soak up oil. Environmental groups sprang to life and have stayed potent.

Decker also noted that offshore drilling has become a settled issue in California, with drill-baby-drill conservative Republicans who choose not to follow the moderate path established by former Governor Pete Wilson, routinely getting stomped in statewide elections.

Paging Senator Carly and Governor eMeg…











‘The Hunting Ground’: Human Truths of Campus Rape

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

annie clark 2By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

On May 13, California moved aggressively against rape on campuses, issuing a directive to all state colleges to “notify authorities when a sexual assault is reported.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.C. president Janet Napolitano jointly issued a set of guidelines to encourage collaboration between campuses and law enforcement, in order to improve responses to sexual offenses. California schools must adopt policies implementing the directive by July 1st.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating 111 colleges and universities for  “possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.”

The state’s action followed last year’s report by the White House Council on Women and Girls, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” That study acknowledged that “one out of five women, or nearly 22 million, has been raped in their lifetimes.”  A comprehensive look at rape and sexual assault with a focus on college campuses, the report describes the “most at risk” victims, the physical and economic costs of rape and the lack of response by law enforcement.

Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are very low; on average “only 12% of student victims” are willing to file claims.  As a result, rape survivors suffer from a wide range of physical and mental health problems “including depression, chronic pain and anxiety,” the report said.

map“The Hunting Ground.” Amid all the statistics and official statements, a new documentary puts a heartbreaking, human face on the epidemic of campus rape and sexual violence. I recently attended a screening of the film, “The Hunting Ground,” at UC Santa Barbara. When it ended, I felt sick, and angry.

“The Hunting Ground,” produced and directed by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, begins with the images and sounds of several young women joyfully receiving their college acceptances, then follows them through their experiences of assault on campus, often in their first year, and their attempts to find justice and resolution.

The filmmakers use both data and personal narratives to tell their story. Statistics buttress the film’s thesis: women who are victims of rape and assault are mistreated or ignored when they seek help from the very institutions that are responsible for their safety.

The film focuses on educational institutions that enable rape culture on campuses to continue.  Incident after incident in the film depicts the lack of response from college administrators, campus police and local law enforcement.

One key element: college sports teams are glorified in the American university system, and fraternities often encourage their members to pursue women students.  When the perpetrator is a member of the school football team, the victim receives no help or support.  Victorious college teams result in increased fundraising from alumni.

jameis 2.0Money is motivation for the players, also, as success on a college team can lead to a career in professional sports.  The case of Jameis Winston and Erica Kinsman-highlights the high stakes.

A Heisman trophy winner and first pick in the NFL draft by Tampa Bay this year, Winston signed a four-year contract worth $23 million. While attending Florida State University, Winston was charged by Kinsman with sexual assault.  Cleared of charges, he has countersued for $7 million dollars for alleged false claims.

The film follows the extraordinary efforts of Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two women (pictured above) from University of North Carolina, who move from being “victims to survivors to activists,” as they connect the dots of what is happening nationally and to bring attention to their cause.

Clark and Pino created an organization called “End Rape on Campus” that provides education and information about Title IX and how to file a federal complaint.

They began by filing federal discrimination complaints and holding press conferences, and their tireless efforts have brought more awareness to the issue and greater advocacy on behalf of victims.

A landscape of violence: As tragic as it is, rape on campus is just one element of widespread violence that pervades many areas of American society. Whether in the military, domestically within families, or on streets and campuses, women historically have been sexual targets – the hunted.

Historically, law enforcement agencies have not made a priority of rape and sexual assault. There long has been a lack of willingness to pursue cases, and insufficient resources to resolve the number of complaints filed.

Finally, a nationwide discussion is coalescing around these issues.

amyBefore “The Hunting Ground,” Ziering and Dick’s 2012 film, “The Invisible War,” brought attention to rape in the military and helped result in hearings and legislation.  More than half a million women have been raped in the armed services; according to the Pentagon, sexual assault has increased in the military by 35 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Efforts by Human Rights Watch have brought awareness to the national problem of untested rape kits kept in police storage rooms.  The massive backlog resulted from inaction by police departments and other local and federal agencies.

Now, policy makers are increasing budgets to fund additional technical staff to do DNA analysis in an effort to eliminate the backlog; some progress has been made but thousands of kits still remain untested in the U.S.

In 2013, President Obama signed the third iteration of the Violence Against Women Act.  This legislation approaches the issue of violence on numerous fronts.  It creates tougher penalties for offenders, incentives for arrests and prosecution, and support for domestic violence response teams.  The Act includes funding for direct services for victims of rape and sexual assault and training for sexual assault teams, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals

Despite all the activities, particularly on the federal level, sexual assault complaints on campus are increasing according to data released in 2014 by the Office of Civil Rights.

It is so far unclear from the data whether this is because women feel safer to file reports, or efforts to prevent sexual assaults are failing.

thehuntingground_quotesA search for solutions. What institutional changes must we make to protect our young women?  Is it possible to create an educational system that respects women and makes their safety and well being a priority?

“The Hunting Ground” does not provide answers but leaves little doubt that great change is needed. Feminist filmmaking at its finest, it has brought national attention to violence against women; but young women are not any safer today on college campuses.

After a showing of the film last month this at The Feminist Majority Foundation in Los Angeles, Amy Ziering spoke about how she hoped to help bring more, and faster, changes:

We’ve already received well over 2,000 requests to screen “The Hunting Ground” at colleges and high schools across the nation. We are heartened by this response and hope it helps to transform our culture and compel institutions to more fairly adjudicate these crimes and better support survivors.

Violence against women has long been imbedded in our American culture. Making the issue of rape and sexual assault part of our national political dialogue is essential, but it will take years before the Office of Civil Rights completes their campus investigations.

We have the knowledge and the tools to turn this around, but do we as a society have the commitment to eliminate it? Change could occur nationally if college leaders are willing to step up their efforts and an educational curriculum that defines violence as unacceptable is implemented at all school levels.

California now has taken the first step.  It’s a start.

Susan_RoseSusan Rose, former Executive Director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women, served eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is a board member of Emerge California, a Democratic group working to help women achieve elected and appointed office. Her last piece for Calbuzz reported on California legislation to end the state’s rape kit backlog.

Op-Ed Holiday Special: The Mulholland Report

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Bob MulhollandBy Bob Mulholland
Special to Calbuzz

We bumped into our old friend Bob Mulholland, ex-political director of the California Democratic Party, at the recently concluded Disneyland Dem convention, and invited him to share his singular brand of political wisdom with Calbuzz readers.

Glazer, indubitably. Amid spin downplaying Steve Glazer’s victory in the 7th state Senate district election, consider this: Steve would have won with, or without, the Top Two system. In the March 17th primary, Glazer was the top vote getter, and in pre-Top Two world, would have advanced to face a Republican (plus 3rd party candidates, if they’d filed); SD 7 is 43.4% Democrats versus 28.5% Republicans, so it’s Senator Glazer in any case. Congratulations – he ran with causes and the voters responded.

The digits of drought: Scientists say there is a place in Antarctica that has not had precipitation in two million years; California is only in its fourth year of drought, but alas has 38 million people and an ag industry that feeds much of America. About 70 percent of the state’s precipitation falls north of J Street, in downtown Sacramento, but about 80 percent is used in the Central Valley, where massive amounts are being sucked out of aquifers, including water that fell as rain 20,000 years ago. More Latin prayers, please governor.

Chicken hawk alert: Republican presidential candidates are so afraid that Dick Cheney, who sobers up every few weeks to go on FOX, will attack them, that they keep heaping support on the phony arguments that Big Dick and W used to invade Iraq, while insisting the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. Loose GOP translation: when it comes to governing the Cradle of Civilization, ISIS is a cut above Saddam.

I read the news today, oh boy: One family controlled four cancer “charities” and spent $187 million on themselves; five big banks pleaded guilty to felonies and paid $5.6 billion in fines; Takata recalled 34 million cars for defective airbags. All I can think of is Meg Whitman, the 2010 Republican candidate for governor, endlessly saying we should run government like a business.

spillOleaginous bastards. Ten thousand years of history prove that Murphy’s Law is immutable; Santa Barbara’s oil spill, however, shows it’s still human nature to conclude that an accident or mistake can’t happen here. For corporate CEOs, that way of thinking comes with added incentives: they get big raises when they cut costs, and an even bigger severance check when they get fired after a fiasco (i.e. Carly Fiorina’s $20 million walk away from HP). Solution: send a couple corporate culprits responsible for disasters to jail, and stop imprisoning potheads.

It’s on: That murderous scene in Waco, Texas, where biker gangs emptied out of a bar and into a parking lot, where they promptly emptied their guns on each other (nine dead) should not be a surprise. American men do stuff like that all the time, even in the national pastime; baseball dugouts often empty after a pitcher hits a batter, but so far, the coaches aren’t handing out 9mms and AK47s on the bench.

thomas-jefferson1Mark your calendar: The Democratic National Convention will be held the week of July 25, 2016 in my hometown, Philadelphia, Pa., which Thomas Jefferson once described this way:

The city of London, tho’ handsomer than Paris,
is not as handsome as Philadelphia.

Not clear what Jefferson would have made of Waco.

Bob Mulholland, a Vietnam veteran, is a member of the Democratic National Committee.