KWWL won't correct error-filled story on Stand Your Ground

Generally accepted journalism guidelines call for acknowledging mistakes in news reports, setting the record straight quickly, and doing so “in a way that encourages people who consumed the faulty information to know the truth.” The Online News Association’s “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project lists “promptly correct errors” among a short list of “fundamentals” that “should apply to all journalists.” The Radio Television Digital News Association’s code of ethics states, “Ethical journalism requires owning errors, correcting them promptly and giving corrections as much prominence as the error itself had.”

KWWL, the NBC affiliate in Waterloo, doesn’t hold its reporters to that standard.

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Yes, Kim Weaver's undisclosed work as a psychic is newsworthy

An “anonymous package mailed with a Sheldon, IA, postmark” led to an exclusive report by the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on Monday: Kim Weaver, a Democratic challenger to Representative Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, “operated an array of psychic services websites” and “charged customers as much as $3.99 per minute for readings online and over the phone.”

In an interview, Weaver, 52, did not deny dabbling in psychic services, but described her activities as “life coaching” and said they never amounted to more than a “hobby.”

“I didn’t really actually do anything,” Weaver said. “It was all for entertainment purposes. Did I make a living from it? No, definitely not.”

On many social media threads yesterday, I saw Iowa Democrats complain about the Register hyping a “hit piece” planted by Republicans.

But even clickbait hit pieces have news value sometimes.

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Read highlights from Art Cullen's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials

The best news out of Iowa last week was Storm Lake Times editor Art Cullen winning the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” Our state’s journalism community has long recognized the quality of Cullen’s work. The same series of columns earned him one of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s Skip Weber Friend of the First Amendment awards last year.

Cullen will donate most of his prize money to non-profits, including charities assisting refugees and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, whose executive director Randy Evans helped Cullen press his case with Buena Vista County leaders who were withholding public records. Speaking to James Warren of Poynter and Jared Strong of the Carroll Daily Times Herald, Cullen went out of his way to credit his son, Tom Cullen, who “did most of the heavy lifting” while digging into who was paying for the legal defense of three counties sued by the Des Moines Water Works.

The Storm Lake Times posted all of the winning editorials on this page. Links to the individual columns are on the Pulitzer Prize website. I enclose below excerpts from those columns, from Storm Lake Times publisher John Cullen’s tribute to his brother, and from Art Cullen’s “thank you” column. I hope this post will inspire Bleeding Heartland readers not only to click through and read last year’s award-winning work, but also to bookmark the Storm Lake Times website and check its opinion page regularly.

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Journalists, stop validating Republican spin on voter ID

Later today, Iowa Senate Republicans will give final approval to a bill that could prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots. A broad coalition of groups oppose House File 516, because common sense and research on similar laws in other states overwhelmingly point to one conclusion: voter ID and signature verification requirements will create barriers to the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, disproportionately affecting students, the poor, the elderly, and people of color.

Republicans don’t acknowledge any of the expert testimony. They pay no attention to the conservative judge who regrets his ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law, having concluded that such laws are “a means of voter suppression.” They keep insisting their so-called “election integrity” bill won’t block a single citizen from voting.

They offer up false equivalencies, saying in their newsletters and on the Senate floor that Iowa Democrats also passed a voter ID law when they controlled both legislative chambers.

These tactics can be effective because most news reports on contentious issues give equal weight to both sides, even if one side is not credible. The “he said/she said” frame with no effort to evaluate competing claims is one of my major journalism pet peeves.

But I realized last Friday that when a politician stretches the truth, a reporter’s incompetent fact-check is worse than no fact-checking at all.

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Weekend open thread: Stolen Supreme Court seat edition

Confession: I didn’t watch the confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch*. The outcome was foreordained, down to Republicans invoking the “nuclear option” of changing Senate rules to allow confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominees with a simple majority of votes. The late-breaking news of flagrant plagiarism by Gorsuch* was never going to change any Republican minds.

Democrats could make various political arguments for fighting this nomination through extraordinary means. Even though I knew the filibuster wouldn’t keep Gorsuch* off the high court, I supported the tactic for one reason alone: “business as usual” cannot go on after the theft of a Supreme Court seat.

No matter how qualified Gorsuch* is on paper, he should never have been able to receive this lifetime appointment. Denying the equally qualified Judge Merrick Garland a Judiciary Committee hearing was unprecedented and will be a permanent stain on Senator Chuck Grassley’s legacy. Republican excuses for refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee have no more merit now than they did a year ago. Gorsuch* will never be a legitimate Supreme Court justice in my eyes, and Bleeding Heartland will put an asterisk by his name in perpetuity.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Another tragic story caught my attention this past week: Rekha Basu’s feature for the Des Moines Register on former Mason City council member Alex Kuhn. Well-liked and seen by many as a rising star, Kuhn took his own life last summer. Basu told the story through the frame of the intensely negative feedback–by some accounts bullying–Kuhn received after opposing an incentives package for a huge Prestage pork processing plant. When John Skipper told the story of Kuhn’s final months in the Mason City Globe-Gazette last December, he focused on the young man’s battle with depression. According to Basu, Kuhn’s parents believe Skipper built “a narrative around depression, enabling those who had hurt Alex to turn his suffering back on him.”

The Globe-Gazette’s editor David Mayberry wasn’t a fan of the way Basu built her narrative, on grounds he laid out in this Twitter thread. He observed that “pinning a suicide to one cause is a well-documented no-no in journalism” and linked to this guide for reporters to support his case.

No one can precisely reconstruct why Kuhn’s suffering became too much to bear. Clearly the Prestage controversy profoundly affected him. I can’t imagine what a devastating blow his death was to his loved ones. It’s a huge loss for Iowa as well. Whatever you may think about local giveaways to profitable corporations, elected officials with Kuhn’s political courage are few and far between.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa legislative news roundup

The Iowa legislature’s second “funnel” deadline passed on March 31. In theory, aside from appropriations bills, any legislation that hasn’t yet cleared one chamber and at least one committee in the other chamber is no longer eligible for consideration for this year. However, leaders can resurrect “dead” bills late in the session or include their provisions in appropriations bills. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel reviewed important bills that did or did not make it through the funnel. James Q. Lynch and Rod Boshart published a longer list in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This paragraph caught my eye from the Register’s story.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said everything that lawmakers are doing is a reflection of learning from states where prosperity is occurring as a result of business-friendly policies. That formula includes low-cost government, innovative public services, and easing regulatory burdens on businesses to spur job creation and to allow Iowa companies to compete in a global marketplace, he added.

Not so much: Republicans following a similar playbook drove Kansas and Louisiana into the ground. Wisconsin has performed poorly in employment growth, poverty reduction, household income, and wages compared to neighboring Minnesota, where corporate interests didn’t capture state government.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. I enclose below links and clips about bills I haven’t had time to write about yet. Two are “business-friendly” policies that will hurt Iowans suffering because of exposure to asbestos or medical malpractice. One would make local governments and first responders less accountable by excluding all “audio, video and transcripts of 911 calls involving injured victims of crimes or accidents” from Iowa’s open records law.

Quick update on House File 484, the bill to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works: once seen as almost a sure thing due to covert support from the Iowa Farm Bureau, the bill was on the House debate calendar for many days in March but never brought to the floor. Majority Leader Chris Hagenow put House File 484 on the “unfinished business” calendar on March 30, after House Republicans voted down a Democratic motion to exclude it from that list.

Opponents of the Water Works bill have become more confident lately, as several GOP representatives and senators have said privately they oppose the legislation. In addition, a Harper Polling survey commissioned by the Water Works showed that 68 percent of respondents oppose disbanding independent water works boards in Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale in order to give city councils control over the water utility. The same poll indicated that by a 55 percent to 23 percent margin, respondents said an independent board of trustees rather than the city council is “best qualified to manage your local water utility.” By an 88 percent to 5 percent margin, respondents said “people who live in the community” and not the state legislature should have “the final say” on municipal utilities. No one should be complacent, because powerful forces are behind this legislation. Republican leaders could attach Water Works language to must-pass budget bills.

P.S.- The legislature is supposed to wrap up its business this month and adjourn for the year before the end of April. I suspect that even with unified Republican control, the session will go into overtime. Lawmakers haven’t finalized budget targets for the 2018 fiscal year yet. With less money to go around following the recent downgrade in revenue forecasts, and legislators of both parties calling for a review of increasingly expensive tax credits and exemptions, I expect several more weeks of behind the scenes negotiations before the House and Senate are ready to approve appropriations bills.

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