Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Hero of Circumstance

Up until last week, I had only recently read the name A.J. Liebling in the New York Times Book Review. He didn't look like he could be all that interesting, what with his egg-shaped head, thick glasses and subversive looking glare. He looked like he might have known Ethel and Julius, or worse, Goering. I skimmed the review and saw he had something to do with the New Yorker. Last week, I got an email in response to one I sent out to the director of a Latino outreach program in Salem, (Oregon). He quoted Mr. Liebling without knowing his name, but rather having heard the quote in the context of a journalism class, spoken by his teacher.

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."

The quote was sent as a matter of consolation and I felt compelled find out who said it.

A.J. Liebling
Mr. Liebling also said, "I take a grave view of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy" and "People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news." For the record, Mr. Liebling was a celebrated war correspondent during World War II and, among other accomplishments, coined the phrase, "Second City" for Chicago.

But his words on the press and its dubious function (not to report the news, but to make money) were particularly satisfying to me.

For the few of you that follow this blog at all know that last month, I posted a link to the first of a two-part article I wrote for a Salem "News, Art and Entertainment" monthly. I will not post a link to the second part. The publication, which will remain unnamed here, needed to edit my article. I cannot blame them for that. That is their job. What I submitted was about 1200 more words than they ended up printing. What I do blame them for is the shoddy way it was edited. Employing a Cuisinart to do the job would have made the finished result more coherent than what they came up with. The piece is choppy and seems, for all the world, or at least Salem, to conclude it was written by a functioning illiterate. As bad a job as was done--and it is very bad, indeed, I could almost excuse it, were it not for the fact that I was lied to. My experience with the first part of the article taught me to ask to see the edited draft before publication. The editor emailed it to me. As I say, the choppy, lack of flow was only too obvious. I was prepared to live with that. But the way my phrases and facts were arbitrarily changed and convoluted so as to create statements that were misleading at the very least and blatantly untrue at its worst, was beyond what I considered acceptable. I went through the edited text and made corrections and suggested changes to restore the accuracy and aid in bringing back a minimum of credibility to the article. I emailed it to the editor and he responded by assuring me that he "took another look at the article and incorporated all of your suggestions."

I wrote back, thanking him and waited patiently for publication.

I saw the online article first. Only two of the seventeen corrections and changes I noted had been made. I was fuming. The next day, I picked up a printed copy and found that none of the changes had been made-- not even the two that had been incorporated into the online version made their way into print.

Lorenzo Garcia Ceja -- at large

One of the more blatant examples appears right at the top of the article, where I recounted the murder on May 26 of Montez Bailey of Salem, who was shot in the head once, along with two friends who were also shot, but not fatally, by Lorenzo Garcia Ceja. In my original draft, I wrote that, "Three days after the shooting, Salem Police Department's SWAT Team raided the Ceja home, in the Northgate neighborhood. Lorenzo wasn't there. He hadn't gone back home after the shooting. As of this writing, he remains at large.

The edited (printed) version states that "A SWAT team raid of his family's homer turned up little. As of this printing, he remains at large."

I wrote to the editor saying that the SWAT Team turned up NOTHING! This is not an issue of discovery by degrees. There is no shade of gray here. Either the police found the shooter or they didn't. What could be inferred by finding "little?" Did the police find Lorenzo's dirty clothes? An overdue book from the library? Pray tell, a bullet? No! They found nothing!

The editor changed it on the online version to read, "A SWAT team raid of his family's home turned up no clues to his whereabouts."

Better, but still misleading. What did they turn up? I don't know and neither does the editor.

In the original draft, I wrote that, in contrast to Salem's Statesman Journal, the Los Angeles Times would never have so much as mentioned the shooting, let alone make it the banner headline story for three days running."

That statement became, "In Los Angeles, the daily paper would barely have noted the incident."


Never mind that they shied away from mentioning the name of Los Angeles' only metropolitan newspaper, they changed "never" to "barely," completely changing the meaning of the statement.

I won't bore you with all the changes, but I can't discuss this issue without mentioning the last and best editorial faux pas. The second half of this two-part article was ostensibly concerned with "strategies and solutions." Toward the conclusion, I wrote about Salem taking advantage of research and resulting proposed strategic programs being implemented in other cities, like Los Angeles and Chicago.

"Clearly, one of the most cost-effective ways for Salem to reduce gang activity is to access the fruits of these programs and others that are already in place. It is of no small consolation in knowing we are not alone. If we don't avail ourselves of common experiences and resulting programs and strategies we ensure the destructive growth of the gang culture."

This statement was edited to, "One of the most cost-effective ways for Salem to reduce gang activity is to access the fruits of the cities that have dealt with gang violence before, but it requires a change in mindset."

What? Is it me, or does accessing the fruit of the cities sound like a definite un-politically correct call to action by Salem's Gay Coalition? I mean, I understand the need for cutting copy, but deleting all sense at the same time seems kind of self-defeating.

Those who know me know that I take the issue of gang violence very seriously. I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles working to reduce it. It was with this level of serious commitment I took on this writing assignment. I am not only discouraged by the utter lack of professionalism shown by the paper, but its complete disregard of not only the writers they employ, but its readers as well. Ergo, Mr. Liebling's words.

This may be the end of a very brief career in journalism. It is also the end of my taking anything in the paper in question seriously. Discretion should be telling me I should not bite the hand that feeds me, because although they only pay 10¢ a word, it is still better than nothing.

I'm betting on this not being read by the prevailing party.


Davaudian said...

One thing that always goes unmentioned about these illegal dipshits is that they are truly welcome here. Their criminal behavior is wanted and needed by police forces, lawyers, and judges all over this country. Even the sanctuary cities are sponsored by the catholic church to boost attendance. So you can see why an article like yours would not be welcomed if it couldn't be rewritten to take the teeth out of it. There's big money in crime and church/union membership.

barryshap said...

I fear you missed the point of the diatribe. In this case, the issue of gangs plays a backseat to the ineptitude of a specific though alleged print media (and online) news outlet. They initially liked the idea of a fact-filled, measured piece on the gangs of Salem. They just didn't know what to do with it. Community Colleges may be fine for some and the internship program is a cheap way for employers to get the most for the least. But when facts are treated like just so much verbiage to be set aside so that another ad can fit, well, then we're all in trouble. Cops, judges and the Catholic Church have about as much bearing in this post as Mark Sanford has on the issue of morals and monogamy.

Davaudian said...

You better believe we're all in thought the media was sacred...Ha!

barryshap said...

Never thought that. I just thought there was a modicum of honesty and integrity. It's taken me this long to learn that naivete and taking people at their word takes you only so far-- hell, I should have learned that lesson in LA, eh?

Davaudian said...

Ha, yes, just like my original comment....the law likes the lawless and the church likes the sinner, or else they couldn't get paid. With the media, if it bleeds it leads.....shit like that ought to break your naivete.

What are you doing up so early anyway??