Media Bias or Subjective Strategy?

The New York Times is making regular use of the word “lie” in their headlines about President Trump. It started with the “birther lie,” then in January it was the “election lie,” and now it’s the “Comey lie.”  Is the media crying wolf or perhaps carelessly exposing their bias?

If you replace the word “lie” with “falsehood,” the headlines don’t seem as subjective. If they can prove it, they can print it, and I think the Times should call it what their research proves it is, which is, in the case of the birther claim, a false statement. They don’t know it’s a lie because they don’t know his intent.

“Lie” should be saved for special circumstances. It could be justified for when Bill Clinton told a lie. If they had proof that Trump knew he was giving false statements, then the word would be appropriate. I think the headline crossed an objective line, however, I can see why the editors chose the wording; Trump uses hyperbolic language, and he gets a lot of attention for what he says. Perhaps the editor knew what he was doing when he crossed these lines of objectivity. He may have thought he had to start speaking Trump’s language if he wanted to be heard the way he is. This was likely a strategic decision on the editor’s behalf, but I still would have saved it for the opinion page.

Each time they use the word, it chips away at their credibility and objectivity. If it’s true journalism, they don’t need to take a political stance in their headlines.

They faced competing duties: a concerned citizen and an objective journalist. If the writers stayed true to their duty as objective journalists, they wouldn’t have used the word.

The Western Mantra: How Hinduism Influenced The Beatles and American Culture

 

1968-Beatles-yogi-new-610.jpgThe Beatles with their guru, Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi. Photo from the Pop History Dig

What happened between Hard Days Night and Magical Mystery Tour? How could the Beatles’ iconic sound change so drastically? I have listened to each album chronologically and recognize a clear discrepancy just before the band’s unfortunate breakup.  Before I travel to the U.K in a few short weeks and admire Beatles artifacts, I wanted to answer this question. 

From “Twist and Shout” and “Paperback Writer” to “Jai Guru Deva” and “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream,” — the Beatles’ spiritual journey was broadcast across record players nationwide. The Beatles didn’t start the hippie movement, but they shaped it. The youth of the late 1960s, favoring protest and hallucinogens, strongly opposed the older, ardently conservative generation they succeeded. The Beatles were very influential with their “mop top” haircuts and live music performances, but perhaps their most influential trend was sparking an interest in Eastern religions such as Hinduism. There are three aspects of Hinduism the Beatles incorporated into their music, and subsequently into Western culture: Hindu inspired Transcendental Meditation, the Indian sitar, and the Hare Krishna movement.

While Paul McCartney and John Lennon usually took the spotlight on stage, George Harrison certainly took the lead in the band’s quest to explore Transcendental Meditation. It began in 1967, when the Beatles had a spiritual encounter at a lecture where they met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a famous Transcendental Meditation teacher (Kozinn, 2008). Maharishi became the Beatles’ guru. In Hinduism, gurus are similar to spiritual mentors, as they are enlightened and considered as God in human form (Jayaram). Gurus take responsibility for their disciples’ spiritual lives. This could be classified into the social and institutional dimension of Hinduism because it concerns religious specialist roles. Harrison purchased the tickets to this lecture because he was in search of a mantra— a sound or utterance that is considered sacred and has spiritual influence (2017). This is similar to the way a Christian sings hymns and praises to God. Harrison saw this as his key into the “otherworld.” Before 1967, no one knew what a mantra was. The 2008 election season was full of political candidates’ “mantras,” and many people now use the term on a daily basis.

guruspan.jpgThe Beatles backstage after Mahareshi’s Transcendental Meditation lecure. Photo by The New York Times. 

In an effort to reach an even higher level of consciousness, some Western philosophers in the late 1950s experimented with drugs. In The Doors of Perception, English writer Aldous Huxley put drugs in the same category as yoga, both of which he used for spiritual growth (Goldberg, 2013, p. 96). America in 1966 was clouded in smoke and lost in a search for inner peace. The Beatles were open with their drug use. After experimenting with marijuana and LSD, McCartney said the band tried to “find meaning in it all” (Swanson, 2016).

Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician who taught Harrison how to play the sitar, condemned the use of drugs, saying it was better to have clear senses free of pollutants (Goldberg, 2013, p. 150). Harrison was the one who moved the needle on the spiritual compass as the Beatles retreated to India to learn Transcendental Meditation. Harrison said, “The people of India have tremendous spiritual strength, which I don’t think is found elsewhere. The spirit of the people, the beauty, the goodness — that’s what I’ve been trying to learn about” (Bebergal, 2014).  The Beatles replaced LSD with meditation. Westerners were yearning for ways to reach another level of consciousness without drugs, and when they heard the Beatles found it, they never looked back. McCartney told a reporter, “The only reason people take drugs is because they hear so much about experiences that can expand the mind. By meditating, this expansion can be done without drugs and their ill effects” (Bebergal, 2014). This was bold coming from a rock band in 1967, especially one that admitted to using LSD months before.

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Spiritual practices would never be the same for America. The media suddenly began reporting on the sophisticated East as Americans grew more intrigued with buzzwords like “mindfulness,” “enlightened,” or “karma.” Other ideas included vegetarianism, yoga, and Indian clothing. In the U.S., these Indian ideas from the Beatles were quickly adopted among Westerners. Perhaps the youth of the 1960s didn’t see this spiritual goodness exemplified in their homes, and the tumult of the political and cultural climate left them searching for answers. The appeal of Hinduism was that the answers were within oneself. They rejected the nuclear ideals of their government and welcomed peace, one of the most important aspects of Hinduism. The spread of Hinduism in America was the product of many forces; it was a time of mass-communication and more convenient travel, societal turbulence, and nuclear angst (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). The door was open for the Beatles to create a path between the East and the West, and they came back to America with answers for their fans. America, too, was searching for her mantra.

In India, Harrison studied the Indian spiritual practices diligently, captivated by a worldview that encompasses everyone and everything. Harrison said, “Through Hinduism I feel like a better person. I just get happier and happier” (Greene). Harrison was attracted to the transcendence Hinduism seemed to offer, as it was not founded as a religion, but more of a way of life. In fact, Hinduism has no single founder, unlike Christianity or Islam. Hinduism is sometimes referred to as a religious culture rather than a religion. There is no constant set of beliefs, and the name “Hinduism” simply means “the religion of India” (Corduan, 2012, p. 9). With the media hanging on every word of the Fab Four, the youth paid attention to every word, and a wide set of Eastern religious practices was readily adopted.

A large reason for the success of widespread meditation was the science behind it, but the science is also when meditation started getting more criticism. Maharishi had a physics background and a big reason for his disapproval among Hindus was the profit he made from Transcendental Meditation. He opened Maharishi International University in the summer of 1973, and it’s now Maharishi University of Management and acts as an Indian spiritual legacy. Physicians and psychotherapists recommended meditation to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety, and that is when many celebrities took notice (Goldberg, 2013, p. 165).  

download.jpgMahareshi Mahesh International University is still here today, now known as Maharishi University of Management.

Meditation was among one of the most attractive ideals of Eastern culture. Thousands joined Hindu-inspired meditation movements (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). Religious scholar Lola Williamson said the movement represented somewhat of a new religion (Goldberg, 2013, p. 8). This new perspective challenged the way of thinking in America. After Transcendental Meditation received its Beatles endorsement, the media gave it lots of attention and everyone wanted to know more. One of Maharishi’s key messages was that meditators do not have to give up anything or change their way of life. Lennon said, “You can make it with meditation if you’re a Christian, a Mohammedan, or a Jew. You just add meditation to whatever you’ve got” (Greene). These statements aggravated Hindu purists because they thought it watered down the tradition.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi opened meditation centers in Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. He described the practice as “tapping into the inner source of thought, a reservoir of unlimited energy, intelligence, power, peace, and bliss deep within the mind” (Forem, 2012, p. 2). Maharishi’s words were music to young American ears, not just a pop star trend that would soon pass; the idea that peace came from the individual was transcendent. Maharishi took his practice further, saying the power of meditation goes beyond the individual, and when people meditate, a deep inner peace they experience is like a “warm air” surrounding them with harmony and positivity (Forem, 2012, p. 2). Perhaps this message from the unconventional leader gave the young Americans hope that world peace could actually be a reality. Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, simply put, is the idea that individuals who are at peace within themselves create a peaceful world. What was once a small and intimate idea took off when the Beatles took interest, causing tens of thousands to form lines outside Transcendental Meditation centers (Forem 2012, p. 4). The American youth grew fascinated with all things Indian. There was a boom of self-help books, widespread vegetarianism, and adoption of yoga practices.

images.jpgPhoto by TM-Africa

In addition to Transcendental Meditation, the sitar was another Indian spiritual tool that the Beatles westernized. The first time Harrison heard the peculiar sitar he said,

“I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can’t explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn’t know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it. It just called on me” (2017).

The sitar has been incorporated into various yoga practices to reach a state of full self-realization, helping subside thoughts and inspire peace for the present moment. Hindus use yoga as a path for spiritual development. It was the Indian sitar music that originally drew Harrison to take lessons from Ravi Sankar, sometimes referred to as “Master” among Indian musicians (2017). The sound inspired Harrison so much that he emerged himself in the culture, learning about meditation, rituals, and mantras. As the lead guitarist for the Beatles, he had heavy involvement in crafting the band’s sound.

harrison-ravi-620-368700292-3264128.jpgRavi Shankar teaching George Harrison the sitar. Photo by Beatle Me Do.

The sitar in Western culture was unmatched in itself. No musician had ever used it in pop music. It was a very important instrument that shaped Indian spirituality, as music has a prominent role in Indian rituals.

Hearing a sitar pluck was really what began the spiritual journey for the entire country. It was a turning point in Harrison’s spiritual life, and his enthusiasm was enough to get the other three on board. Even though McCartney and Ringo Starr cut their stay in India short, Harrison stayed behind, enamored with the culture and driven to practice meditation and perfect the Indian sitar. Harrison practiced the sitar in his most ideal setting — at the foot of the Himalayas. There, he spent hours reading Indian teachings and practicing the sitar to supplement his meditation practice.

In the midst of the Fab Four’s international vision quest, life in the States was tumultuous. The anti-war protests, women’s equality campaign, rebellious music, and drug use swept the youth of the nation. The defiant teens of the 60s and 70s were looking for something significantly different from their parents. The Beatles’ drug use and rock-and-roll music played a significant role in the culture at the time. Nonconformity was desirable, and they voiced those ideals through music. Lennon said, “The youth of today are really looking for some answers — for proper answers the established church can’t give them, their parents can’t give them, material things can’t give them” (Kozinn, 2008).

FSU_protest_Tallahassee_rc01458.jpgFlorida State University students marching in protest. Photo by UConn Today. 

Harrison wrote many of the songs on the albums that molded hippie culture. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band illuminated a theme of spirituality, and Magical Mystery Tour was almost otherworldly. Both albums were wildly popular; 51 million copies of Sgt. Pepper were sold, topping the charts for 27 weeks (Guy, 2015). On the album, Harrison wrote the lyrics, “When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there.” The lyrics are deeply rooted in Hindu ideals. Hindus believe the path to enlightenment is in one’s own inner being (Goel).

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Harrison’s lyrics emulated this Hindu sense of oneness. Perhaps this idea of unity is what the American youth were looking for. They used protests to bring peace, and took drugs to break down barriers. They appreciated human life and opposed war and conflict. This is a fundamental idea of Hinduism; where there is diversity, there can be unity, and there is unity in all created beings (Goel).

After the initial trip to India, Harrison still was not completely fulfilled. He kept searching for more, and that was how he got involved in what is known as the Hare Krishna movement. Even after the Beatles’ unfortunate breakup, Harrison had a great solo success with his album All Things Must Pass emerging as the country’s top-selling album for seven weeks straight and his single, “My Sweet Lord,” topped the charts for two months. After one of the verses on this number one hit, Harrison chants the words, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama.” This chant was known as the mahamantra, and the “Sweet Lord” in his chorus was Krishna. This special mantra is used to praise Krishna. Americans were chanting the mahamantra all over the country whether they knew its meaning or not.

Mysweetlord1971single.jpgWikipedia

Krishna comes from Vishnu, one of the main Hindu Bhakti deities. Those that follow Vishnu find salvation in his incarnations, called avatars (Corduan, 2012, p. 284). Vishnu descends to reestablish dharma, or righteousness. Krishna, “the lover,” is one of the most well-known avatars. He had a prominent presence in Bengali. Krishna is known to be both wise and given to unrestrained sexual pleasures with milkmaids (Corduan, 2012, p. 287). There is an interesting parallel between Harrison’s chosen deity, Krishna, and his guru, Maharishi. Similar to Krishna, Maharishi was also known for his wisdom and promiscuity with women.

Image result for krishna avatarThe Vishnu avatar, Krishna is George’s chosen deity. Photo from The Indian Mythology.

The Krishna following led to the creation of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, most often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement. ISKCON is a Hindu-based religious movement spearheaded by Bhaktiveedanta Swami and dedicated to worshipping Krishna (2017). The movement was founded by Caitanya, who taught salvation was found in total submission to Krishna. Most Vishnu devotees saw Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu, but ISKCON followers believed Krishna was the supreme deity, calling him the “full” descent of the deity, and the lord of peace, grace, and mercy (Narayanan, 2003, p.137). Harrison likely chose to chant “Hare Krishna” because chanting the mantra is one of ISKCON’s five essential teachings. Followers believed salvation came by chanting the mantra a thousand times a day, accompanied by daily singing and dancing (Corduan, 2012, p. 287).

ISKCON received much attention because of Harrison’s interest and immense financial support.  He was very dedicated and convicted in the Krishna movement. Despite being reluctant to commit to a religious message so boldly, he felt compelled to sing its praises. “I was sticking my neck out on the chopping block because now I would have to live up to something,” Harrison explained in I, Me, Mine, “but at the same time I thought ‘Nobody’s saying it; I wish somebody else was doing it.'” (Harrison, Harrison, & Taylor, 2017, p. 176). Perhaps he believed in salvation and wanted to use his music to bring people to salvation, which many Hindus teach is available through permanent Krishna-consciousness. In an interview with the Associated Press in response to manager Brian Epstein’s death, Harrison said, “There’s no real such thing as death anyway. I mean, it’s death on a physical level, but life goes on everywhere, and you just keep going really” (Bebergal, 2014). Harrison was referring to reincarnation, the Hindu concept of the afterlife. According to Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Hindus conquered fear of death in their belief that they would remain in the world and be united with those they love again (2004, p. 153).

Harrison helped spread the chant around the world like wildfire. The phrase made its way into restaurants, bars, movies, and even other rock stars’ lyrics. It was not uncommon to see young men and women in America dressed in traditional Indian religious clothes and chanting mantras and divine names (Bryant , 2004, p. 14).

Apple Records released the single, “Hare Krishna Movement” in 1969, along with “Govinda” and other Sanskrit mantras. Harrison helped Krishna musicians record and tour all over Europe. Harrison praised Krishna in many of his later songs and even incorporated the mahamantra in other Beatles tunes, such as “I am the Walrus.” His 1973 “Living in the Material World” has a line referencing “Lord Sri Krishna’s grace.”

Driven by his pursuit of spirituality, Harrison never stopped sifting through the noise, searching for transcendent answers in a materialistic world.  Unlike many of his time, he swore off using the hallucinogen LSD, saying, “Meditation and chanting became alternate paths toward consciousness shifting and getting in greater touch with the soul” (2017). Part of staying true in obedience to Krishna is abstaining from meat, caffeine, sweets, and sexual activity for pleasure. At the peak of ISKCON popularity, it was not uncommon to see followers dressed in robes with their heads shaved. These strict adherents, however, dwindled away and became more liberal in their practice. Michael Gressett, an American scholar specializing in Hare Krishna, called this the cult-to-church movement. This happens when a cult transitions to a church, where a cult is a religious movement with tension in its environment, and a church is considered a form of a cult that accommodates to society (Goldberg, 2013, p. 181). The exotic ISKCON established thousands of followers and temples worldwide.

The founder’s death marked the beginning of the decline of the radical Krishna movement, and three years later the leaders were accused of child molestation and kidnapping. The faith quickly became more of a private expression and less temple-centered. Goldberg said, “The guy with the shaved head who tried to sell you a book in the airport might now be your insurance agent” (Goldberg, 2013, p. 181). Upon making the slow transition to the mainstream, Hare Krishnas likely generated more interest in vegetarianism and reincarnation than any other spiritual group.

The Beatles had fame, fortune, talent, family, and friends, yet they felt incomplete and went searching for peace of mind and happiness. They first looked for it in drugs and then sought more answers with meditation. Unfortunately, the meditation practices didn’t resolve the band’s tension, and they broke up shortly after returning from India. Hindu inspired Transcendental Meditation, the Indian sitar, and the Hare Krishna movement played a vital role in shaping Western culture. Yoga, meditation, self-help books, Eastern music, and vegetarianism are all products of the integration of Indian spiritual practices that live on today.

The Beatles Bible. (2017). Retrieved February 05, 2017, from https://www.beatlesbible.com/features/india/

Bebergal, P. (2014). Season of the witch: How the occult saved rock and roll. New York: Jeremy Tarcher.

Bryant, E. F., & Ekstrand, M. (2004). The Hare Krishna movement: The postcharismatic fate of a religious transplant. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chaudhuri, N. C. (2004). Hinduism: a religion to live by. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press.

Corduan, W. (2012). Neighboring faiths: a Christian introduction to world religions. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Forem, J. (2012). Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Revised and Updated for the 21st Century. Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc.

Goel, M. L. (n.d.). Oneness in Hinduism [Scholarly project]. In Abbreviated Vita.

Goldberg, P. (2013). American Veda: from Emerson and the Beatles to yoga and meditation—how Indian spirituality changed the West. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Greene, J. (n.d.). Harrison Harrison’s Spiritual Life. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=1472

Guy, P. (2015, June 01). 8 awesome facts on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s released 48 years ago today. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/18-awesome-facts-beatles-sgt-9366916

Hare Krishna. (2017). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://www.religionfacts.com/hare-krishna

Harrison, G., Harrison, O., & Taylor, D. (2017). I, me, mine. Guildford, England: GenesisPublications.

Jayaram, V. (n.d.). The Tradition Of Gurus and Gurukulas in Hinduism. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://www.hinduwebsite.com/gurus.asp

Kozinn, A. (2008, February 7). The New York Times.Mantra. (2017, March 14). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantra

Narayanan, V. (2003). Hinduism. In M. D. Coogan (Ed.), The Illustrated Guide to World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ravi Shankar. (2017, March 13). Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravi_Shankar

Swanson, D. (2016, February 15). The History of the Beatles and the Maharishi. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://ultimateclassicrock.com/the-beatles-india-maharishi/

 

Thunder Cares

BeaRodgers8.jpgIn December 2016, I was fortunate enough to begin working for the Thunder in the Community Relations Department. Photo: (Left to right) Me, Debbie Williams, Bea Rodgers.

“I am the biggest Thunder fan!” I have heard this expression hundreds of times. The words lose their meaning because we hear them so often at the office, at the games, or on a phone call. There are many that claim to be the biggest fan, but Bea Rodgers truly is the number one Thunder fan.

Bea lives in an assisted living center in Oklahoma City, one of the many places the Thunder players stopped during the Acts of Kindness outreach program this past December.

Wearing her crocheted royal blue and sunset hat and a hand-knitted blue sweater, Bea approached Enes Kanter and told him how to shoot a free throw. “You need more arch,” Bea told him. Enes and Bea got along great that day, and the photographer was able to capture a phenomenal shot of the two hugging and smiling. Enes, with his soft spot for community outreach, wanted Bea to have the photo to remember that day.

BeaRodgers10.jpgBea Rodgers opening the autographed photo with Kanter. 

I’ve become good at managing time, meeting deadlines, and finishing tasks efficiently over the past four years thanks to classes, workshops, internships, and leadership positions. This internship was unique because I learned how to do things with purpose. It’s easy to let your purpose slip to the back of your mind or let tasks become another item to check off a to-do list, but in community relations, you demonstrate and experience the purpose every day.

The leadership in the community relations department exemplifies the mission of the Thunder every day. Everything the department does is to make someone else feel important and build them up. My supervisor, Debbie Williams, showed me that work isn’t always about checking off daily tasks. Sometimes you need to give up your valuable time to stop and make someone else’s day.

Enes signed the photo of him and Bea hugging and drew a heart with her name in it. Debbie framed the photo and wrapped it, and I added some Thunder fan gear. We could have just mailed the photo, but instead, we delivered it personally. We went to the front desk and spoke to the manager to find Bea’s room and learned that it was her 91st birthday. We couldn’t believe how perfect the timing was.

Next to her door hung two signs. One read “Most Handsome NBA Team,” and the other said “MVP Russell Westbrook, Mr. Thunder.” The way she lit up when she opened her door was incredible. She didn’t even know why we were there, but she was happy to see us.

18336739_10210664851231606_433871477_n.jpgBea’s handmade signs showing her Thunder spirit. 

Bea invited us in to show off her hand-stitched Thunder gear and proceeded to tell us details about every past and present player. She proudly pulled out more of her work, including a Thunder-colored hat, quilt, and jacket, newspaper clippings for every past and present player, a Thunder calendar, and crocheted roster books with every player for each season. When she opened her gift, she kissed the photo and proudly turned it around for everyone to see. I couldn’t believe how much joy this basketball team gave her, and I wondered how many others experienced it as well. This is a day I, and definitely Bea, will never forget.

I watched Debbie give up so much of her time to serve others and make the department better. We stayed and talked to Bea so long that we didn’t have time to go out to lunch like we planned. Every day when I would walk into the office, I’d see a half-eaten yogurt sitting on her desk. “I just didn’t have time to finish that this morning,” she would always say, yet she had time to stop and ask someone about their family or a recent vacation.

Thunder is much more than a basketball team. There are people who don’t know anything about basketball that are huge Thunder fans. Debbie worked with Sam Presti on a leadership program for high school students. One day, she got an invitation from one of the students to attend his ROTC ceremony. Debbie and I showed up and he was grinning from ear to ear the entire time. We spoke to him after, and he told us he texted Sam, but he had something going on that night. He wasn’t a big basketball fan and probably didn’t realize Sam was busy trying to re-sign the potential MVP of the league. What other NBA general manager would give out his cell phone number to keep in touch with students in the youth leadership program?

I grew more impressed with the organization every day. Most of the time I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do the things I was assigned. There were many education programs I had the privilege of helping with. Each program is successful and impactful. I helped prep for many Thunder Fit Clinics, an interactive exercise and nutrition program that allows students to interact with the players. I also helped with other player and student programs such as the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, Reading Timeouts, and court dedications.

Community relations is a selfless job. It requires giving up weekends and evenings, stepping out of your comfort zone at times, putting others’ needs before your own, and radiating genuine positivity on and off the clock. The Thunder’s high standards, caring employees, and respectable players are the reason so many people are competing for the title of #1 Thunder Fan.

 

 

“Let’s Move” To A Big Fat Problem: What Michelle Obama Missed

 

michelle-obama-lets-movejpg-b3d4cb99280622b2.jpgLet’s Move was started in 2010 as an initiative to decrease childhood obesity. 

Exercise does not make you healthy. A child who eats a McDonald’s Happy Meal would have to run five to six miles to burn off the calorie intake. Some children might be able to move that much, but others won’t. Let’s face it; you can’t outrun a bad diet. According to Time Magazine, one in three American children eat fast food every day.

The former First Lady did an outstanding job getting kids and parents to think about their health. In fact, according to the Let’s Move Campaign, her efforts helped provide 2.5 million students salad bars in their school cafeteria. However, I respectfully disagree with confusing the rampant obesity problem as a physical inactivity problem.

While our kids should play outside more and eat less fast food, there is another sneaky elephant in the room: the poor quality of our processed, refined, sugary foods. As someone who has studied advertising and marketing, I have to wonder if the ones behind it even consider the impact of the messages their work communicates or if they are solely driven by the almighty dollar.

Deceptive health jargon grabs busy parents’ attention as a cheap, easy alternative to trying to get kids to eat vegetables. From our youth, we are told to drink Gatorade to “replenish the electrolytes we lose in sweat.” What the advertisers don’t tell you is that their 30-minute soccer game isn’t enough to burn off that Gatorade. A banana, apple, or handful of almonds will replenish those electrolytes just the same, without 35 grams of sugar.

Sucrose, fructose, glucose, turbinado — it’s all sugar. What about the natural sugar or cane sugar? It’s still bad and it’s all oncogenic. There are 61 different names for sugar, and 74% of packaged foods have added sugar

Next time you go to the grocery store, observe the packages and the loud shouts of “health” they tout. Pop-tarts claim they use real fruit, yet one of the first ingredients you will see is sugar. The food industry uses packages as tiny billboards, each one trying to sell their own snake oil. Kellog’s Mini Wheats advertise the excellent source of fiber, but they bury the lead: cornstarch and sugar. They are interested in selling more food. I hope they are also interested in health, but from the list of ingredients, it certainly doesn’t look like they are.

Is it a crime to add your child’s favorite cartoon character and a toy to sell this hyper-palatable processed food? It’s hard for me to say because I don’t have children. I would encourage everyone to check the infant formula aisle and read the ingredients. Spoiler alert: in almost all of them, the first ingredient is corn syrup or another form of sucrose.

I know, advertising is protected by the First Amendment. But so is flag burning.

I am against infringing on someone’s first amendment right, but I want the food industry to stop saying “50% less fat” when what they really mean is “50% more sugar.”

Mrs. Obama has to be politically sensitive, but we don’t. We can do more to make it easier for young people to make better choices. We can also speak with our wallets and shop the perimeter of the store for the vegetables that don’t need to advertise their health benefits.

Reportorial Privilege And The Case That Swept 500 Years of Libel Law

“You no longer shape public opinion, you have supplanted it.” -Kurt Luedtke on the press

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Is it too easy for the media to publish inaccurate “news?” Kurt Luedtke has a lot to say about journalists. Why does he have merit to speak about them? He used to be one. 

He thinks the media has grown so powerful and undisciplined, presumably due to New York Times v. Sullivan. The press has the ability to keep good men and women out of office for fear of what they might write or make up, perhaps to take advantage of the credulity of its audiences.

On your discretionary judgments hang reputations and careers, jail sentences and stock prices, Broadway shows, and water rates. You are the mechanism of reward and punishment, the arbiter of right and wrong, the roving eye of daily judgment.” -Luedtke

Freedom of the press has been abused to craft their agenda. Presumably, the media should be held under strict scrutiny as a matter of fairness.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, the media gained breathing space, initiating that libel is no longer a tort of strict liability. After Sullivan, the plaintiff must prove actual malice, which takes two forms: knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.

In the case, the New York Times ran an ad accusing city employees in the south of alleged police misconduct. The ad never mentioned Sullivan by name or as a city commissioner, yet he claimed it defamed him. The ad did contain factual errors, so the New York Times could not use truth as a defense. SCOTUS had doubts that the ad referred to Sullivan, and there was no proof that he had been harmed.

The Warren court said there are constitutional limits to what states may do in awarding libel judgments. The question at SCOTUS was if Alabama’s libel law infringed on the First Amendment by dismissing the factual errors and not requiring Sullivan to prove that the ad personally harmed him.   

Sullivan was able to convince the jury that the criticism of the local police injured his reputation because many knew that one of his responsibilities as city commissioner was to oversee police, but the court said to allow such a judgment would sanction a new form of government censorship. The media needed some breathing space in handling controversial issues. Public officials voluntarily move into the public eye when they take office, and they are subject to more scrutiny.

I have gone back and forth with my opinion on this. It seems holding the media to a standard of strict scrutiny would make for an accurately informed society, yet denying journalists’ strict scrutiny perhaps leads to a timid pressI like what Luedtke said,

“The burden on the press is not at all excessive; the chilling effect, which the threat of libel action posed, chilled exactly what it was supposed to.”

Entitlement emerges when you esteem one profession over another. Journalists perhaps feel they have New York Times v. Sullivan to fall back on when they aren’t particularly accurate. They will always have that defense in the back of their mind. I  think the decision did a lot of damage to the press.

While good journalists strive to get it right, there will always be the journalist that abuses his or her Sullivan gift. I think Luedtke makes a very bold and valid point when he says this thinking has lead to arrogance.

If Sullivan were reversed, perhaps we would have a lot more honesty and accuracy. The media would be different, and it would do what it was meant to do: Hold our leaders and other journalists accountable for their actions. We might even have a lot less journalists, but is that a bad thing? It’s quality versus quantity, and I want quality.

Accuracy and an all-knowing public trumps a journalist’s fear of a libel suit. Having an inaccurate, biased media is detrimental to our country.

Luedtke said it better than I ever could. Read it for yourself. 

 

Not All Journalists Are Joseph Pulitzer, Not All PR Pros Are P.T. Barnum

In Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies About the Public Relations Industry, there are many dark caves of the public relations industry that are brought into the light (Stauber & Rampton, 1995). They reveal deceptive tactics including phony “astroturf” front groups, research manipulation, outrageous spinning, and outright lies from huge firms such as Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, and even Ketchum. The authors criticize nearly every tactic PR practitioners use, but I don’t think PR should wear a bad name because of a few rotten apples. While there are many valid points that don’t leave room for opposition, there are four ideas from Toxic Sludge that I would challenge.

First, I disagree with the use of a video news release (VNR) as unethical. A VNR is simply a news release converted into digital format. In Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Doorley and Garcia (2015) explain that members of the Radio-Television News Directors Association are directed to subject VNRs to the same news standards as when they do their own work. They consider conflicts of interest and decide if the interviews provided follow the same standards they would use in the newsroom. As long as the source of material is true and identified by the communicator, a VNR is an ethical means of communication. Concerns may arise on the issue when networks refuse to release the source.

Second, I believe Dean Rotbart’s NewsBios industry, which compiles bios about reporters for PR professionals to use, is a helpful, strategic tactic. In the article “Just the Facts? This Dossier Goes Farther” (Singer, 2014), we see that Rotbart compiles the information from public sources such as voter records and social media accounts. This may not be the most transparent way to “make a new friend,” but it isn’t uncommon for people in this digital age to check out someone’s Instagram and find common factors for conversation. If I were a reporter, I would appreciate people going the extra mile to tailor a pitch to my beat.

I also disagree with Stauber and Rampton (1995) claiming crisis training is deceptive. I think every organization would benefit from crisis training, which is not intended to hide anything from the public. In fact, a main part of crisis communication is to help determine a viable pathway to reach stakeholders during a crisis. It is designed to increase knowledge, and it encourages team members to brainstorm potential crises that might even thwart a situation before it gets out of control. Stauber and Rampton (1995) criticize the “staged” practices and rehearsals. When a spokesperson is placed in front of the camera, there are many things they can do to appear nervous or guilty. Their camera shyness might appear as if they are hiding something, when in reality they have never been in front of a camera. Mid-crisis is not the time to learn how to speak to a crowd. Crisis training can help prepare a spokesperson for the real thing; it assures they are able to convey the messages they need to, knowing that they have a few practice runs under their belt.

Lastly, I disagree with the idea that journalists are all like Joseph Pulitzer and PR pros are all P.T. Barnum. Stauber and Rampton (1995) call journalists the “watchdogs” – something I hope to be true. Journalism is an honorable profession, but it has its downfalls. Journalists, objective as they may be, carry agendas and pick how they frame their stories, because it is human nature. When PR pros pitch a story, it is subject to peer review, edits, deep investigation, and new interviews. A press release shouldn’t be a free story, but rather a free tip. Journalists should exert the same amount of work into publishing releases as they do in creating their own content. They are watchdogs, and PR pros are storytellers and advocates. When each job is done truthfully, it is beneficial to a democratic society.

Doorley, J., & Garcia, H. F. (2011). Reputation management: The key to successful public relations and corporate communication. New York: Routledge.

Singer, N. (2014). Just the Facts? This Dossier Goes Further. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/technology/just-the-facts-this-dossier-goes-further.html?_r=0.

Stauber, J. C., & Rampton, S. (1995). Toxic sludge is good for you: Lies, damn lies, and the public relations industry. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.

Death of Print Newspaper is the Death of In-Depth Coverage

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Obama taking a selfie, Heidi Klum’s Halloween costume, and the many, many emotions of Justin Bieber – all of these headlines fill my SnapChat Discover page. This is where teens are getting almost all of their news, according to Business Insider.

The death of the newspaper is the death of in-depth coverage – a true loss for our profession and for our generation. Millennials (or at least the ones I know) often take to their friends’ opinions without diving into their own. Overworked and overloaded, our generation has no choice but to consume concise news, but what are we missing?

SnapChat is best served as a supplementary means of consuming news, rather than a replacement. I’ll never quit my habit of reading the newspaper. It forces one to slow down. One study said millennials spend about three hours a day on their phones. Challenge yourself to replace mindless social media scrolling with a 50-cent copy of the local paper.