NWA Times doing its homework – sort of

Only nine (9) days after Max Brantley on August 18 published a court transcript embarrassing former drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, the Northwest Arkansas Times has published the transcript and followed up with an article of its own and then a critical column by local columnist Brenda Blagg. Here is Brantley’s response.

What NWA Times doesn’t mention at all, however, is that they recently uncritically supported Gunn in an editorial in which they claimed that no harm was ever done by broadcasting drug court proceedings on television. The transcript showing that Gunn at least in one case tried to coerce a defendant into agreeing to be on television against her will embarrassed these editors as much as Gunn – and one hopes they’ll be more careful in future to do their journalistic homework before going public embracing this or that local celebrity.

UPDATE: NWA Times on August 31 followed up with a strong editorial rebuke of Judge Gunn, concluding: “Gunn’s actions were an abuse of both power and public trust.”. (Brantley’s response)

UPDATE 2: John Brummett interviews Gunn.

Brummett to Pryor’s defense

Arkansas Media Watch has attracted some attention for pointing out, and refuting, false claims by both Arkansas Senators about half the population allegedly not paying taxes. At least Senator Pryor has been forced to backtrack, claiming through his aide Michael Teague to have been misquoted. The somewhat clumsy attempt at damage control was executed by Democratic-leaning columnist John Brummett in the Northwest Arkansas Times. As a result, there are now two versions of Pryor’s remarks both reported in the same newspaper. If Pryor was indeed misquoted, NWA Times, which claims to abide by a factual accuracy policy, needs to publish a correction. If not, it needs to publish a correction.

UPDATE: NWA Times editors now deny that the newspaper said what it said.

We’ll have more to say on this issue. For the moment, let’s take a breath and note that blogs can indeed have an impact. The local media are paying attention and are sometimes – too rarely – forced to correct themselves or report some under-reported issue. Politicians are sometimes forced to react. This blog’s posts about Pryor‘s and Boozman‘s wrong and insulting remarks have been noted and expanded on by Arkansas Blog, Blue Arkansas, Fayetteville Free Thinkers, and even quoted (if selectively) by an avowed right-wing blog. And when you google “Senator Boozman” or “Senator Pryor”, Arkansas Media Watch ranks third in both cases. Fortunately, our Senators can still count on the corporate media to cover their behinds.

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Pat Lynch lynched by Paul Greenberg

The Arkansas “Democrat”-Gazette has moved a big step closer to ideological homogeneity, or, in journalistic jargon, toward a “fair and balanced” lineup of columnists: long-time columnist and often-time progressive voice Pat Lynch has been fired from the opinion page. Reports Max Brantley at ArkansasBlog:

Lynch confirms end of his column He says editorial page editor Paul Greenberg said the reason was economic. “I am not angry with Paul or anybody else,” Lynch wrote.

It’s easy to believe that cutting off one of two liberal voices from the state’s de-facto monopoly newspaper’s opinion page (the remaining one being Gene Lyons) while keeping about a gazillion right-wingers ranging in opinion from conservative Republican to Tea-Party extremism is a purely economic decision.

Worth pointing out that back in April, another column was cancelled after columnist Cathy Frye had criticized education budget cuts (“Everyone pays when states cut school aid”), a position that ADG publisher Walter Hussman is known not to be fond of.

Btw I should apologize for the bad pun in the title – sometimes it’s hard to resist.

Senator Pryor insults half his constituents

Northwest Arkansas Times today reports on remarks made by Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor at a Rogers Rotary Club luncheon (article cutout below the fold):

Pryor said various tax breaks have created a system in which 45 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying,” he said.

This is a whopper. After Pryor’s colleague Boozman wrongly declared half Americans don’t pay federal taxes, the nominally Democratic Senator found a way to frame himself as even more politically extreme by claiming that half Americans don’t pay any taxes, which is of course completely false and an insult to a significant portion of Pryor’s voters and constituents. With political leaders like Boozman and Pryor, who either don’t have the slightest clue about how the tax system works (which consists of income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, etc. etc.) or are deliberately lying, prospects for any economic recovery in the United States are all but non-existent and a double-dip recession, if not depression, is looming on the horizon. One has to conclude that the leaders Americans have elected to help solve their problems live in a fantasy world completely disconnected from the reality ordinary (and tax-paying) people experience day by day.

The NWA Times reporter, Larry Henry, has nothing to say to correct Pryor’s wildly inaccurate statements. Unfortunately we don’t have a mass media in this country any more that has the integrity and courage to challenge politicians on their lies, hold them accountable, and act as a corrective and a check on their power. This is maybe the really scary part of it because in a functioning democracy with a media system that does its job, Washington insiders like Boozman and Pryor would be in trouble.

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Northwest Arkansas media rush to defense of celebrity judge Gunn

Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley had a revealing post about the entirely uncritical attitude of the local Northwest Arkansas Times towards former Washington County drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, who resigned from her position to pursue a career as a television show host. Gunn’s drug court proceedings were filmed and televised on local Jones TV until a court ethics panel and then the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against that practice. Gunn soon resigned and now works on a court “reality” TV show. Legal issues have arisen whether Jones TV may commercially use some of the recordings from the real drug court proceedings. NWA Times wholeheartedly jumped to Gunn’s and Jones TV’s defense in an August 18 editorial, claiming that
(1) all defendants had freely consented to being filmed, and
(2) that the records “belong to the cable television company that did the recording”, and banning their use would be a “taking of private property”.

Brantley quotes extensively from court transcripts that seem to show that Gunn didn’t always honor the wish of defendants who refused consent. In fact, Gunn comes across as quite a bully and it seems highly dubious whether any of the defendants truly had the choice to consent or not. This is precisely the problem that motivated the Supreme Court to rule against televising court proceedings. Moreover, the NWA Times’ stance that the court recordings are commercial property is ludicrous on its face. Even if defendants agreed to being televised in the drug court context, they clearly didn’t agree to their appearance being commercially exploited for a reality TV show years later.

The picture that emerges is that of a local media outlet aggressively pandering to a local celebrity and commercial enterprise, disdainful of the rights of vulnerable individuals, giving the powerful the benefit of the doubt instead of doing journalistic research and asking the hard questions.

UPDATE: NWA Times rebukes Gunn

More on Judge Gunn
More media reporting from Arkansas Times

Senator Boozman insults half his constituents

Arkansas Senator John Boozman appeared yesterday on KUAF’s Ozarks At Large show discussing taxes and the budget with Talk Business producer Roby Brock (the Boozman segment starts around 7:45). At one point he declares that he would reject any tax increase on the rich even if every dollar in new taxes were “offset” by 10 dollars in spending cuts. Nothing surprising there. Boozman also claims that the tax burden on US businesses is “second only to Japan” in the world (not true but Boozman does mention the issue of tax loopholes), that “the majority” (50-60%) of those filing in the highest federal tax bracket are small business owners (false), and that US federal spending “historically” has been around 19% of GDP (Reagan spent between 21.2% and 23.5%).

By far the most brazen distortion out of the Senator’s mouth comes in response to a question about taxing billionaires, at 10:15 in the podcast:

“51 percent of the public don’t pay any federal taxes right now.”

This of course is not true. Boozman meant to say that half the public don’t pay federal income taxes. This would still be highly misleading. The federal income tax is by design a progressive tax which mostly falls on earners of mid and high incomes, based on the principle that everybody should contribute according to their means. But all working people in America pay significant amounts in federal payroll taxes (which fund Social Security and Medicare), federal gas taxes (which fund interstate highway construction and maintenance), and others including state and local sales and income taxes. Most of these taxes disproportionately burden low income workers. For example, incomes above about $106,800 are exempt from payroll taxes! As a result, as documented in an earlier post, the US tax system taken as a whole is not progressive at all: the rich pay about the same overall tax rate as the poor.

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