05 January 2020

[Ryan Ralston] - Clumsy Dinosaurs: US v. THEM (Minus Loyalty) Pt. III

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” – Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court


Brandeis, an attorney of the people, declared, "I would rather have clients than be somebody's lawyer.” While speaking to a group of Harvard Law students he said, “Instead of holding a position of independence, between the wealthy and the people, prepared to curb the excesses of either, able lawyers have, to a large extent, allowed themselves to become adjuncts of great corporations and have neglected the obligation to use their powers for the protection of the people. We hear much of the ‘corporation lawyer,’ and far too little of the ‘people's lawyer.’ The great opportunity of the American Bar is and will be to stand again as it did in the past, ready to protect also the interests of the people.” Brandeis battled against public corruption, always mindful that those who can, should speak out against social injustice, “We want a government that will represent the laboring man, the professional man, the businessman, and the man of leisure. We want a good government, not because it is good business but because it is dishonorable to submit to a bad government.” Later, his opinions were deemed some of the greatest defenses of freedom of speech ever written by the Supreme Court. Fellow Associate Justice William O. Douglas wrote, "Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible.” The philosophy Brandeis maintained on anti-corruption was simple, "The public servant cannot be worthy of the respect and admiration of the people unless they add to the virtue of obedience some other virtues.” A “Robin Hood of the law,” Brandeis passed away in 1941. 
76 years later, data collected from a study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation shows identified bias (prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another) in news coverage as a leading concern for Americans. The study found that most Americans detect political bias in news coverage (45% said "a great deal" and 38% "a fair amount").
The latest Gallup/Knight polling builds on these findings by adding that of great concern for Americans is the trend of ownership consolidation of local news outlets and the potential for political bias seeping into coverage.
Perceived (identified) bias in the news decreases trust, which erodes reader confidence that local news outlets are responsible institutions for reporting fact-based, impartial stories. 
Journalistic impartiality is a value worth defending. The fundamental backbone lies within the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees a free press. Regrettably, today’s press perverts the truth by way of their controlled ownership of the medium. 
Too often, journalists (not commentators, columnists, or opinion writers) confuse centrism with objectivity. But centrism is nothing more than a point of view, and that bias can be wrong, just as liberal or conservative bias can be. 
24 hours a day, liberal and conservative bias in the media is on display within news organizations like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and NY Times. 
Like their contemporaries, Centrists are historically incorrect on a litany of issues ranging from the involvement of our nation in never-ending wars, to knee-jerk reactionary cries for gun control measures following a mass shooting. Through its desire to placate, one of the primary concerns with centrism is it removes thought-provoking dialogue from those with opposing points of view. Centrists believe their unassailable mindset is above reproach and their moderate ideology produces stability against political left and right extremes. Based on their beliefs the racist or bigot on the far right is the moral equivalent to the radical socialist on the far left. A prime example of a centrist attitude from a (non-politician) is Comedy Central talk show host and best-selling author Trevor Noah. He warned anti-Trump protestors to not, “Become the hate that you’re protesting against.” Centrism is a misleading concept. Centrists are not realists, rather, insecure ideologues who furtively worship liberals and big government, while openly appeasing conservatives by maintaining a warmonger stance on US foreign policy. These claims of balance do nothing but guarantee greater national debt and defend incompetence. Another example of a centrist attitude from a (politician) is former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. She accepted no responsibility for her loss to Brian Kemp, choosing instead to place blame on yet to be proven allegations of voter suppression and purported misogyny. 
So, why does a centrist bias exist in journalism today? 
Like most issues, it starts at the local level. Journalists are now required to perpetrate political agenda (in order to generate readership), declaring themselves to be impartial, in the interest of fairness. They spend a reasonable amount of time trying to convince a reader just how unbiased they are. The same biases that afflict society – racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, and anti-Semitism - impact the journalist the same as any other American. The distinction between the two is that a journalist, by trade and definition, is expected to stay impartial. 
Yet, minority voices are frequently underrepresented. Especially at many local newspapers.
Reporters (journalists) are taught to be professional and keep their personal political views from affecting coverage. Some achieve success, most fail. Blame does not lie exclusively with the individual reporter. Editors and publishers are equally culpable. 
But what happens when the owner of a local newspaper is biased? 
They intone and push an agenda. Issue-based coverage is absent and intelligent conversation is stifled. This failure to remain impartial results in the reader missing the real story, while being subjected to propaganda. 70% of the average American’s political view depends on the media they read. This fact is not lost to a newspaper owner, especially ones who under employ minority voices. The intended consequence, their audience is exposed to self-selected stories that contain implicit bias. 
Implicit bias exists when one unconsciously holds an attitude towards others or associate negative stereotypes with them. This bias is a form of social cognition (engineering) and directly impacts how society interacts with one another.  Expanding societal division. 
Further discussion of local newspapers must include the decline of print journalism in America. In June of 1990, there were over 500,000 employed in the newspaper industry; by March of 2016, there were only 183,000 — a decline of nearly 60%. Many of those jobs followed the advancement of technology and moved to the internet, with the greatest impact being felt in smaller markets. Local newspaper reporters once covered local politics, law enforcement, and criminal courts. They not only kept citizens informed, but also performed the role of local government watchdog. Now they do little actual reporting or investigative work, oftentimes forced to regurgitate hand-me-down stories from the Associated Press or print police blotter and run funeral announcements.
Brandeis, speaking about the press, “The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency. Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry, as well as effrontery.” He emerged as a leader with a true social conscience and used his position to bring about change. Brandeis fought a six-year battle against J.P. Morgan, prohibiting the monopolizing of railroads in New England, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.” 
Americans still view such monopolies as a shared concern with respect to ownership consolidation of local news outlets. They recognize that whoever controls the medium used to deliver information to the masses, can contort and slant it with impunity. 
One such example is businessman Patrick Graham. The owner of multiple local newspapers throughout Alabama and Georgia. Graham owns the Covington News and the Walton Tribune. 
Graham, speaking about the Covington News, was quoted, “Simply put, I want to put out the very best newspaper of its size in the state of Georgia. We have a community that deserves that kind of quality coverage, and we have the kind of staff that can deliver that kind of quality coverage.”
December 11th, 2019, Graham’s daughter, and 2016 college graduate, Madison Graham Allen, was announced as the new publisher for the Covington News. Her background is in sales and advertising. Prior to Allen, the job belonged to Jackie Gutknecht. 
“Madison did a tremendous job during her time in sales at The Walton Tribune,” Graham said. “That skill set — combined with her experience in and around the newspaper business for many years — makes her the perfect candidate to lead The Covington News as its publisher.”
So, what happens when the owner of a local newspaper is biased?
According to the Covington News website: “The Covington News is a community-based newspaper that serves the citizens of Newton, County, Georgia, as it has since its inception in 1865. As the legal organ of the county, The News is the source of local information for Newton Residents.” 
Its website lists 16 employees, to include Graham (w/m), Allen (w/f), and 4 columnists (all white). 87% of all employees are white, 13% black, 37% are white males, 50% white females, 6% are black males, and 6% black females.



September 14th, 2019, one day after Layla Zon {R}, District Attorney for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, announced she would not seek re-election, her Chief ADA Randy McGinley announced his candidacy {R} to fill the position. Three days later, the Walton Tribune ran a straightforward story about McGinley’s campaign. Interestingly, one of the first comments posted about the Walton Tribune story was from Rey Martinez, the Mayor of Loganville. Martinez wrote, “Mr. McGinley. I have not met you but have heard and read great things about you. I’m glad you’re following in the footsteps of DA Zon and keeping our communities safe. I plan to support and vote for you. I wish you luck in you’re (SP) campaign and know that you will represent Walton and Newton Counties with dignity, passion, & experience. Look forward to meeting you soon. Loganville Mayor.” 
September 29th, 2019, Senior ADA for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, Destiny Bryant, announced her candidacy {D} for DA. Five days later, the Covington News ran a basic story about Bryant’s campaign.


For side by side reader comparison, taken directly from each candidate’s campaign website: 


McGinley, www.randyforalcovyda.com: 
“As a career prosecutor, I am seeking to be your next District Attorney for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, where I currently serve as the Chief Assistant District Attorney. In this position I manage the day to day operations of both the Newton and Walton County offices with approximately 60 total employees and almost 25 attorneys. Additionally, I prosecute the most complex and serious cases in both counties. This includes murders, rapes, child molestations, and complex racketeering cases involving white collar crimes and drug distribution rings. 
I grew up living on different Marine Bases across the country. My family settled in Albany, GA where my father retired after 27 years of serving this country. After high school, I attended Georgia Tech where I graduated with a degree in business management with certificates in finance and marketing. Prior to law school, I owned and ran my own real estate appraisal business. In 2008, I began law school at Mercer Law School. While in law school, my internships included working for the State Court of Henry County and the District Attorney's Offices of Cobb and Jones Counties. Two weeks after graduating in the top 20% of my law school class, I began my career as a prosecutor in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office working in the Newton County office. During the summer of 2011, I worked 3 days a week and studied for the bar exam 4 days a week. Upon passing the bar exam, I began working full-time as a prosecutor assigned to handle all cases assigned to Judge Samuel D. Ozburn. After a few months in that courtroom, I began to handle the cases assigned to Judge W. Ken Wynne. After a few years in Newton County, I moved to the Walton County office where I handled a full case load as well as crimes against women and children and the other serious violent felonies, including murder cases. Except for about 7 months at the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office, my entire legal career has been spent serving the citizens of Newton and Walton Counties. 
In addition to my busy professional life, I enjoy spending time with my amazing family. My wife is an on-air personality and music director for a top radio station in Atlanta. We are blessed to have two beautiful daughters, the oldest being 3 years old and a youngest being only 3 months old.
It is likely that everyone will have a close friend or family member become involved in the criminal justice system either as a victim or as someone charged with a crime. Our community deserves a prosecutor who is not just experienced, dedicated to justice, and has trained excellent prosecutors, but also a District Attorney that will ensure that the office is fair and just.
With that in mind, below are some goals I will achieve while serving as your next District Attorney:
Continue partnering with law enforcement to aggressively prosecute those who commit violent crimes and crimes against the most vulnerable in our community, including children.
Effectively, fairly, and justly prosecute cases to maximize tax payer funds. This includes continuing to utilize accountability courts to address mental health and substance abuse issues of those charged with crimes to reduce recidivism as well as our pre-trial diversion programs. 
Increase funding and resources for the office by obtaining state and federal grants that contribute to community safety. 
Work with federal, state, and local authorities and organizations to address gang activity in our communities. This includes partnering with and speaking to schools and local organizations to decrease gang membership.
Institute an early notification and communication program for all domestic violence cases that will contact the victim within days of the incident to help provide for just results and a safer outcome for domestic violence survivors. Further utilize technology for more efficient and effective use of tax payer funds. This includes expanding electronic discovery and working with law enforcement to more efficiently obtain and store body and dash camera video. 
Work with judges and probation departments to have a weekly probation violation calendar to expedite cases where offenders are incarcerated on minor violations, allowing the jail better utilize their space and resources for violent criminals.
Throughout my career as a prosecutor in Newton and Walton Counties, I have also served in many other capacities within the community. I have taught courtroom demeanor and testimony to all law enforcement cadets for years at Georgia Piedmont Technical College Law Enforcement Academy. Further, I am a faculty member of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys' Council's Basic Litigation Course that teaches new prosecutors throughout the State of Georgia. I have also taught at both the Covington and Social Circle Police Departments' Citizens Academy. 
I regularly attend and participate in meetings of the Multi-Disciplinary Team (a group that discusses all new investigations into physical and sexual abuse against children) and the Child Fatality Review Board in both Newton and Walton Counties. I have also presented at the monthly meetings of the Newton County Domestic Violence Task Force.  
Further, I am a proud member of the Loganville Rotary Club. Rotary supports numerous organizations in the community by providing not just financial support but by also by working hands-on with numerous other charities in the area. 
I am in contact all hours of the day and night with law enforcement in both counties to assist them in legal and evidentiary issues. I often respond to crime scenes in both counties to assist law enforcement.”


Bryant, www.destinyforda.com: 
“Destiny's dynamic experience as a prosecutor for the past seven years has equipped her with the skills necessary to serve as District Attorney. She has prosecuted a variety of cases including homicides, complex sexual assaults, human trafficking, and crimes against children and the elderly. Destiny also has appellate experience representing the State before the Court of Appeals of Georgia and the Supreme Court of Georgia. Outside of the courtroom, Destiny has worked tirelessly with law enforcement agencies including local police departments, the GBI, and FBI to help conduct investigations. She has also worked with law enforcement agencies to develop protocols and strategies to help protect the most vulnerable citizens in our community. Destiny has worked closely with specialized task forces and multi-disciplinary teams to ensure victims' cases are handled with the utmost care and attention.  She is more than capable of protecting her community and managing offices in both counties. Currently, Destiny uses her experience to guide and supervise other prosecutors in the Newton County District Attorney's Office as a Senior Assistant District Attorney. Destiny's ability to manage office duties and work alongside law enforcement agencies make her the best choice for District Attorney. Destiny is a cum laude graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and a graduate of William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, VA. 
Destiny was born and raised in Georgia, and she firmly understands that protecting the community also means serving the community through actions outside the office. She has committed herself to serving and educating those in her community by training law enforcement, parents, and community members about human trafficking and the need to protect our children. She has served in the capacity of a panelist/presenter at speaking engagements for churches, schools, and service organizations across the State of Georgia to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking. Destiny understands the importance of having genuine connections with those around her. Destiny has been a committed member of her church for her entire life, and she currently teaches the youth Sunday school class. She is an adjunct professor at Emory Law, and she is a recent member of Kiwanis. Her family is a long-time resident of Newton County. Destiny lives in Covington, GA with her husband and child. 
Destiny not only possesses the legal knowledge necessary to fill a leadership role, but she also possesses a commitment to justice and integrity. Both attributes are essential qualities of a District Attorney. The pursuit of justice means making sure each victim is heard and that each case is addressed on its individual merits. It also means making sure that each person who comes in contact with the criminal justice system is treated fairly and that the outcome adequately represents the nature of the harm. Practicing with integrity means always seeking the truth even if it is detrimental to the State. Destiny believes in restoring the community's trust in the justice system by ensuring equal access to the system. Destiny will aggressively, yet diligently, handle each matter set before her and make truth, justice, and protecting the public her main priorities.”
October 16th, 2019, the Covington News announced that McGinley was named a “40 under 40,” with a “special magazine” Sunday edition of the Covington News to follow later that month. 
October 28th, 2019, McGinley thanked the Covington News for the recognition via social media. 
This award, according to the criteria outlined on the Covington News website, is given out by The Covington News, and recognizes 40 young people, under the age of 40, who are leading the way in business, leadership, community, education and/or philanthropic endeavors. The 40 recipients were chosen by a selection committee based on their professional expertise and achievements, as well as dedication to charitable and community initiatives.
If one examines those honored last year, 43%, to include McGinley, were white males, 43% white females, 7% black males, and 7% black females. 
The latest US census lists the demographics for the City of Covington as: 49% white, 48% black, 3% as other. 
That same census lists the demographics for Newton County as: 49% white, 43% black, 8% as other. 
Bryant, a black female under 40 years of age, stood little chance of receiving additional recognition by the Covington News.  One must take into consideration that over the last 20 years, the Alcovy Judicial Circuit has been controlled by either a white male or white female, republican.
One can conclude, based on the Covington News - and more probable than not centered on their implicit bias, they believe the best and brightest leaders within Newton County, those with the greatest potential, are white males and white females. 
Devoid of justification for their action, one underlying theory why local newspaper owners, publishers, and journalists demonstrate levels of bias in their work is they routinely consume vast quantities of biased news themselves. This perpetuated distortion of the truth can cause a skewed frame of reference. These outlets (whether knowingly or unwittingly) cultivate an “US v. THEM” environment suitable for bias by offering lower-quality content. 
Providing higher quality news coverage should not present itself as a challenge to journalists and their organizations. The truth is never that complicated. 
The real challenge they face, after years of reckless publication, is how to offer suitable apology to their readers and prepare them for bright, disinfecting rays of sunlight. 
Brandeis noted that once a large company drove out its competition, "The quality of its products tended to decline." He added, “Those companies would become ‘clumsy dinosaurs,’ which, if they ever had to face real competition, would collapse of their own weight."


{Note: The quotes from Patrick Graham and Madison Graham Allen were taken directly from articles published in the Covington News and the Walton Tribune} 


2 comments:

  1. "Centrist" bias? What about Liberal bias? You mention the racial breakdown of the newspaper's employees? What is the ideological breakdown of the employees? We don't have party registration in Georgia, but which primary do they vote in? To whom do they contribute money?

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  2. I think its not uncommon for local or regional newspapers to have a bias. That sort of thing shows on the editorial pages. One would hope that the bias is minimized in the reporting of hard news stories.

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