Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Team Pinocchio can't wash away Flint

Hundreds of years ago, when I was a journalism student, we studied advertising and public relations along with journalism.

The upshot: we learned that the very best advertising was purchased journalism. You could learn from advertising in those days, prior to the advent of fine print and flat out telling a bald-faced lie. One of the best ad agencies, McCann Erickson, which I believe at the time had offices in Troy (they’re global now), had a neat, three-word phrase that summed up their business philosophy – Truth Well Told.

I was thinking of that phrase after I read that Gov. Rick Snyder went out and signed up not one but two public relations agencies to address the mess in Flint (two PR agencies + one governor = Team Pinocchio). I flipped on the news and happened to catch an interview with Kevin Dietz of WDIV and Snyder.

Snyder told Dietz the story of Flint had not been communicated well, which is why he needed two PR agencies. I took that to mean Snyder hadn’t been exonerated yet and it was going to be a tough sell, hence the need for two agencies. Dietz immediately followed up and asked Snyder if the money for the agencies wouldn’t be better spent on direct aid to Flint.

Snyder’s answer: “The agencies are being paid for with private funds.”

That sounded even more ominous, like Snyder calling in a HAZMAT team and then saying, “HAZMAT team? What HAZMAT team? I don’t see any HAZMAT team. Oh … you mean those guys over there in the rubber suits?  That HAZMAT team? Oh, those are just a few friends who like to dress in rubber outfits. Pay no attention to them.”

A few minutes ago I called the governor’s office and asked for the names of the two PR agencies now under contract to Snyder. I was politely told their names weren’t relevant and since they weren’t being paid for with taxpayer dollars, they were pretty much none of my business. I’d wanted to research the agencies and see who their other clients were – like maybe Blackwater, for instance. Perhaps Kevin Dietz will have better luck.

It’s time for the governor to stop sniffing glue. The facts are these:

1.      Snyder and 10 PR agencies couldn’t spin the governor out of this mess.

2.      As Snyder comes ever closer to tossing a few bodies under the bus in order to save himself, he is willingly forgetting that he’s the man at the top. The responsibility does and will continue to rest with him. He wanted this job, remember?

3.      I’m sure you’ve heard Snyder’s response to calls for his resignation -- “I want to fix this mess.” What Snyder wants is not relevant. We, the people, want him to take ownership of his problem. It doesn’t matter what he knew when, or how many teams of investigators from different agencies are investigating. It’s his problem because he’s the head cheese of Michigan.

I grew up around here and Flint was always thought of as an auto town, which was fine. I remember when GM stopped using Flint water in its plants because it was screwing up the machinery. What more does anyone need to know about this  problem?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Censorship and Gov. Snyder

Gov. Rick Snyder is in trouble and he’s not going to weasel his way around it.

At the moment, it’s the Flint water issue that has everyone’s attention. But that’s not all we’ll have to remember Snyder by.

The self-proclaimed nerd governor, who until recently seemingly avoided party politics, did a 180-degree turn in December and signed two bills rammed through the state Legislature by the Republicans.

·         The first bill eliminates straight-ticket voting. Snyder said he signed the bill because people should know who they’re voting for, not just the party they’re affiliated with.

·         The second bill makes it a crime for school districts, governments and other public bodies to discuss, in any way, local ballot measures within 60 days of an election.

If the first bill requires voters to find out details of people and issues on the ballot, how can they do so if government employees can’t talk about those very issues?

There are only two ways around these bills: repeal them, or failing that, rely on the beleaguered press.

Local television new teams seems immune to layoffs despite their golly-gosh, gee-whiz reporting. One exception to this is Hank Winchester from WDIV, who was one of the first on the Flint water story and has stayed with it every day.

One of Winchester’s best moments came when Snyder said he had called out the National Guard to help distribute bottled water in Flint, and Winchester reported that only seven guard members had arrived.

As for the print media, it’s up to them to fight the censorship imposed by Snyder and publish ballot details so we can make intelligent decisions. This will mean persuading officials to talk, probably anonymously, with those trusting that the reporters will protect their sources.

Print does, or did, something television can’t do – interview all the candidates for office in person, even if it’s just five graphs on the person or issue. But with the very recent layoffs at papers such as The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, they might not have the staff to continue these interviews.

The Observer & Eccentric Newspapers are particularly good at interviewing all the candidates in their readership areas. Local papers, local interviews. Television is too fleeting for local, individual interviews. A newspaper gives you something to read when you can, and study the issues.

Local interviews are very labor intensive, particularly for a depleted staff. Morale at the News and the Freep is low. Usually, low morale in the newsroom doesn’t lead to much industrious work. It’s much easier to do a story over the phone.

Let’s hope the newspapers can fill the void left by Snyder’s censorship decree.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Packing a Pistol – away

Amid all the noise about handguns to automatic weapons, who should or shouldn’t own them and how they should be acquired, no one is asking the key question.

Can you kill someone, up close and personal?

That’s not an easy question to answer.

Years ago, I purchased a handgun. It was a Smith & Wesson Magnum .357 with a barely two-inch barrel. It was made for close-up work – messy and lots of noise. I bought that particular model at the suggestion of a man who taught the police how to shoot.

The man said a bullet from that gun would put someone down. Nothing funny or glamorous about it. When I was at the range with him one afternoon, he pulled my ear protection off for a moment and had a chat with me.

“You buy a speed loader for that thing,” he said. “If it’s 3 a.m. and there’s someone you don’t know in your living room, you fire and keep on firing. When it clicks empty, you load up again and keep firing. Don’t take any chances on someone firing back. Ever.”

The next piece of advice came from a man who had spent two decades with the Michigan State Police, part of that time as an undercover narcotics agent. After his police work he got a job where I worked at the time. I used to cover the police beat as a journalist, he used to be the police, so we came to know each other pretty well.

We met at the range once. Contrary to what I was expecting, he was not a very good shot. I mean, he could hit the bull’s-eye and all, but he couldn’t send bullets booming one after another through one hole in the target, which was about 40 feet away.

After our session, standing in front of his car, he told me that other than undercover work, he hadn’t pulled his gun for years. He was proud of that fact because it meant he found other ways around whatever situation he was in.

“Only unholster your weapon if you’re going to kill someone. Not wing them, not scare them. There is no other reason to have your weapon in your hand. Make up your mind to that. If you cannot kill someone, then you have no business having a gun,” he said.

That prompted a lot of soul searching on my part.

I kept the gun unloaded in my nightstand, but with the speed loader right next to it. At the time I had no children in the house. My son was in the U.S. Army and playing with much bigger weapons.

Years passed. One day, my wife weighed in. Out of nowhere, she came to me and said having a gun in the house made her nervous and she would appreciate it if I got rid of it. My wife comes first. The gun was gone the same day.

I didn’t sell it because I didn’t want the police coming back to me in case it was used in a crime. I took it to the police department and surrendered it. A sergeant tagged it for an incinerator in Lansing and gave me a receipt.

As for the question of whether I could kill someone if, say, a shooter was threatening my wife, the answer is yes, I could. I learned that about myself.

Don’t let these yahoos who scream about gun rights distract you. Think about whether you have it in you to take a life before you go to the gun store and heft that nicely machined weapon in your hand. If you buy one, know in your heart that you can use it. If you don’t know that, put it down on  the counter and walk away.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Gun magazines, yes; Vanity Fair, no

You can tell a lot about people by a quick look at their bookshelves.

And as of now I know what my high school geometry was for. The famous “If-Then” statement -- meaning that if you state something, then it follows that something else should be true, based on the preceding statement -- has finally come into play. I’ve waited a long time for this.                                                                                                                                        

Here’s my extrapolation: If bookshelves tell you about people, then the books and magazines for sale in that community tell you a lot about the community.

The grocery store where I shop is nice -- lots of hard-to-find items, wide aisles and helpful clerks.

But it has drastically trimmed its magazine selection, mostly women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Women’s Day, and even Vanity Fair. They’re gone.

There were empty spots on the magazine rack where these periodicals used to be just last week. Left untouched were:

·         Guns & Ammo
·         Gun Collector
·         AR-15
·         Shooting Times
·         Handguns
·         Trigger
·         and Combat Techniques

I asked a clerk what happened to all the other magazines.

 “You don’t like the type to buy Cosmo.”

Judging by the few other magazines that looked out of place next to Guns & Ammo, such as Weddings, I can only conclude that the neighborhood anti-fun crowd complained to the manager to get those other magazines off the shelves.

We had an example of this in Metro Detroit not too long ago. Remember that batty woman who wanted The Metro Times to stop putting its weekly paper in the Grosse Pointes because of the sex ads in the back?

I wonder if she made it up north to Royal Oak and went grocery shopping where I shop. Unlike most places, The Metro Times never had a rack at this store. Metro Parent does, though. Quite a difference. I know someone who worked there, once upon a time. She was … well, I’m sure she found a nice man with no spine to marry.

So this is my community, eh? A bunch of tough-guy magazine readers.

One wonders what they’re reading on the internet, assuming they can put their guns down long enough to work the mouse and keyboard. Takes two hands, you know.

I’m going to go shopping at this store next weekend and see if Cosmo et al have reappeared. If they haven’t, I’m shopping elsewhere.

I’ll follow up here next week.