Category Archives: Reporting

National Archive Gets Trumped

As you know I don’t usually report on other reporters. Nor do I link to material behind paywalls, although I support the use of paywalls to enable reporters to make a living. But there is a story justifiably blazing through the cloud that touches on many of the topics I hold dear and deserves a shout-out.

My tip of the hat goes to Joe Heim of the Washington Post and his story, “National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump.” Tweet National Archives TrumpedHeim, in a Twitter post after the story went viral, said his story was in part due to “chance.” I’ll respectfully disagree. Heim was visiting the National Archive when he noticed something that had nothing to do with his reporting assignment. That’s not chance. That’s good reporting. I’ve often told journalism students the best story ideas come from their own observations. A good reporter always keeps eyes open.

What Heim saw was a large color photograph showing the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Heim noticed the wording on several of the placards the marchers carried was blurred, and wondered why.

He tracked down the original photograph, and saw that the large version had been altered. In some cases wording critical of Trump was obscured. For example, one sign reading, “God Hates Trump” was blurred so that only “God Hates” was readable. That change probably offended an even larger audience and the change certainly defamed the placard carrier. Other changes blurred wording that contained words of a sexual nature, or which refereed to female anatomy. One that read, “This Pussy Grabs Back” had the word “Pussy” obscured.

The National Archives, created to collect and preserve the records of the United States government and the custodian of the nation’s most treasured documents, including originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, confirmed that the photograph had been deliberately edited by agency managers and museum staff.

How does something like this happen? I figured there had to be some Trump political appointee in charge, ready to censor anything that put Trump in a bad light. But no. The archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, participated in the discussion regarding the exhibit and supported the decision to edit the photo. Ferriero is 74, a professional librarian, and was appointed to his office by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Heim asked the archives for a comment and reported:

“As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy,” Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman said in an emailed statement. “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”

—– Washington Post

Yeah, sure. The Archives has now, to its credit, apologized, removed the altered photo, and promised to replace it with the original image.

So here’s the thing.  We have become so frightened of retribution from political opponents that otherwise intelligent, reasonable and fair people are afraid to speak up and call out those who challenge the very foundations of this nation. In America, we do not censor, we do not lie, we do not make up “fake news,” an oxymoron if ever I have heard one.

If you pull out your hair trying to understand how our nation has reached the state of extreme polarization we now find ourselves in, I suggest you start by looking in the mirror. Whether you are the Archivist of the United States or someone just arguing with a family member over the dinner table, the choice to defend the truth is up to you. You can’t wait for some talking bobble-head on cable television to tell you what to think.

There was a character on the television program NCIS who often quoted from movie scripts to make a point. I should have copyrighted the idea because I was doing that long before Anthony DiNozzo was created by Donald Bellisario and Michael Weatherly. I used to drive my teachers crazy.

There’s this great speech toward the end of the film, The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin. President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas,  has been ignoring all kinds of abuse and personal attack from a political rival, Senator Bob Rumson, believing it is beneath his office to respond to the taunts. Finally, as he seems to be losing both his legislative program and the woman he loves, he boils over:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours….”

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

—–Aaron Sorkin, The American President (1995)

Truth is truth and facts are facts. We can’t be afraid to stand up and fight for them.

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Financial Market Reporting, Part 9: Exchange Traded Funds

In my recent post on mutual funds, I noted that John Bogle disrupted that industry with Vanguard, a mutual fund company that specialized in low cost index funds designed to mimic rather than outperform major market indexes. The other mutual fund companies responded with their own index funds, and there is intense competition between them

Mutual fund shares vs. ETFs

Exchange Traded Funds, ETFs, are another refinement of the fund category. They will certainly figure into your reporting on the fund asset class because they are by some measures the most popular of all exchange traded securities.

For my primer on ETFs, see businessjournalism.org.

Trump and the Employment Report, fact and fiction, Pt. 2

Numbers are funny things. Even though they appear to be absolute, a clever manipulator can twist them to make pretty much any point he wants to make. Take President Trump’s statement from February: “Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.” It might seem preposterous but it is correct, as the great sage Obi-Wan-Kenobi once said, “from a certain point of view.”

It is the number you get if you take the total U.S. population 16-years of age and older and subtract the people the BLS says are in the labor force. That number includes everyone who is retired, and most high-school, college, graduate or vocational school student. It also includes the disabled, homemakers, some self-employed and those living off their investments.

My guide to reporting the employment report continues at businessjournalism.org….

Trump and the Employment Report, fact and fiction, Pt. 1

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Employment Situation Report for February on March 10, showing a healthy 235,000 gain in payroll employment. Asked what President Trump thought about the numbers, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly,” Spicer said. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

Many of the reporters present laughed. I cringed.

Over the years on public television’s Nightly Business Report, I filed countless “numbers” pieces. The monthly employment reports were most closely watched. For better or worse these reports often had an immediate financial market moving impact, making them lead stories for a market driven broadcast.

I cringed because I believe attempts to undermine the credibility of these reports do a great disservice.

Continues at businessjournalism.org….

Financial Market Reporting, Part 6: Derivatives

Chicago Board Options Exchange

Chicago Board Options Exchange

My series at the Reynold’s Center continues with thoughts on reporting the derivative markets. These are investment vehicles that are derived from others, appropriately called derivatives. Investors do not own the underlying asset, but bet on how that asset will perform.

Options are a common type of derivative. In 1973 the Chicago Board of Trade created the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which at first operated out of an old cloak room off the CBOT trading floor. The CBOE traded listed stock options. Unlike futures, options were not a commitment but gave the buyer an option to buy a stock for a certain period of time.* The option is based on the stock, called “the underlying.”

Continue at businessjournalism.org….

Financial Market Reporting, Part 5: "Real Stuff," Commodities and Futures Contracts

The latest in my series on financial market reporting is live at the Reynold’s Center:

Previous posts introduced the markets and the best-known investment vehicles, stocks and bonds. But even if you don’t own one of those investments, you probably have placed a considerable amount of money in a different asset class, although you may not consider these to be investments.

I’m referring to real assets, physical items, the “stuff” we accumulate throughout our life. If you’ve ever sold an item on eBay, you know what I mean. You might have sold a used item you’ve upgraded or outgrown. Or you could have sold a “collectable,” an item you bought in the belief that its value would grow over time (Beanie Babies, anyone?) These are “real” assets.

Continued at businessjournalism.org….

Financial Market Reporting, Part 2: IPOs

The day a company first sells stock shares to the public marks a right of passage. The initial public offering or IPO means the company is able to meet the long list of legal requirements that govern the trading of stock on a public exchange. It also means the company has been able to convince enough investors to buy the shares at a price that meets corporate fund-raising goals.

The lesson continues at the Reynolds Center…..

 

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