political convention

political convention

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Is It About Iowa?

Two recent decisions by higher courts in Iowa might make you wonder what judges are drinking in that state. In the first case, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a dentist who fired his assistant because she was too attractive had acted legally. The dentist was afraid that he would start an affair with the woman, even though she had worked for him for 10 years and had always acted professionally on the job.  The justices held that the firing didn’t violate the law because it was prompted by the man's feelings rather than illegal gender discrimination. It was earlier revealed that the Dentist’s wife had discovered that he was sending Twitter messages to the assistant.

In the other case (see LaughingStockNation post July 11, 2013), an Iowa appellate court overturned the conviction of a man who beat his puppy to death with a baseball bat for peeing on the carpet. Judges Larry J. Eisenhaur and Mary E. Tabor, who made up the majority of the three-judge panel, concluded that the man’s behavior didn’t rise to the level of depravity, sadism or torture required by the law. “I have some great difficulty understanding how you can beat a puppy to death and not have sadistic intent,” said a local attorney concerned with animal welfare. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dangerous Assumptions in the Case of Trayvon Martin and Geoge Zimmerman
A few days after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case one of the jurors gave an anonymous interview to CNN. The New York Times has now published some of the juror's comments.

What the juror said:
Zimmerman feared for his life and had no choice but to shoot Trayvon Martin.

For whatever reason Trayvon Martin decided to confront Zimmerman and threw the first punch.

“I think his [Zimmerman’s] heart was in the right place” because he just wanted to protect the neighborhood. “It just went terribly wrong.”

“It pretty much happened the way George said it happened.”

The fact that Martin was black did not drive Zimmerman to suspect or follow him…Martin appeared to be walking aimlessly in the rain, looking in houses.

“I think he just profiled him because he was the neighborhood watch and he profiled anybody who came in and saw them acting strange.”

The scream recorded on a neighbor’s cell phone “was a long cry and scream for help [by Zimmerman]—whoever was crying was in fear for their life.”

“Trayvon got mad and attacked him.”

What the juror didn’t say:
 How she knew that Zimmerman feared for his life.

How she knew that Zimmerman had no choice but to shoot Martin, who was unarmed.

How she knew Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” as he followed Martin.

How she knew that Trayvon Martin “got mad and attacked” Zimmerman. 

How she knew that Trayvon Martin threw the first punch. 
Why she was so certain that it was Zimmerman’s voice crying for help when expert witnesses were unable to make positive identification.   

How she was so confident that Zimmerman’s story was the truth. 

Why she didn't consider Trayvon Martin's actions to be in self defense when he was the one being followed.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is “Fairness” the Same as Accuracy?
Not In Presidential Debates or the Nightly News

The quest for the fairness in media coverage of politics has a long and difficult history. Consider the example of the telecast of the 1980 presidential debate between Carter and Reagan.  Not since Kennedy debated Nixon in 1960 had presidential candidates met on television. But because many journalists and scholars had noted bias in the 1960 telecasts, the Carter-Reagan debate was carefully designed to avoid any hint of favoritism. Directors chose camera shots and angles for visual equality rather than to simply follow the ebb and flow of the debate.

But the plan failed because Reagan was more active on camera than Carter. Close up shots showing Reagan smiling were followed by identically framed shots of Carter looking down at his notes. Carter seemed weak and disinterested. Things got worse when the director juxtaposed longer shots of the candidates. One high angle shot of Carter diminished his physical stature, making him look small and insignificant compared to his opponent. The whole telecast was an exercise in distortion.

But despite this demonstration that mechanical evenhandedness doesn't work, television networks continue to mold news and public affairs broadcasts to give equal weight to “both sides" of an argument, no matter the actual substance of the different viewpoints.

Two recent examples come from the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the top-rated broadcast news show. Reporting on the passage of tough new restrictions on abortion in Texas, an NBC correspondent interviewed abortion rights advocates who said the new law would close down a significant number of abortion and women’s health clinics thus leaving many women without important medical services.  For an opposing viewpoint, the reporter interviewed a conservative senator who voted for the legislation. She claimed that the law was not as drastic as abortion rights advocates made out. Its primary goal, she said, was to protect women's health not just to curtail abortion. On the surface, matching these two opposing positions seemed reasonable and fair. However, there was one big problem. The senator's statement was not true.The wording of the law and numerous speeches by proponents, including the governor, made clear that the motive for the legislation was ending abortion not improving women's health. Nevertheless, the correspondent's "fair and balanced" report gave the senator's misleading comments the same weight as the well documented arguments of abortion supporters.

Another NBC report discussed the battle between Democrats and Republicans over the Senate filibuster rules. Noting that action in the Senate was frequently impeded by animosity between the parties, the anchor announced that the two party leaders, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell, would appear on the network’s Sunday interview program. He urged viewers to tune in to see the two men who share equal responsibility for Senate grid lock.

This observation says much about the fairness pitfall. Reid is not personally appealing and you could easily conclude that he's a typical self-serving politician. However, he is not in the same league as McConnell when it comes to legislative obstruction. The number of Republican filibusters since President Obama took office (241) has exceeded by scores the totals compiled during past administrations. In addition, filibusters are now being used by Republicans to block cabinet and judicial appointments not traditionally subject to filibuster. In short, the current Republican minority is the most obstructive on record and it is an egregious distortion to say that Reid and McConnell are equally responsible.

Though presidential debates and everyday reporting are different in purpose and scale, the bogus quest for fairness comes from the same undiscerning—or maybe timid—mindset. In both cases, using elementary arithmetic to give the appearance of fairness is a formula for distortion.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shocking Case of Judicial Indifference

Appellate Court Frees Man Who
Beat Puppy to Death for Nervous Incontinence

An Iowa appeals court has ruled that a man who clubbed his 7-month-old puppy to death should not be punished under the state’s animal cruelty law because his actions were not “depraved” or “sadistic” as specified by the law. 

Testimony in the man’s trial alleged that he was irritated by the puppy’s undisciplined behavior and repeated “accidents” in the house. After one such occurrence the man carried the puppy outside and returned with a bloody baseball bat and the dead body of the animal.   

A dissenting justice noted that the defendant’s behavior should have been considered animal torture “because it was an extreme response to an ordinary and foreseeable occurrence” and that the beating caused “severe physical pain.” 
(Source: Reuters and USA Today)