Archive for November, 2011

Shallow times call for return of deeper journalism



Excuse my nervousness. But this is the first blog entry I’ve ever written in my 32-year career in journalism – the first 16 years toiling as a reporter and editor at newspapers and the rest in local television news in San Antonio and Austin. In fact, I have been so uncomfortable getting into this form, that when some of my colleagues asked what I thought of our recently launched political blog, Capital Roundup, I bellowed, “I don’t read blogs.” Just imagine the ration of abuse so deservedly thrown at me.

I learned my lesson. I changed my mind. In fact, I kind of like this blogging thing. (My God, man! How long have blogs been around now?!)

OK, I’m slow, too.

And blown away. Blown away by Bill Moyers’ lecture the other evening at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. As I walked slowly out of the auditorium, I felt compelled to try to share with as many people as possible in my own circle the renowned journalist’s remarks in the inaugural of a new LBJ Foundation distinguished lecture series named in honor of his longtime friend, Tom Johnson.

Young journalists who were not in that audience, however, are my intended audience. Why? My guess is the newsroom I work in is not unlike a lot of newsrooms. They are busy places filled with reporters, editors and producers so busy feeding the daily beasts of non-stop newscasts, never-ending press runs of news columns and an internet and social media that never sleeps. A barrage of reporting that – these days – seem intent on just telling both sides now. Point A versus Point B. Point B versus Point A. Tit-for-tat with plenty of sound bytes and quotes, but very little context – and certainly no conclusions.

Yes, Moyers spoke of the common run of impoverished and middle-class Americans trying to do better than their fathers, the heroism of the everyday man, and the most challenging of religious doctrines that calls for all of us to do unto others as they would do unto you. He, too, warned that America was in the midst of a renewed gilded age where the privileged powerful feed on the less fortunate. Moyers worried that we’ve become a country of winners and losers with little sympathy for losers. In a word, America is becoming shallow.

You may not agree with Moyers’ view of the world. And, that’s OK.

But I worry that our journalism is becoming increasingly shallow in a time of almost instant polling and 24-hour news cycles. I, too, think one could argue that an underlying point Moyers so eloquently made, without outright saying it, is our shallowness might well be a symptom of our shallow journalism. We need more context and community in our journalism that might help us and our viewers and readers come to conclusions in our political discourse; that we get away from the relentless struggle to win ratings and subscriptions that has so robbed us of any well-rounded view of our world. A world that might return to a sense of optimism. Yes, as Moyers said, I think so.

In the video above you’ll find Moyer’s speech. Take an hour of your time to view it. I think you’ll find it was worth your attention in these busy and shallow times.

You can see pictures and more information from the event by clicking here.

Attorney General Greg Abbott files objection to redistricting maps

Attorney General Greg Abbott filed objections to the proposed interim State House and Senate redistricting maps, Friday. The three justice panel released the maps, Thursday. The new lines are seen largely as a victory for minorities and for Democrats, with the party possibly gaining one seat in the Senate, and potentially as many as six, in the House.

The objection filed Friday names Gov. Rick Perry, Secretary of State Hope Andrade and the State of Texas as the defendants. The filing claims the federal court "lacks the constitutional authority to interfere" with decisions made by the State Legislature.

Read the full court filings, below:

Late night roundup

Politics continue to be a punchline for late night comedians. Here’s a roundup of some of the best from this week.

A spot at the top of the Republican primary polls seems to spell disaster for most Republican candidates. We saw it happen with Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Rep. Michele Bachmann. Jon Stewart explores the rise and fall of the GOP frontrunners and why Rep. Ron Paul doesn’t get any mainstream love:

Local University of Texas Economist Daniel Hamermesh says it pays to be beautiful. He explained why on the Daily Show, Monday:

Businessman candidate Herman Cain defended his 9-9-9 tax plan to David Letterman this week. Letterman asked Cain if he "even knows what it means," and offered a suggestion of his own. That interivew airs tonight. Here’s a preview:

Jay Leno dedicated Wednesday’s monologue to Herman Cain’s struggle to answer a question about Libya and an event held by Gov. Rick Perry that required attendees to prove citizenship:

More with Susan Combs

We talked some more with State Comptroller Susan Combs about the state’s economic outlook. Plus, why her office is now tasked with protecting some of the area’s endangered species.

You can find out more about the endangered species program here.

Sen. Wendy Davis responds to interim redistricting maps

Sen. Wendy Davis called the interim maps released by a federal court in San Antonio a victory for voters. Davis’ district 10 was carved up by the initial maps drawn this past legislative session. The new maps restore most of the original lines.

Davis released this statement:

"I have worked together with the community that I represent over the past three years on the real emergencies facing hardworking Texas families such as education, job creation, forging strong partnerships with local business, serving our veterans, and protecting the quality of life for our families, the elderly, and women and children," Davis said. "I am confident that my community will provide me with the continued privilege to represent them on those issues in the future by returning me to the seat in 2012."

Federal court issues new political maps for Texas

A federal court has issued new Texas political maps for the 2012 election.

Every 10 years, lawmakers redraw districts to reflect changes in the U.S. census, but minority groups have mounted a legal challenge to the redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature during the last session. A federal court had to draft temporary maps for 2012.

The maps released on Thursday for the state Senate and House give minorities a better chance of electing their choice of candidate in some areas than did the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature. That’s believed to give Democrats a better chance of winning seats.

Republican leaders said the districts were drawn to benefit their party, not hurt minority representation. The attorney general is still fighting for the original maps passed by the Legislature.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press, All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No pre-clearance for Voter ID law for now

In a letter obtained by Talking Points Memo, the Department of Justice will not give initial approval to a law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, for now.

Laws affecting how Texans vote must be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice to ensure the mandates do not violate the Voting Rights Act. It’s a process that’s required because Texas has a history of racially discriminatory laws.

In the letter, the DOJ states the information provided by the state is "incomplete," and the agency is unable to determine the impact the law will have on minority voters. The Department of Justice writes that Texas must categorize registered voters who currently have a photo ID by race and Spanish surname. The breakdown sent by Texas, according to the DOJ, was only a "partial" response because it did not include voters’ race.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has 60 days to re-submit information to the DOJ.
If nothing is submitted within 60 days, the AG’s office can object to the proposed changes. However, the law cannot be enforced without clearance.

Gov. Perry requests debate; Pelosi pokes fun

Gov. Rick Perry challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to a debate on his ‘Overhaul Washington’ plan, Thursday. In that plan, Perry proposed cutting lawmaker salaries, enacting a part-time Congress and eliminating lifetime appointments for federal judges.

The Hill obtained a letter written by Gov. Perry to Rep. Pelosi, challenging her to a debate when he is in Washington, D.C. for a GOP foreign policy next week. The reads, in part:

"I am in Washington Monday and would love to engage you in a public debate about my Overhaul Washington plan versus the congressional status quo. I think it would be a tremendous service to the American public to see a public airing of those differences. Let the people decide. If Monday doesn’t work, perhaps we could find a time in Iowa over the course of the next month to discuss these issues in front of the people of America’s heartland."

Rep. Pelosi turned down Gov. Perry’s challenge, at the same time, taking a jab at Perry’s now infamous Politico:

"He did ask if I could debate here in Washington on Monday. It is my understanding that such a letter has come in. Monday I’m going to be in Portland in the morning, I’m going to be visiting some of our labs. I’m in California in the afternoon, that’s two. I can’t remember what the third is."

Pierce out as UT GOP president after assassination tweets

It looks like Lauren Pierce is no longer president of the University of Texas at Austin College Republicans. Pierce found herself in hot water after tweeting that assassinating President Obama is “tempting.”

Melanie Schwartz is now listed as the group’s president on its website. We reached out to the College Republicans for a comment and we’ll let you know what we hear back.

Texas Dems respond to assassination joke

The Texas Democratic Party responded Wednesday to a tweet by UT College Republicans President Lauren Pierce calling a possible President Obama assassination "tempting."

TDP Spokesman Antohony Guiterrez issued this statement:

“There is nothing amusing about an assassination attempt of the President of the United States. Ms. Pierce’s comments were in extremely poor taste.

Unfortunately, these types of comments are not out of place in today’s Republican Party. Republican leaders at all levels are encouraging this disturbing sentiment with their increasingly hateful and hostile tone.

Such careless and flat-out frightening remarks cause great harm to our civil society and only further encourage today’s hostile political environment.”