Ethics in Journalism 101

The media has often been referred to as the 4th branch of government, serving as an outside force as a further check on the other 3 branches (executive, legislative and judicial). While most political reporting focuses on the executive and legislative branches, that reporting can have a powerful and important role in exposing corrupt or abusive practices by the judiciary. However, due to the power of the media to sway public opinion, it is critical that journalists and their editors publish their work according to the highest ethical standards. As one legal scholar put it, failing to do so results in,

incompetent legal reporting, which fuels the American public’s anti- court sentiment and fosters inaccurate views of the actual workings of the judicial system.

Recently, on July 18th, the Isthmus published an investigative piece on judicial overreach, Was judge pushing anti-gay agenda? It was the first media examination of a troubling case where an appointed county judge treated a same-sex couple horribly in a surrogate parenting case. Fortunately, his decision has been overturned, but the cost to the parents was huge both financially and emotionally.

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Much to my surprise, a full week later, on July 25th, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran virtually the same story on its front page with a huge picture, entitled ‘Activist judge’ compares surrogacy to human traffickingWhile I will leave it to journalism experts to determine if the Journal Sentinel’s article plagiarized the Isthmus’ article, one thing is very clear. The Journal Sentinel published its story acting as if it was breaking news and failed to mention in its lengthy article that the Isthmus had published a very similar article a full week earlier.

To be clear, there is no problem with the Journal Sentinel publishing a follow up story on judicial misconduct. But when it pretends that it broke old news first, it loses journalistic credibility and insults the original author of the Isthmus article. In an era of shrinking print journalism circulation, unethical journalistic behavior such as this only serves to reduce the capacity of the media to act as a credible 4th estate serving as a check on government misconduct. I contacted the reporter and editor at the Journal Sentinel yesterday to ask them for their response to  my concern and to date, I have not received a substantive response.

Systems change requires an effective and credible media. Increasingly, the traditional media has shifted to social media, but that has led to a loss of quality investigative journalism. Reporters and their editors who fail to credit original sources further denigrate the reputation of the media. Moreover, they discourage young journalists from entering the profession if they fear that larger media outlets will pretend that they broke news that smaller outlets broke earlier.

I have spent over 30 years developing good relationships with good journalists. When I work with a journalist, especially on a story that I am giving them an exclusive on, I must trust that they will do a good and ethical job. Good journalists know that if they violate that trust, they will lose their sources for important stories. Violation of trust makes systems change far more difficult. Hopefully, the Journal Sentinel will raise its journalistic standards and publish a credit to the Isthmus for its original story.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Forward Again!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with Tim Cullen to learn about his plans for a potential run for Wisconsin Governor in 2018. I have known Tim for over 30 years, first during his initial stint as a State Senator from Janesville, then when he became Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. He took a break from government service and served as a Vice President for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, during which time I teamed up with other public health advocates to negotiate with him to create a public health foundation with over $600 million which the insurer donated when it converted to a for-profit. Our relationship continued when he returned to the State Senate in 2010. Coincidentally, his season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badger basketball games are right behind mine, so we regularly catch up with each other at the games.

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I have always been impressed with Tim as a thoughtful man, who is a good listener and seeks to understand and then solve problems. So, after I read the news that Tim was thinking about running for Governor in 2018, I asked him if we could meet to discuss his plans and he quickly agreed.

At this early stage, he is simply meeting with a lot of people around the state to determine if he can garner sufficient support and raise the necessary funds to make a credible run for Governor. Thus far, he has received a lot of positive feedback. It helps that prior to considering a run for Governor he wrote a book entitled, Ringside Seat: Wisconsin Politics, the 1970s to Scott Walker, which is part political history, and part memoir, with a significant dose of critique of the politics of divisiveness that Scott Walker has wreaked on the State of Wisconsin since his election in 2010, fomenting the politics of resentment causing the decimation of state government, public schools and Wisconsin’s economy. He has traveled the state on a book tour and learned a lot from average Wisconsinites about how Scott Walker tore apart a state that was once known for being nice. Knowing how important it is to rebuild the ranks of public school teachers decimated by Scott Walker, with a diverse group of new teachers, he donates the profits of his book to the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Opportunities Scholarship, which has already benefited many young high school graduates of color.

Recently, he starred, alongside former State Sen. Dale Schultz in an excellent video, Whatever Happened to Wisconsin Nice? In the video, both former Senators–one Democrat and one Republican, lament the divisiveness that Wisconsin’s political system has degraded into, and talk with regular Wisconsinites about how to heal that rift.

Our conversation started by Tim letting me know that he has already lived far longer than he ever expected. His father died from heart failure at the age of 63, and Tim never expected to live longer than his father. Indeed, Tim had the same heart problem as his father, but fortunately medical technology has improved and after surgery, his heart is fine. Fourteen years ago, he successfully battled cancer, and he has come through that stronger than ever.

From a political standpoint, it was Bernie Sanders’ run for President that convinced Tim that it was possible for him to make a similar run for Governor. Sanders demonstrated that an older candidate with the right message can inspire millions of young people to engage in politics. He also demonstrated that it was possible to raise millions of dollars through small donations, averaging roughly $27.

Tim and I agree that the key to winning the Governor’s race is for him continue to travel around the state and talk to average Wisconsin citizens about the need to move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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Doing so requires rebuilding what Scott Walker and his legislature have decimated for the past 6 years. Tim recognizes that this will not be an easy or quick process. He also understands that it will require a different kind of leader, one who understands consensus driven leadership and governs by forming Blue Ribbon Commissions to learn from Wisconsin’s best and brightest as to how to move Wisconsin Forward Again. Fortunately, one thing that can be done quickly, is to reverse Scott Walker’s costly decision to refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, which is projected to cost Wisconsin $678.6 million through the 2017 fiscal year. Tim promises to reverse that decision on his first day in office, if elected as Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Tim also understands the need to end the gerrymandering that has resulted in Democratic legislators receiving far more votes than Republicans but nevertheless only winning a minority of legislative seats. Tim has been a key player in the lawsuit currently challenging what has been dubbed the worst gerrymandering in the nation.

State Assembly MapFinally, while Tim believes his age should not be an impediment to a successful run for Governor, he also understands that he needs to help raise the profile of a promising group of young progressive women politicians, such as Mandy Wright who is running to regain the Assembly seat she lost due to gerrymandering. He believes a successful run for Governor will include a strong young woman candidate for Lieutenant Governor running with him, ensuring continuity of progressive policies after he is done serving our state.

Of course, the Governor’s race will not start in earnest until after this November’s Presidential election. But Tim Cullen is wise to start early. He is willing to talk to just about anyone to find out how he can help move Wisconsin Forward Again.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Police in Schools need Teen Training

Among the many reasons we have a school to prison pipeline is that many school districts  place police officers in schools. While best practice is to limit police involvement in schools to genuine emergencies, leaving general school behavior management to the educators in the school, many school districts believe that safety requires stationing police officers in their schools. School based police officers are often given euphemistic names like, police liaison officers or school resources officers. In Madison, they are dubbed educational resource officers (ERO), though they are not educators.

Although it did not take place in school, a recent interaction between Madison police and black youth at a large public event, demonstrated the lack of training of the police officers at the scene, as to how to de-escalate teens who were fighting. Without such training, police used pepper spray in a crowded public area causing innocent bystanders to suffer the painful effects of the pepper spray. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval conceded that,

conditions were less than ideal for using pepper spray. A brewing storm was kicking up wind that may have led to “collateral exposures.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying that those involved in the alleged fight “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or lose consciousness.”

In a case in which I represented a middle school boy against the Sun Prairie police because the officer slammed my client’s head to the ground when he would not give the officer his cell phone (the boy has disabilities and was granted permission to use his phone by the school), when I took the officer’s deposition, it was clear that he had no training in dealing with teenagers, nor children with disabilities. The case settled just before the trial was scheduled to take place.

Fortunately, there are resources available to provide training to police when they interact with teens, whether in school or in public. Put simply, when policing the teen brain, there are better ways to communicate because teen brains are different.

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From Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 9, 2016. Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Youth provides training for police on how to successfully interact with teens. Police have used this training successfully in Virginia Beach, although nationally, only about 1% of police training includes strategies for dealing with teens. The training program helps police and youth by:

  • Making interactions with youth easier and faster, less conflicted and more compliant;
  • Asserting authority effectively with youth with reduced reliance on force and arrest;
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to youth presenting mental health and addiction issues;
  • Investing in youth and increasing youths’ trust and communication with police;
  • Reducing departments’ overtime and court costs by partnering with youth serving, community-based organizations for low-level offenses; and
  • Supporting good community relations and reduce complaints.

The Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District are currently examining the role of police in Madison schools. Any agreement to continue to the placement of educational resource officers in all of Madison’s high schools should include mandatory training for these officers on successful interactions with teens in order to reduce the school to prison pipeline and keep everyone in school safe.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Building Community with Grains of Sand

This past weekend, as our nation celebrated its independence from colonial rule, the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD), which I chair, brought our small community together at a beach picnic. Neighbors enjoyed each other’s company and new acquaintances were made. Towards the middle of the afternoon, I took the opportunity to inform Goose Lake residents about how much a small group of volunteers has accomplished under the auspices of the GLWD.

In just a few short years, our 5 member elected volunteer commission has made the most out of our small budget (roughly $18,000 in tax revenues annually).

  • A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester, which a volunteer maintains and harvests lake weeds and provides them for organic farming;
  • We have vastly reduced invasive weeds through effective non-toxic bio-management and hand harvesting;
  • Last fall, we started a 3 year fish stocking program with an initial stocking of over 3,000 fish;
  • We removed a hazardous bridge and boardwalk; and
  • This spring we brought in new sand to our small beach and made initial improvements to the boat launch.

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In the near future, we hope to establish a web site and in 2017, in cooperation with Adams County and the Town of Jackson, we hope to vastly improve the roadway leading to the boat launch to reduce runoff into the lake.

American skepticism about government is very high. In late 2015, survey data showed that:

only 19 percent said they can trust the government always or most of the time, and 74 percent said most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s.

However, I have long believed that when money and partisan politics are removed from government, as is the case with the GLWD, and citizens see that government is effectively leveraging their tax revenues for the common good, then citizens will support government not only through their taxes, but through volunteerism.

None of the projects I mentioned above, including the picnic itself, would have happened without the effective participation of citizen volunteers working with our small government unit. While I understand that problems of scale increase as the size of the government and the magnitude of its problems increase, nevertheless, I firmly believe that reducing money and partisanship in politics combined with clear demonstration of effective work performed by government officials, will increase the support for the necessary work that we all need government to perform. Simply put, most people will pay for things that produce value they can see, including government.

Perhaps the most important function government can perform is building community by supporting the shared interests of its local citizens. This past weekend, as the children playing on the Goose Lake beach and in the water clearly demonstrated, we demonstrated that we can build community with grains of sand.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.