Dear Mr. Fancher II

By Norman E. Kjono, February 18, 2007

From The Seattle Times, February 18, 2007, "How Can We Help You In Your Life? We Want - and Need - To Know,"  by Michael Fancher, The Times' Editor-at-Large:  

"The future of the news media has never been more uncertain, and whatever is happening will affect journalists (me) and the public (you) profoundly. Consider these a sample of observations gleaned from 'Newspapers Next,' a project of the American Press Institute (API), a training center for the news industry and journalism educators:

 

"We find the evidence overwhelming: This is change on the grand scale, driven by a fundamental transformation in the connection between humans and information. The social impact is likely to rival the advent of movable type and mass literacy."

 

"The trigger is technological, but the impact is behavioral. As individuals respond to the infinite range of choices available to them, this will reshape the media landscape and, over time, society itself."

 

"Many people in the newspaper industry see grave danger ahead for newspapers in fulfilling their traditional civic mission as a maintainer of an informed citizenry, facilitator of civic dialogue and watchdog on institutions.

 

"Under the triple whammy of shrinking newspaper readership, declining profit margins and reductions in staffing, the signs are alarming. With less than half of the public regularly using newspapers, a large question looms: How will society function if the quality, quantity and public impact of meaningful journalism are not sustained?

 

I put all of those comments under the category 'You're not Chicken Little if the sky really is falling."' 

Coincidently, I addressed a week ago the subject that Mr. Fancher now writes about in my February 11, 2007 commentary The Light Begins to Break Through, II.  That commentary discussed an interesting article about conflicts of interest for Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) by Pulitzer prize winning Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Helliker. 

The below observations should be read in the context of a correspondence between myself and Mr. Fancher several years ago. See Seattle Times Correspondence, which includes my April 27, 1999 Transmittal Memorandum to Mr. Fancher and his April 28, 1999 response. In light of that previous correspondence this work is titled "Dear Mr. Fancher II." The content of those communications at once illuminates and overshadows Mr. Fancher's comments as excerpted above. 

I respectfully recommend Alvin and Heidi Toffler's excellent new book "Revolutionary Wealth" (Alfred Knopf 2006) to Mr. Fancher. The following excerpt is of interest: 

"But there is also a 'hidden' economy in which large amounts of mostly untracked, unmeasured and unpaid economic activity occurs. It is the non-money Prosumer Economy. . . . In The Third Wave (1980), we therefore invented the word prosumer for those of us who create goods, services, or experiences for our own use or satisfaction, rather than for sale or exchange. When, as individuals, we both produce and consume our own output, we are 'presuming.' . . .  and that what we do as prosumers profoundly effects the money economy in often overlooked ways." 

It should be intuitively obvious that news media operates under the laws of supply, demand and competition. From readers' and viewers' perspective the demand is for accurate and timely information that credibly reports about current events. Unfortunately, mainstream media's supply has fallen far short of demand. Hence, the market is filled with competitive, alternative news sources. 

 We who write for Internet news and opinion Web sites are pleased and gratified to be a large part of that competitive force. Indeed, what began as a stellar example of what the Toffler's describe as "prosuming"-creating our own research papers and news reports to accurately reflect information avoided and suppressed by mainstream media-several years ago has now become a thriving enterprise. Well beyond cottage industry stage, Web sites such as Forces.org often become the primary source of information concerning important subjects that mainstream media chooses to spin, rather than credibly report about.  

Few, if any, periods in the history of our great nation have experienced the present demand for credible reporting and honesty in broadcasting the complete story. Having been shown the wonders of "Shock and Awe" over Baghdad by mainstream media as if it were a Fourth of July entertainment spectacle, we think of the movie "Wag the Dog." Fresh from the experience of viewing media promotion of the sign emblazoned on an aircraft carrier that informed us major combat operations in Iraq were complete-now nearly four years ago-we began to discover that the Weapons of Mass Destruction which allegedly compelled invasion of another nation did not exist. Today, were we to believe mainstream media, our choices for President of the United States on the November 2008 ballot would be to entrenched icons of what has not worked for America over the past two decades, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John S. McCain. Enough already.  

It's goes down hill from there, on a wide variety of subjects from what really happened on 9/11 to anti-obesity, voting machine irregularities to anti-tobacco, and manufacturing pretense to invade Iran-in accordance with plans apparently written by neocons years ago-to the impact of tribal monopolies on our daily lives.  

A Short Course In Redefining Media 

Much of the current malaise for mainstream media is self-induced. More than a decade ago the Seattle Times and most of its mainstream brethren chose to embrace the George H.W. Bush administration's redefinition of media. That redefinition is clearly set forth in an April 1993 booklet, "Planning for a Tobacco-Free Washington," published under federal contract to support the administration's American Stop Smoking Intervention Study (Project ASSIST). Policy regarding media was stated on page 22 of "Planning for a Tobacco Free Washington:"

 

"Social change requires that people receive persistent and consistent messages from sources they trust. To this end ASSIST resources will be used to generate a variety of media messages that will foster and strengthen public support for proposed policy changes." 

Readers and subscribers trusted the Seattle Times to provide timely, accurate, and substantive reporting on all subjects that it writes about. What they have received from The Times for more than a decade is "persistent and consistent messages" to "foster and strengthen public support for proposed policy." Moreover, the "persistent and consistent messages" do not change, regardless of countervailing facts that emerge. Mainstream news persists with imposing the Bush media doctrine on most subjects to today. Normal folks understand that such media behavior creates an opportunity for credible journalists who report through the Web. That opportunity is seized by Web reporters who dig out the facts, put the special-interest puzzle together, and then publish the results of their work through distribution channels not encumbered by editor's political mandates.  

The above excerpt from Mr. Fancher's article in the Seattle Times sounds like good news to me. Yes, Mr. Fancher, the sky is falling for mainstream media. But at the same time the rising tide of demand for credible reporting of facts and information raises all Internet journalist's boats. Under present trends, mainstream media has reduced itself to presenting checklists of current event spin which readers and listeners can use as a guide, to dig out the truth on those subjects through the World Wide Web.  

Mainstream media is no longer the primary source of mainstream journalism. The fundamental essence of journalism is communication of accurate, timely facts and information to the public to the best of one's ability and resources. The integrity with which one gathers the whole story, the tenacity with which one digs out facts, and the honesty with which relevant information is presented determine the degree of public trust in the institution.  

Three Pertinent Examples

 1. What viewer could take seriously any reporting on tobacco issues in a news broadcast sponsored by commercials that hype ad nauseam Nicorette gum, NicoDerm CQ patches and Commit lozenges? When will ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, or CNN see fit to report that the largest source of private special-interest funding behind the Tobacco Control Enterprise-the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-is also one of the top five institutional shareholders of NicoDerm CQ patch manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson? See Yahoo Finance for the foundation's current holdings. As of September 30, 2006 the foundation owned 57 million shares of JNJ valued at $3.7 billion. The foundation states on pages 5 and 6 of its November 2005 publication "Taking on Tobacco"   that its tobacco control grants of $1 million or more since 1992 total $446 million.  

Where is "the news" that connects one-half billion in special-interest grants to a $3 billion-plus current stock position, or the $1 billion-plus profits derived by the foundation selling more than 10 million shares (before stock split) at artificially-inflated prices since 1998? Does it occur to media that there may be vested interests here? Internet journalists believe there are hidden interests here.  

2. By choosing to report about tobacco control's allegedly "overwhelming" evidence that Environmental Tobacco smoke (ETS) is deadly in all cases and without exception-while failing to report context that our federal courts, OSHA, research papers published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), and even peer tobacco control advocate studies refute such claims-mainstream media has produced for itself the overwhelming evidence of change on a grand scale that Mr. Fancher comments about. At issue is not only what mainstream media chooses to publish but what it refuses to publish as well. One example is all that is needed to illustrate the point. See "Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Tobacco Related Mortality in a Prospective Study of Californians, 1960-98," by Enstrom and Kabat, as published in 2003 (BMJ  2003;326:1057):
 

"Conclusions The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed." (Underline added.) 

Where were mainstream media disclosures of Enstrom and Kabat's conclusions, let alone meaningful discussion of information from OSHA or JNCI, in news reports that touted the recent Surgeon General's report to "foster and strengthen public support for proposed policy changes" through another nationwide round of smoking bans? It appears to me that substituting personal preference for credible science requires that mainstream news be slanted. But increasingly number of people still understand truth. Consequently, readers migrate from mainstream media spin doctors to Internet journalist fact reporters.  

3. The Seattle Times published three news articles about tobacco two days ago. Let's put them in context. The three news reports are: 

a.) From the Seattle Times, February 16, 2007, "No Smoking? Coffers Feel the Pain,"   by Margita Lohn of the Associated Press: 

"Because of quitters like Henkel, Minnesota's tobacco tax revenue is expected to go into a gradual slide later this year - a drop that may grow even steeper with the expected passage of a statewide smoking ban. Across the country, states are putting their treasuries under pressure by adopting smoking restrictions as well as higher cigarette taxes, which appear to be discouraging people from lighting up, as many health activists had hoped would happen. State Sen. David Tomassoni, a Democrat who opposes a statewide smoking ban, said he worries about the lost tax dollars. 'The taxes on smoking are being used to fund education, they're being used to fund health care, they're being used to fund real things. Now, if we eliminate smoking, does it mean that those things go away?' Tomassoni said." 

b.) From the Seattle Times, February 16, 2007, "Smoking foes Push For Tobacco Regulation,"   by Andrew Bridges of the Associated Press: 

WASHINGTON - Seven years after being rebuffed by the Supreme Court, anti-smoking advocates rejoiced Thursday as lawmakers renewed a push for federal regulation of tobacco, a step they say is needed to deter children from lighting up and to get smokers to quit. 'Congress has the opportunity to take a monumental step and grant the Food and Drug Administration the meaningful and long-overdue authority to regulate tobacco, which kills 440,000 people and costs our nation $96.7 billion in health care bills every year,' said John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced legislation Thursday that would give the FDA the same authority over cigarettes and other tobacco products that it already has over countless other consumer products." 

c.) From the Seattle Times, February 18, 2007, "State Sends A Message, Smoker Gets $8,000 Bill,"    by Ralph Thomas: 

"OLYMPIA -- Scott Adams figured he was saving about $20 per carton the past few years by ordering his cigarettes online and by phone from out-of-state tobacco dealers. Those savings are proving mighty costly now. The state claims Adams owes nearly $8,000 in unpaid cigarette taxes and penalties. After hounding him for more than a year, the state last week began garnisheeing 25 percent of Adams' wages."

My Op-Ed work published by the Los Angeles Daily Journal November 2, 2006, "Tobacco Tax  Initiative Is A Costly Pro Business Hoax" touches on the subject of all three articles above:  

1. Loss of cigarette tax revenues: What else could occur when politicians put in place expensive programs for which they also vow to eliminate tobacco tax source revenue? Such phenomenon are a fitting illustration that discriminatory taxation of "Target Group" consumers to fund ongoing state programs is a fatally-flawed and fiscally irresponsible approach to public policy. Minnesota State Senator David Tomassoni's concerns are well taken. Perhaps his legitimate concerns are part of the reasons for his oppositions top smoking bans, which also reduce state tax revenues by reducing revenues to small, independent hospitality establishments. Senator Tomassoni gets it, why didn't the Seattle Times when it was reporting about Washington's statewide smoking ban I-901in 2005? 

2. FDA regulation of tobacco: Is expressly addressed in excerpts from the study "Toward a Comprehensive Long Term Nicotine Policy." Tobacco advocates make it expressly clear that regulatory measures will be employed to coerce tobacco nicotine consumers to switch nicotine brands to their financial sponsors' "Smoke Free" nicotine gums, patches, lozenges and inhalers. Of course, since Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) delivery device products pay zero excise taxes-in contrast with punitive taxation of tobacco products-as the nicotine market shifts to gums, patches, lozenges and inhalers what were state tax revenues become pharmaceutical nicotine subsidies. When is the Seattle Times going to report about the tax revenue aspects of all nicotine products?  

3. Cigarette taxes: Is addressed in context of Parity Pricing. As tobacco control advocates relentlessly jack up the cost of cigarettes through new taxes pharmaceutical nicotine distributors such as GlaxoSmithKline increase the cost of Nicotine Replacement Therapy products by like amount. For example, as pointed out in my Los Angeles Daily Journal Op-Ed, when Washington cigarette taxes increased by $12.00 per carton June 2000 to January 2006 on a per unit basis the cost of Nicorette gum was raised by $12.06 per box. Data tables and receipts that show the tax and price increases to be true may be reviewed in Parity Pricing.PDF When is the Seattle Times going to publish a credible investigative journalism report about cigarette tax enforcement being use of state resources and powers to enforce transferring state tax revenues to pharmaceutical corporate income statements?  

If a Web journalist can tie the above three subjects together in one 1,200 word Op-Ed work why can't the Seattle Times at the least provide meaningful information and context for each of the three news articles?  

Where is the disclosure by the Associated Press or Seattle Times that the tobacco control advocates rejoicing over yet another run at regulation of tobacco by pharmaceutical special-interests-including the American Cancer Society-are among recipients of $446 million in tobacco control grants from the largest pharmaceutical advocacy group in the USA, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?  

Closing Thoughts

 Whatever else may be said about Internet news reporting, my personal experience tells me three things are certain: the journalists' reports present often-controversial disclosures that mainstream media avoids and often suppresses; reports are based on in-depth research as to relevant facts; copy is written from the heart, with firm commitment as to underlying values and beliefs. Under the constraints imposed by George H.W. Bush's redefinition of uses to which media will be employed evening news mainstream media talking heads read carefully-scripted reports from teleprompters without a clue as to the context or import of what they say. At the same time, "rip, read, and write" newspaper reporters regurgitate special-interest agenda press releases from newsroom faxes without critical review. It apparently never occurs to neither talking heads nor rip read and writers that that there may be an important aspect to the story reported other than that which sustains pharmaceutical advertising revenues.  

With respects, Mr. Fancher, my response to your query is that you have two choices

1. You could begin to lead the Seattle Times out of the dark ages imposed by George H. W. Bush's redefinition of media through once again looking at the totality of facts for important subjects that The Times writes about.  

2. You can continue providing opportunities for increased market share to Internet journalists who take the time and commit their personal resources to digging out the facts, developing the full context of a story, and reporting from the heart. 

Either way, we Internet journalists are happy. By making the first choice the light breaks through with increasing intensity. The second choice merely confirms the prophesy so eloquently stated in the excerpt from your article at top of this commentary:  

The text of excerpts from Mr. Fancher's article includes a question: "How will society function if the quality, quantity and public impact of meaningful journalism are not sustained?"

 

I submit that the question assumes a fact not in evidence. By what standard does one assume there will be no meaningful journalism if the Seattle Times goes out of business? By all accounts, it appears to me that the quality, quantity, and impact of journalism would dramatically improve.  

Choose now, Mr. Fancher. Not only is your job at stake but public trust is already moving away from you quite rapidly.  

Norman E. Kjono


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