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Columns
Parker: James O'Keefe shows what real fake news is

WASHINGTON

The phrase “the truth will out” has always been at home in American newsrooms where journalists dedicate their days to making it so.

Sometimes Truth needs a little nudge, as was the case recently when an anti-media organization, absurdly named “Project Veritas,” apparently invented a story intended to impugn The Washington Post (and the media more broadly), while also helping Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Briefly, the more aptly named “Pretext Veritas” and its creator, the self-regarding (bad) actor James O’Keefe, seems to have hired a woman to say that Moore impregnated her in 1992 and that she got an abortion at 15. As if you could forget, Moore has been accused by several women of molesting them when they were teens and he was in his 30s.

Jaime T. Phillips presented herself to Post reporters with her scandalous tale, apparently expecting them to concede the paper’s bias against Moore, and, voila, a scoop! O’Keefe surely would have raced to present his findings, all filmed on hidden camera, his usual modus operandi, and launched a fresh fundraising drive.

You see? O’Keefe’s mission has been to prove that the media are biased. While this may be true to the degree that all human beings carry biases, the Post’s editorial board isn’t coy about its positions. That said, the editorial and opinion pages shouldn’t be confused with the reportorial staff, which adheres to basic journalism tenets, including, “park your bias at the door.”

Essentially, Phillips baited the Post and the Post declined to play. Or, rather, the paper did what it’s supposed to do and checked out the story. This isn’t cause for trumpets and heraldry, mind you. It’s what journalists do. As opposed to what pseudo-journalists—also known as typists—claim they do. With a little footwork, Post reporters were able to trace Phillips to Project Veritas and demonstrated that her story was a fraud.

It was—you may now cue the horn section—FAKE NEWS.

Thanks to O’Keefe, the Post also showed a skeptical public just how different real journalism is from the effluvia produced by Project Veritas. Perhaps there’s a place for him at Pravda.

Moore, meanwhile, might have hoped to discredit all his accusers, though O’Keefe refused to respond to questions Monday regarding his relationship to Moore. If one woman would lie, however, wouldn’t it be possible to suggest the others were lying as well? In a lesser-case scenario, if the Post had run with the story without confirming it, O’Keefe could prove that the Post was biased against Moore for publishing a fake story.

Again, none of this happened.

The lie was outed by the truth, while O’Keefe’s own obvious agenda was revealed. Hating the media these days is good business and good politics among a certain constituency. If anyone should feel betrayed by O’Keefe, however, it would be all those people who have been duped into believing that the mainstream media are the bad guys. Let’s be very clear. The bad guys are the ones who knowingly lie.

Recall that it was Trump who popularized the phrase “fake-news” whenever he didn’t like some story written about him. Not that covering Trump requires embellishment or fakery.

Originally the term was used in real news stories about fake stories being promulgated through social media. But Trump’s marketing savvy—and his appreciation for the fact that people tend to believe what they want to believe—prompted him to make “fake news” the battle cry of the conservative right.

Excuse the echo, but this bears repeating: Those who would purposely mislead or seek to confuse others are bad people. Worse, they are evil.

Conspiracy theorists will always be among us, and the credulous are in no danger of extinction. However, that a million people—or 60 million—believe something doesn’t make it true. Nor does crying “fake news” alter what is. The proof is anyone’s for the asking.


Letters
Your Views: Correction another insult to Clinton's grocery store

The Sunday front-page story claiming that Clinton has no local grocery store was totally false. Clinton Foods IGA has served my family well for 28 years, providing our daily grocery needs as well as items for special occasions. The reporter on this story obviously didn’t come to Clinton to check the facts, as Clinton Foods is one of the first businesses encountered as you enter our village on Highway 140. The “correction” to this story was buried on Page 4A of Wednesday’s paper and continued the false information by stating Clinton Foods “provides some grocery items.”

I guess “some” must include produce, canned and dry goods, convenience foods, frozen foods, meats, dairy, snack foods, deli, bakery, cleaning products, personal-care items, liquor department and more. There are many Clinton residents who shop at Clinton Foods because they want to support local family owned businesses, prefer the convenience of not driving out of town or do not have transportation. We’re blessed to have Clinton Foods in our town!

JENNY LUDEMAN

Clinton


Our_views
Our Views: Neighborhood saved from aesthetic insult

Rock County officials studying proposals for updating the courthouse appear to have figured out they cannot fix previous mistakes by making new ones.

A committee’s latest recommendation no longer calls for turning green space into a parking lot near the courthouse’s east entrance, calling instead for repairing a parking ramp already there. The committee’s decision to abandon plans for a new loading dock is also worth noting.

Credit goes to a group of neighbors, who support the new recommendation, for pushing officials to reconsider their initial, ill-advised plans.

Why anybody authorized expanding the courthouse during the 1990s without installing an adequate loading dock is a mystery. The price of that decision is semitrailer trucks cannot easily pull into the current loading dock on the west side, forcing them to park and unload on the street. Box trucks can better fit the space, though the dock’s height was designed for semi trucks.

The proposal to move the loading dock to the east entrance, requiring the parking ramp’s removal and construction of a new parking lot, was an attempt to solve some of the courthouse’s shortcomings. Understandably, these neighbors didn’t want to pay for the county’s past planning sins.

The Courthouse Hill neighborhood has enough challenges without the county taking away valuable green space. The area features many historic, beautiful homes, though some need significant repairs. Reducing green space in this neighborhood would have been both insensitive and shortsighted. As “Wisconsin’s Park Place,” all of Janesville deserved better than this plan.

As it stands, this neighborhood suffers daily from the dismal architecture that is the courthouse, especially its east side. A new parking lot would have piled on aesthetic insult. The county’s track record—how to say this diplomatically—is to do the opposite of what Frank Lloyd Wright would do.

It’s almost too easy to poke fun at the county’s lack of planning prowess. To be fair, the courthouse’s current layout gives county officials no perfect solution, only some choices better than others.

One challenge is that parking on the east side cannot accommodate all employees at peak times if officials want to reserve the west-side parking area for the public.

In abandoning plans for a new loading dock, employees will have to live with a less-than-ideal logistical setup for the foreseeable future. But the county has managed with this setup for years, and employees can likely tolerate it for several more.

Let the current loading dock serve as a reminder of the importance of getting designs right the first time. If the county someday decides to revisit the loading dock issue, officials need to work closely with residents to maintain the historic ambiance of the Courthouse Hill neighborhood.


Other_views
Other Views: Civics crisis extends beyond the classroom

“Excuse me, can you please take our picture?” the stranger humbly asked.

“Sure,” I replied and prepared to snap a photo of the four family members posing in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. As I raised the smartphone to eye level, I noticed each was quietly crying.

Acknowledging my puzzlement, the man explained: “We are new Americans. We are just so happy to be here.” He later shared that his family had recently emigrated from Asia and after a two-year long naturalization process, they all had finally received their United States citizenships. They had traveled as a group to Philadelphia—the site of their new country’s founding—to celebrate.

The family’s assimilation had included the completion of an examination on U.S. history and civics. Like millions of hopeful Americans before them, to pass each had to answer six of 10 questions from a list of 100 potential queries that covered historical events, democratic values and government.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as of 2016, the overall national pass rate on the exam is 91 percent.

Sadly, native-born citizens do not perform as well as their naturalizing counterparts. A 2012 survey by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University distributed the citizenship test to native citizens. A third of them failed.

As a result, prominent political figures—including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former President Jimmy Carter—have called for a renewed focus on civics education in American classrooms.

Lost amidst the advocacy for improved instruction is the fact that adults whose formal school days have long since passed are just as much in need of civic education.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. adults in August 2016 and found that only 26 percent of respondents could correctly name all three branches of the federal government; 31 percent couldn’t name even one. Yet in 2011, Congress cut all federal funding for teaching civics, including community efforts aimed at American adults.

Ironically, the U.S. continues to spend millions of dollars each year on civics education abroad through the State Department’s Agency for International Development.

As an example, in the lead up to Kenya’s first truly free general elections since independence in 1964, USAID sponsored over 50,000 workshops, lectures and community meetings across the nation.

Independent studies of USAID’s Kenyan intervention found that it resulted in sustained local-level civic involvement by previously unengaged citizens. In contrast to non-participants, adult individuals who participated were significantly more well-informed about government, more cognizant of their rights and more learned about constitutional matters. Furthermore, program partakers reported significant increases in social tolerance of partisan opponents.

The inhabitants of the world’s oldest democracy could benefit from a refresher course modeled after our own overseas mediations. The curriculum is already developed and the blueprint for success is in place.

What America lacks is not the resources to civically engage our adult citizens but instead the will to do it.

Upon dutifully handing the camera back to the grateful family, I recalled the words of Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration that was approved inside the very same Independence Hall where we stood—who wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free… it expects what never was and never will be.”