All the News That’s Fit to Lie About!

by Bob Sparrow

Jack & Barbara Sparrow in front of the Novato Advance

Hey Dad, I know you haven’t been with us for nearly 20 years now, but you must be turning over in your grave, what with all that’s going on in the newspaper business and news media in general today.

Dad, Jack Sparrow, graduated from high school in 1932, into a world that was trying to climb out of the Great Depression.  His choices after graduation were to get a job or . . . get a job.  So, he got a job at the local newspaper in San Rafael, California, the Independent Journal – which, in those days, was actually INDEPENDENT.

He worked hard at every level of that newspaper from reporting to running the linotype.  Then in 1941, at 26 years old, he purchased the Novato Advance and at the time became the youngest newspaper publisher in California.  Since television wasn’t a popular media until the mid-50s, newspapers were where everybody got their news.  The goal of the newspaper and the news reporter, was to report the events as they happened and let the readers come to their own conclusions.  Today’s reporters must have missed that day in their journalism class.

Today the media see themselves as influencers and whoever pays them the most, in whatever form that payment may be, gets the good news.  Today, politics plays a huge role in what a media outlet will report and how they report it, or even if they report it.

The basics of a news story in the old days were covered by the “Five ‘W’s”:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

If a reporter could get the answers to these questions, he had a good, and complete, story.  News stories today have a different standard and are measured very differently:

  • Spin it – use bias, vague, dramatic or sensational language, which moves the reported story away from objective, measurable facts
  • Make Unsubstantiated Claims – use statements that appear to be facts, but do not include specific evidence.
  • Use Subjective statements – don’t forget to use statements based on personal opinion, assumptions, beliefs, tastes, preferences or interpretations
  • Look for opportunities to use Sensational language – be dramatic, yet vague, use hyperbole at the expense of accuracy
  • Bias by omission – don’t cover stories at all or omit information that would support an alternate view
  • Bias by placement – The stories that a media outlet features “above the fold” on the front page or prominently at the start of the broadcast, tells you which stories they really want you to read or hear.

OK, maybe I got a little too deep into the weeds there, I guess I could have summed it up by saying that most media outlets, print or electronic have rolled all the above standards, or sub-standards into one term – Fake New, but that’s nothing you don’t already know.

I know, Dad, we used to be able to say, “Yes, it’s true, I read it in the newspaper.”  Yes, really!  Sound ludicrous now, but newspapers used to have a noble goal – inform the public and help keep our politicians/government honest – be the people’s watchdog.  Now, the ‘fourth estate‘ is the politicians ‘lap dog’.   We’re at a point where we cannot trust anyone or anything you hear or read; you must consider the source; no one is watching the watch dog!

So, Dad, we’d sure appreciate it if you could somehow reach down and teach our news “personalities” how to report the facts…just the facts.

 

PERSPECTIVE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My husband and his mother, 1941

Ten years ago this week my mother-in-law passed away at the age of 96.  That’s a good run by anyone’s standards but given her life story, it was truly extraordinary.  I’ve been thinking about her a lot this summer as we have wended our way through the coronavirus pandemic.  At times it was easy to get discouraged, between social distancing, isolation from family and not being able to eat the raspberry granola pancakes at our favorite restaurant.  But whenever I would begin to feel just the teensiest bit sorry for myself I would think of all that she endured and realize what a dope I was for being ungrateful.   Some may have read my previous posts about her, or read our book, In the Enemy’s Camp, but for those of you who are unfamiliar the following is a recap.

 

          Internee shanties 

Kathleen Chapman Watson was born in the Philippines to a British mother and an American father.  She enjoyed a wonderful childhood that she spoke about fondly for the rest of her days.  At age 22 she married Daniel Watson, a Scot who was based in Manila working for a Glasgow import/export company.  They expanded their family in 1937 with a son, Richard, and in 1941 with my husband, Alan.  They believed their life to be perfect.  Then in December 1941 the Japanese attacked Manila.  By January, all men who possessed Allied citizenship were taken to an internment camp at Santo Tomas University.  Kathleen and the boys stayed in their home but the Japanese slowly began to confiscate their possessions.  First it was their car, then furniture and finally, their house.  By August, her parents were sent to the U.S. in a prisoner exchange and she saw no choice but to join Danny in the camp.  All told, more than 3500 Allied citizens ended up in Santo Tomas, mostly businessmen and their families.  The overcrowding was stifling, both in terms of privacy and space.  Eventually many of the families, including Daniel and Kathleen,  built shanties outside the main dormitory building to gain some semblance of a home.

For more than three and one-half years they lived with the privations and vagaries of their Japanese captors.  By the end of their captivity they were allotted just 800 calories per day.  Danny had every tropical disease known to man and his 6’2″ frame was skeletal.  Kathleen suffered with malaria throughout their internment.  The news they received was spotty at best and most updates were based on unsubstantiated rumor.  Finally in September of 1944 they heard the rumblings of something unrefutable: American bomber planes.   By Christmas of that year they were still held captive, with increasing retribution and punishments by the Japanese.  The salvation they thought was imminent in September had still not materialized. Yet despite their disappointment, in the diary that Kathleen kept during their time in Santo Tomas, this is what she wrote on that Christmas Day:

Contrary to all expectations, Danny and I have agreed that is is the happiest Christmas we have ever experienced because our sense of appreciation has been so sharpened that every simple thing has appeared in a roseate hue.  This Christmas season, watered by the tears of desperation and despair, and enriched with a great hope for a new future in a brave new world, is a Christmas which we shall always remember.  

Her children were habitually hungry, she and her husband were weakened and sick, and she hadn’t seen her family in over three years. Still, her optimistic attitude shined through.  It was her defining characteristic until her dying day – she always found something cheerful on which to focus.  So, as I said at the beginning of this post, whenever I feel a little down with all that’s going on in the world I try to channel her buoyant outlook and remember that as bad as things are, I’m not living in a leaky shanty held captive by an invading army.  Sort of puts things in perspective.

2007 – Kathleen with her two great-grandsons 

Footnote: Kathleen’s optimism was rewarded in February 1945 when the First Cavalry burst through the gates of the camp and rescued the prisoners.  The family set sail for the United States in early April and by mid-May they were safely docked in Los Angeles.  Abandoning their plans to move to Scotland, they decided to settle in Pasadena, where they eventually started a business, worked hard, and lived the American dream.

Old Man Visits Old Man River

by Bob Sparrow

Donnie, Starlet, Linda and Old Man on the river

I had the occasion last month to visit Minnesota, home to Paul Bunyan, the Vikings and Linda’s mother, Phyllis; sister, Starlet; brother-in-law, Donnie and various nieces, as well as some great-nieces and nephews – their greatness varies, but mostly they’re great.  Some of our friends doubted our sanity in 1) flying anywhere during Covid, and 2) going to the state that was ground zero for all the national riots.  How some ever, we’ve become callus to comments about our sanity – they seem to come with predictable regularity.  So off we went.

While we did fly into the eye of the storm (Minneapolis), we were quickly picked up by Donnie & Starlet and whisked 85 miles south to Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic.  So, if Minneapolis is ground zero, Rochester would be ground one million, what with all the highly qualified doctors, state-of-the-art medical facilities and all those ‘Minnesota nice’ folks.

I won’t bore you with all the darn tootin’ card games we played or with Gene & Denise Cobb’s bucolic, five-acre vegetable and flower garden (featuring the finest salsify in the land), but what I will bore you with is a side trip we took to the Mississippi River.  Yes, for those who are geographically challenged, the ‘Mighty Mississippi’ starts in Minnesota, from a glacial lake that’s only about 2 square miles, Lake Itasca, to be exact.

Will and Gene in Cobb backyard

Denise in Cobb backyard

We drive to Lake Pepin on the Mississippi; yes, the Mississippi has lakes, and Pepin is the largest one. On the east side of the lake or river is Pepin, Wisconsin, on the west side is Lake City, Minnesota, where we stop to have lunch, and learn that:

  • It was on Lake Pepin where water skiing was born in the U.S. – and we actually did see some water-skiers on the lake this day
  • Not to be outdone by Loch Ness, Lake Pepin has its own monster, Pepie – we didn’t see her.

As ‘Old Man River’ and the ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ echoed in my brain, I wondered what else I didn’t know about what most people mistakenly think is America’s longest river.  That’s right, that honor goes to the Missouri River, which is about 100 miles longer and originates in Montana and empties into the Mississippi in St. Louis, where they jointly ease their way to New Orleans then into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was interested in what Google had to say about the river; not surprisingly, quite a bit.  Here’s a few gems (OK, maybe not gems, but possibly of some esoteric interest):

  • It is 2,320 miles long, about 100 miles shorter than the Missouri

    Old Man River from Wisconsin side

  • It has flowed backwards during hurricanes and earthquakes
  • It is 7 miles wide at its widest point
  • For a single drop of water to travel the length of the river would take 90 days.
  • At its deepest, the river is 200 feet deep.
  • While the river looks slow and meandering, the current is quite strong and thus it is very difficult to swim across. If you get pulled under, the water is so muddy that you’d be difficult to find.  Glad we didn’t decide to take a dip.

We leave the river and stop at a winery and get a better understanding of why Minnesota is known for a lot of good things, but not it’s wine.  We head directly to The Little Thistle Brewing Company, a local craft brewery, where Gene Cobb is an investor, and get the taste of wine out of our mouths with some great craft beer.

All is still NICE in Minnesota (except the wine), and it’s somehow reassuring to know that during these crazy times Old Man River just keeps rollin’ along.