Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘federal

Propaganda, Cowboy Style

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I am working on a project that I don’t really have time to interrupt.  Except here I am doing it because I have found a quote that so exquisitely explains what is happening in Malheur county near Burns, Oregon, that I just have to share it.

As you may know, armed militants, protesters, occupiers or patriots (depending on to what degree you agree or disagree with their intentions) have taken over a Federal Wildlife Refuge.  Their trigger was the arrest of a father and son for setting fire to federal lands and being sent to prison a second time after a court ruled the time they initially spent in jail for the crime wasn’t sufficient.

And their ultimate goal may be to go out in a blaze of glory; a combination of Waco, Texas and Timothy McVeigh with the intention of starting a new Sagebrush Rebellion to sweep across the west.  But their stated reason, today, for remaining at the refuge, today, includes convincing local farmers and ranchers that the land upon which the refuge sits belongs to them, the true owners, not the federal government.

There are many tangents to that line of thinking, including how, if you want to get technical, it is the Paiute Indians; the 13,000 year prior residents who may have the ultimate, bonafide claim.  Another tangent is how, an armed group of white men can commandeer a federal facility with police, sheriffs, marshals, FBI and military within spitting distance and nobody gets shot.  But an unarmed and innocent black man in any one of a dozen U.S. cities can be shot by police because the officers feel their lives “were in danger”.

And then, there is the Constitutional interpretation, which unfortunately, like the Bible, can be interpreted to mean anything by those believing they are the chosen ones to interpret it.

But I digress.

Back in 1961, during a seminar hosted by the National Educational Association of Broadcasters, University of Illinois, Urbana faculty member Harry Skornea told a story about his work in East Germany just after the Berlin Wall went up:

“This reminds me of 1948 when I struggled a good deal with the organization of a news department for RIAS (Radio In The American Sector) in Berlin. The blockade was starting and our people were trying to set up a good news department that would cause the people to listen to RIAS instead of the much more powerful East Berlin station. And one of the things that I thought they were doing wrong and which we finally were able to put a stop to was that, good as our news department was, the communists were using us, or manipulating us. When one of the East German leaders, Grotewohl or someone else would speak, or when there would be an enormous rally in Leipzig, our newsmen would be real proud of the fact that they were able to cover it.  And I said, “Don’t you realize that in a great many cases these meetings are being staged precisely so you will cover them and report them?  And that you’re being used time after time?  You’ve got to have the courage not to cover certain things which have propaganda implications, because unless you’re extremely perceptive, you may be lending yourself to their nefarious ends.  And I think that in a great many cases, we fail to recognize the extent to which things we relay are “managed” in some way or other by people who are a little bit more skillful than we are, and I think we are going to have to begin to screen more carefully ourselves”.

The news cycle is such a circular heroin injection and any news porn that fills the seconds is considered to be serving the highest standards of the Society of Professional Journalists, or at least the drooling demands of advertisers.  But does telling the public all about it all the time make them informed such that they will solve the problem without, as Oregon Governor Kate Brown lamented regarding the Malheur situation, “tearing themselves apart”?  Can it make the perpetrators think about the philosophy of the matter at a depth deeper than their ego without making them laugh so hard that they piss themselves?

Or does it just make journalists punks?

Wired

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Wired

This isn’t about interviews.  It is about somebody who does interviews.  But it’s not about the interviews they do.  It’s about something else.

A good friend of mine is a high ranking public affairs officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.  She’s been there for more than 10 years.  She’s held numerous positions.  She’s excellent at her job.  Everybody knows and respects her work.

She’s a badass.

She told me recently that she applied for a job that she didn’t get.

“I think the job was “wired”.
“Wired?”
“Yeah, you know, when there’s a direct connection that you can’t see because it’s hidden behind a wall”.

Apparently, federal hiring managers often announce a vacancy but already have someone in mind.  So they skirt rules of the Office of Personnel Management by making the public notice of the vacancy very short (there are no federal regulations for how long a vacancy must be listed on USAJobs), tailoring the job requirements very tightly and then, interview applicants which, by design, are few.  Then, when the interviews close, they hire who they always intended.  They were never going to hire anyone else but they had to follow the process to make it look fair.

She says she gets it.  It’s a good ole’ boys network, and most of the hires are white men.  Even here in Portland, city government just today instituted a new policy that requires commissioners to interview at least one qualified minority candidate, female candidate and candidate with a disability for bureau director and other top positions. It seems the last seven hires were middle aged white men.

Bad optics.

So it’s not just a Federal tendency.  She says after the position closed, people pulled her aside to say it wasn’t about her.  They just wanted somebody they felt comfortable with, whatever that meant.

Of course, she didn’t know what really went on about her or her qualifications.  Apparently there was a split vote and a spirited discussion.  And for a moment, she thought she, a black woman, might break through.  But when a well informed friend used the word “wired” as part of the autopsy, she knew.  And she felt a little betrayed.

The EPA, like a lot of Federal agencies, is now required to see the world through what it calls a “diversity lens”.  New terminology for an old ideal.  When I worked for the feds, walls of my agency were blanketed with mission statements and policy letters that screamed its best self.  Now she’s come to believe that deep down, every organization secretly likes the taste of chaw.  She started humming the “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”.  We laughed about it.

Apparently, companies of all sorts are inconsiderate like this all the time.

Wired.  I’d never heard of such a thing.

If you have, tell me about it.