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By Robert Price
Reader: I'm real concerned that you buried the Affordable Care Act on page 23 ("More than 7 million enroll under Affordable Care Act," April 2) and you have the front page for GM ("GM: We've changed") and I was wondering which one had more effect on the American people.
I believe firmly that if the Affordable Care Act had not met its goals and it was deemed a failure that it would have been on the front page. And I think that's a bunch of bunk.
This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian's news coverage. Your questions -- which may be edited for space -- are answered here each Saturday.
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-- Dr. Jim Nuanez
Price: You're probably right, Jim. Everything except the bunk part, I mean.
It's been a tough four years for supporters of the ACA, which became law in March 2010. After continuous, unyielding criticism, technical failure and underwhelming registration numbers, the ACA has finally begun to pick up steam. On March 29, we reported (by way of the Tribune Washington Bureau), "As Obamacare sign-ups hit the politically important threshold of 6 million this week, new polling has shown that the public has begun to warm a bit to the controversial law. ..."
Each of several milestones that in some way described dramatic changes in the ACA's fortunes -- great poll numbers, horrible poll numbers, repeated efforts to repeal, the botched rollout of healthcare.gov, Obama's inexplicable "keep your doctor" fabrication, Sen. Ted Cruz's inexplicable "lemmings with suicide vests" blackmail strategy -- good or bad, it received prominent coverage, often on the front page.
But there have been no dramatic turns in the past week. Seven million sign-ups, as reported Tuesday, was certainly more good news for the White House. But at this juncture, with positive momentum finally rolling in Obamacare's favor, it was not unexpected news. Now, had the bottom suddenly fallen out (again) after all that growing optimism, that would have been front page material. So, yes, you're correct.
I suppose your inference, Jim, is that this newspaper likes to focus on Obamacare's failures (or maybe simply Obama's failures) and ignores the successes. All I can say is, we've tried to give equal weight to the ups and the downs. I'm sure some Republicans in the reading audience would take issue with the suggestion that we're anti-ACA.
One way to judge how this newspaper has "officially" viewed the ACA is by Googling our editorials over the past four years. Our editorial of March 23, 2011, "Obamacare, one year later, has untapped value," noted that "Many provisions are unquestionably for the better. ... We still have concerns about aspects of Obamacare, but the benefits, including those some may not know about, are noteworthy." We criticized the ACA's disastrous unveiling of its website (duh! Who wouldn't?) and Obama's famously false promise, but also criticized opponents who have intentionally mischaracterized the law and Republicans who've done all they can to block it, even though it bears a strong resemblance to a health-care marketplace makeover proposed by Richard Nixon in 1973.
I don't see any bunk there.
The ACA indeed affects more people than General Motors' indefensible non-recall, but not by as much as you might think. That faulty ignition switch was in as many as 2.6 million cars, so you or somebody you know could well have been in danger. And GM executives' appearance before a congressional committee was a much fresher story than the ACA's torturous saga.
Incidentally, the coverage of GM's troubles points to another truth about newsworthiness: Four of the past seven Motor Trend cars of the year and two of Car and Driver's 10 best cars of 2014 are from the General Motors family. Why aren't those front-page stories? It would only seem fair. Well, blame basic human nature, which -- and maybe this goes back to an ancestral instinct for survival -- seems to place a higher degree of attention on alarming news than on good.
Reader: Who picks the photos for stories? I've always wondered about that. When something happens -- a news event or press conference -- a barrage of cameras flash and click away incessantly. Who's in charge of going through them all and picking out the absolutely worst one to print in the paper?
(Case in point): Front page. Wednesday, March 19. Really? POTUS presents Medals of Honor to deserving, previously overlooked recipients and this was the most representative photo of the event available? Really?
-- Pamela Wildermuth
Price: The photo of Barack Obama with Lenora Alvarado of Bakersfield was the only one provided to us. Unfortunately (or laughably, if you're of that disposition), the president, in an apparent effort to appear paternal and consoling, looks more like he would like to use the restroom.
Normally, however, we have several photos to choose from, although not for every story. The photo coordinator pares down the choices, whether from our staff photographers or wire services, to perhaps three or four and, in our 3 p.m. news meeting, several editors look them over. Consensus opinion sometimes develops on the best option for certain stories, but in the absence of strong direction, the page designer ultimately makes the call, often based on available space.
Reader: A story about my daughter, Wendy Kyle, in the 2001 homicide, was a good article overall ("'Persons of interest' not ruled out in 2001 slaying," Feb. 9) but a few things must be cleared up for her sake. Her family was very hurt over negative things said about her that are so untrue but even if they were true, the writer should have been more tactful and sensitive. Respect should be shown toward the dead and family as there has been so much pain and suffering already.
The story said that she was a regular in the Bakersfield bars scene. After work she'd make a few stops at different bars then go home to Oildale. This makes her out to be a drunk or worse! Implies she didn't have good character.
She was a wonderful daughter who I was most proud of and she died a hero just like the soldiers in the war, as there is a battle over here as well. It is all around us. Domestic violence, guns, stabbings, rapes ... crime of every kind.
-- Marci Pack
Price: I had to combine and pare down three of your rather lengthy letters and I hope I have done so fairly. Jason Kotowski's reporting, from what I have been able to gather, was 100 percent factual. That doesn't mean reminding your family of this tragedy is any less hurtful.
Bringing Wendy's murder back into the light could help solve the case, however, as has been proven many times before over the years in instances across the country. In order to kickstart fading memories, it is necessary to provide some specifics about Wendy, where she tended to socialize and who might have known her. No disrespect was intended. I hope law enforcement can one day crack this case and give you some peace.
Reader: I do not know how many years I have been strongly disagreeing with The Californian about printing pay and retirement pay for law enforcement and firefighters. In printing information such as this, you stir up people against law enforcement and firefighters because people just plain refuse to see what those jobs actually entail. Or maybe people just do not care if a policeman/woman or firefighter puts their lives literally on the line for them. These two jobs have two sides to them: one side is the ugly facts of dealing with criminals and the horror they cause innocent people and the loss for people when their homes and businesses and lives are destroyed by fire. The other side is when the criminal is caught and the fire is out. What people do not know or understand is what it took to deal with these problems.
Every time I have made an issue of the paper printing personal information about law enforcement and firefighters, I have been told the people have the right to know since their taxes pay for the services. If that is the case, then you should also print all the ugly details that went into the job so that people fully understand what all went into the long hours, job skills and dangers that went into doing the job.
I do not think anyone would begrudge someone who works at Wal-Mart or McDonalds getting aid because these people are working. There are plenty of people working the system rather than working at a job. Those are the people that should be identified.
Frankly I have always wondered at the real reasons you printed the pay and retirement pay for law enforcement and firefighters. Today in reading your (March 22) Sound Off column, I discovered that you did not feel ... those working at Wal-Mart ... "deserve that kind of humiliation." What about the jobs of law enforcement and firefighters makes them "deserve that kind of humiliation?" The amount of money involved should not have anything to do with this because the jobs are totally different and there is a lot more at stake for both the police and fire and residents than those who work at Wal-Mart.
-- Irene Edmonds
Price: Irene, I don't think publishing those numbers "stirs up people against law enforcement and firefighters" in the slightest. You'll have to give me some evidence of that. We publish evidence of the "ugly facts" of police work daily in the breaking news blog and elsewhere, and we describe the challenges of the job in detail as least as often as we report salaries. In articles like Theo Douglas' Jan. 19 article "Calls for backup: unheeded" on the difficulties of recruiting officers to Bakersfield, where the pay may not be as high as in other cities, it's obviously an essential component.
Nobody is under the impression cops play ping pong all day. It's a dangerous and demanding job and no one here has ever suggested otherwise.
As for the humiliation of having one's wages made public: It strikes me as far more humiliating for people who earn poverty-level wages than for people whose pay approaches or, quite often, exceeds $100,000 per year. In any event, these public safety officers are rarely identified by name, only by job description.
How would we find out who's gaming the system and who isn't? Seems to me that's often a subjective call. Some cases are obvious, naturally, and those offenders ought to (and generally do) face legal consequences. I'm in favor of publishing the names of people convicted of welfare fraud.
Reader: Pricey, that was a real cheap shot on your part (Oops! My arrogant liberal bias is showing again," March 15) since I have been eighty-sixed from that bird cage carpet you call a newspaper for several years now. Although I stand by what I wrote 100 percent, I might have couched my remarks somewhat different had I thought that you were going to headline them in that mindless Sound Off segment you do.
I was cruising the South Pacific with some billionaire Tea Party friends of mine when you fortuitously elected to print my eloquent prose. I was so looking forward to not having to read TBC for three weeks. Do you realize how really gutless you come off when your manhood is challenged and you respond by criticizing your antagonist's spelling? I intentionally misspell words just so you can correct me with your petty arrogance. Did you know that I am a speed reader with unbelievable comprehension ability? I can read the first and last paragraphs of any of your journalistic rants and know exactly what liberal BS is in between.
-- Jack Balfanz
Price: Mr. Balfanz, your emails are so hilariously over the top, at one time I actually wondered if I was being punked by some wise guy who, inspired by a book of Michael Savage quotes, invented you in a fit of satirical glee. But I've met several acquaintances of yours over the past three weeks, each of whom assured me that nooooo, you are quite real and your notoriety well-deserved.
You're miffed that I corrected your spelling? Surely you remember that you specifically invited me to do so. You say you've been 86'd from our letters to the editor section? No, you haven't. As I've informed you before, just write something that's coherent and not so insulting or mean-spirited and we'll happily print it.
Your vacation sounds lovely. I'm sure your neighbors missed you terribly, though.
Reader: Hooray for your "arrogant liberal bias!" You must be quite thick-skinned to be able to put up with such criticism, and then respond objectively and calmly.
Keep up the good work!
-- Cynthia Saalfield
Reader: I'm glad to see TBC management take the opportunity to be the ones doing the sounding off ... Too often those reader opinions are overly critical, irrational or mean-spirited. I appreciate you, when appropriate, voicing bare-knuckled responses that speak for many of your readers who don't sound off.
-- Staying Off-Line
Reader: Responding to the comment in Sound Off from John Highbrecht: I have known Robert Price and Steve Swenson for more than 20 years. I met them when I worked at Wells Fargo Bank. I found the Sound Off with the two of them sparring in fun hilarious, so much so that I copied the column and posted it to my Facebook page. Laughter is a great medicine.
-- Carol Knapp
Reader: I loved your response to Steve on Saturday (March 23). I have known Steve for many years through church. ... I am sure he enjoyed your response as well -- calling him a legend. Keep up the good work -- I look forward to the Saturday paper and read Sound Off first now.
-- Pam Roberts
Price: If you follow Steve on Facebook you know he never actually retired from the newspaper. He is still evaluating our performance from his den, to our collective joy.
Reader: I would like to once again commend the excellent job your sports editor, Tony Lacava, and his sports staff did in covering the 2014 California State High School Wrestling Championships -- just an outstanding job. The coverage was the talk of the wrestling community.
-- Mike Stricker
Price: Thanks, Mike. For a staff our size, our prep sports coverage is the best anywhere and Lacava will wrestle anybody who says otherwise.
Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.