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By ROBERT PRICE, Californian executive editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Reader: Terrible shooting death, page three ("Man dies in shooting with sheriff's deputies in Oildale," March 28), and a photo of a black cat crossing the path. Hmm. That aside -- by the way, Casey Christie photos are a wonderful asset to The Californian -- did the deputies fire at the motorcyclist as he was fleeing or after he crashed? Seems like an important point. And how did the K-9 get involved? Was the K-9 unit on the scene or did the standoff go on long enough to call one in?
I realize it's tough to get details on something like this while it's under investigation, but it sounds like a real mess. I don't think peace officers (do they still call 'em that?) are allowed to fire upon fleeing vehicles, and they wouldn't fire on someone for just fleeing, right?
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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Anyway, the black cat was fitting and made me wonder about selection again. I'll bet Christie had lots of photos to choose from. Did the cat have something to do with this choice?
-- Pamela Wildermuth
Price: I asked reporter Jason Kotowski about the limited details in Friday's story. His response: "No other information has been released yet so I can't help with any of her specific questions regarding this incident. Regarding her question on fleeing suspects, the law allows for an officer to use deadly force to prevent a suspect's escape when the officer has probable cause to believe there is an imminent or future potential risk of serious bodily injury or death to others if the suspect is not immediately apprehended. The circumstances regarding the motorcyclist's shooting remain unclear. Police haven't said if he was fleeing at the time. "
Jason filled in most of those missing details of the incident and its aftermath -- and wrote quite a compelling story -- for Saturday's edition.
As for the cat: Like any good photographer, Casey often looks for unusual elements that might set a photo apart, and the cat in question, which just happened to take a lackadaisical stroll through the middle of a taped-off crime scene that would have been off-limits to any of us, was such an element. Casey had other shots to choose from but the contrast between the tragic and the placidly mundane in this shot convinced him to go with the one he did. Yes, we're lucky to have Casey.
Reader: In the Sunday (March 22) paper you printed (Randall Beeman's article) "Dust Bowl silver linings." My problem is the picture. The people in the picture weren't from the dust bowl. The woman has on a coat with a fur collar and high heels. The man has on clean pants with no holes, rips or tears, a nice jacket. No one looks extremely thin. They look like a comfortable, middle-class family waiting for a bus, or a ride, etc. If you see a picture of the Midwest immigrants, they were dirty, tired, unkempt, hungry and were carrying more than one box.
Next time, choose a picture that depicts misery, sorrow, depths of depression, because that was the life of these people.
-- Johnnie K. Adams
Price: That photo of a father, mother and infant on the side of a dusty highway wasn't desolate enough for you? You wanted torn jeans and misery?
The photo was snapped in November 1935 by Dorothea Lange, the famous Dust Bowl chronicler. It's part of the collection at Cal State Bakersfield's Stiern Library. The young, penniless family pictured (father, 24, mother, 17) had come west earlier that year to work as field laborers in California's Imperial Valley, where their baby was born. Perhaps they dressed in their Sunday best so passing motorists would be more inclined to take pity.
It wouldn't have shocked me to learn they were office workers, though. It runs counter to the powerful mythology of the Dust Bowl migration, but only a small minority of migrants during the 1935-1950 peak of that historic, mass relocation were dirt-poor farmers. As James N. Gregory lays out in his seminal 1991 book, "American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California," a good number of migrants approached middle-class status and upon arrival took white collar jobs in the Los Angeles area.
Another myth-busting detail of that photo: The young husband and wife were from Winston-Salem, N.C. Not every migrant of that decade was from Oklahoma, Arkansas or Texas; they came from practically every state, simply looking for whatever they could get in the midst of the Great Depression.
Don't believe me? Ask Gregory yourself. He'll be a featured speaker at CSUB in November, part of the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary celebration.
Reader: The headline in The Californian on Saturday went like this: "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a county supervisor." This once great nation is being dismantled piece by piece and this is what they come up with. Somehow I don't think our little paper is ever going to be confused with the Wall Street Journal.
-- Don C. Craib
Price: How dare we stoop to printing college basketball scores/Dagwood's latest pratfall/parolees at large when solutions to world hunger/political corruption/our immoral society still elude us? With all due respect, Don, that false contrast ought to constitute a logical fallacy of some sort. We hear such faulty, similarly framed comparisons a lot.
That issue aside,we see ourselves as having two primary roles: Keep close tabs on the way government spends your money and keep our coverage local, local, local. James Burger's March 22 story achieved both. County Supervisor Mick Gleason of Ridgecrest is (hopefully) saving Kern County taxpayers money in fuel, hotels and other expenses by flying to visit distant constituents in his vast 1st District rather than driving a county-subsidized car. Two secondary roles of ours, as I see it: entertain readers and introduce them to their elected officials on something of a personal level. And Gleason, a former fighter jet pilot, is certainly an entertaining character.
No, we will never be confused with the Wall Street Journal. That paper fills its niche and we fill ours. But we do a decent WSJ impression on Sundays, with our three-page package of consumer, business and personal finance news, provided by none other than the Wall Street Journal.
Reader: Amen! Thank you for your intelligent response to Mr. Michael Clark ("Why not publish names of welfare recipients, too?," March 22) ... I am a teacher at the elementary and university levels; many of my students and their hard-working families receive aid. I am sick of people with means, often born into the middle or upper class, making arrogant, ignorant and selfish comments and judgments about public assistance. Just once I would love to read a letter from one of them describing how grateful they are for the blessings they've received and about how they are sharing those with others.
-- Deborah Thomas
Price: Studies have shown that malnutrition doesn't just negatively affect kids' ability to perform in school, it can actually affect intelligence. Lower-achieving students become lower-achieving adults. Lower-achieving adults seem to me more likely to need government aid of one sort or another than average-achieving adults. And so the cycle continues.
I read pretty regularly about people who've risen from poverty to achieve great things. My favorite NFL team, which shall remain nameless here, just brought in a veteran player in part because of his rock-solid character and demonstrated ability to persevere; he had been homeless as a child. No matter what your political persuasion, you've got to be cheered by those stories. I don't think we should be sneering at programs that give such people hope. Monitoring them closely, yes. Denigrating them, no.
Reader: I enjoy your being Ringmaster of the Sound Off column. ... My reason for writing is the letter about making public the names of welfare recipients in which you quoted Florida Congressman Alan Grayson. Obtaining statistics from the congressman is like asking Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee how old our Constitution is!
Please (I'm asking nicely) use a more reputable source. Grayson's a big goofus.
-- Hillary Bowden
Price: A duly elected United States Congressman a goofus? That cannot be. OK, I promise -- no more Grayson. For those who may be inclined to hold a higher opinion of the man, consider that he named his five children Skye, Sage, Storm, Star and Stone.
Reader: Actually, Robert, you did show your liberal bias with your comments to Jack Balfanz (Oops! My arrogant liberal bias is showing again," March 15) over your coverage of the Issa and Cummings rift, during the IRS testimony of Lois Lerner (in a House committee's investigation of the agency's alleged targeting of conservative nonprofit groups). Lerner, of course, pled the 5th Amendment rather than answer questions from Darrel Issa. In your response to Jack, you claimed that few other news organizations covered the real story; Lerner's plea for the 5th. You also pointed out Jack's poor grammar; another liberal tact when an argument can't be made on the subject matter at hand. Liberals attack the messenger, rather than address the question. You did not respond to Jack's comments.
It's your job, as newspaper people, to gather and report on the news of the day. It's our job, as readers (or in this case, Jack's job) to complain when we don't like your choice. Jack's only other recourse is to quit reading the paper.
It's not news when people in Congress argue with themselves. Like a provoked dog biting a man, it's not news. It's not even newsworthy. Okay, perhaps it is worth a short mention. The real story, however, is the abuse of a government institution, in this case, the IRS. Darrel Issa said that, "We know what Lois did. What we don't know is why." Don't you want to know why, too?
When an individual hides behind a constitutional amendment, rather than answer a question, it's usually to avoid admission of a criminal act, or, at least, to avoid explaining why poor choices were made in a given activity. While the plea is not an admission of guilt, it does give everyone the assumption that the individual is guilty of something. In this case, it cost Lerner her job.
Robert, there is a big story involving the IRS scandal. And it's still unfolding. It's just too bad The Bakersfield Californian doesn't want to be the one reporting it.
-- Steven Cronquist
Price: Steven, I was going to provide a point-by-point response until I got to your line "Liberals attack the messenger, rather than address the question," at which point I realized I could bring in Oliver Wendell Holmes to argue my point and it wouldn't make a shred of difference to you. I'll just say this: People who don't have credible arguments attack the messenger. (One could say you've done that here yourself.) If you really think baseless, devoid-of-evidence tactics come only from one ideological camp, I think we can safely assume that your indoctrination has been thorough.
You offer a smorgasbord of targets, but I'll limit my response to your claim about the committee shouting match: "It's not even newsworthy." One test of newsworthiness (not the only test, but one) is the element of unexpectedness. Nobody could have anticipated the Issa-Cummings dust up. Lerner, on the other hand, surprised no one by invoking her right to remain silent. From the FoxNews.com Happening Now Blog of March 5: "There's an oversight hearing today on the alleged political targeting of groups by the IRS. Lois Lerner is expected to be there, but it is not clear she will testify. She may take the 5th."
I shared your claim that we're not interested in reporting the story of the IRS scandal with our wire editor, the mild-mannered but imminently fair Jim Braun: "I have run all the important news as it relates to the IRS. ... Mr. Cronquist is wrong to think we won't report 'unfolding' news (on the scandal). Maybe the story gets more play on other websites ... but we're far from hiding it."
This is not a liberal vs. conservative, i.e., philosophical, debate. It's strictly partisan, Democrat vs. Republican. If the roles (including the committee chairmanship) were reversed, a Democrat might be shutting off a Republican's microphone. And I suspect, Steven, you'd then think that was a bigger deal than Lerner's recalcitrance.
Reader: (Regarding last week's Sound Off item from former reporter Steve Swenson): Steve Swenson obviously hated working at The Californian and then Robert Price went to a completely low blow (about Steve's journalism career dating back the era of "cave drawings"). ... I can't believe you put that in print. It's very, very mean-spirited, it's very unprofessional and when your reader doesn't know either of you guys, it looks like a couple of stupid kids on a playground, "I know you are but what am I?"
That was exactly what it is. You guys are a joke. That is crazy. You can tell Mr. Price, please don't do that to yourself. It makes you look bad especially since I don't care about either of you guys. It just makes you look funny.
-- John Highbrecht
Price: I was alarmed by your suggestion that Steve and I have such a poor rapport that we would just straight-up insult each other. Steve is a hilarious guy and I was just trying to keep up with him.
But maybe I'm wrong. So I asked Steve. His response: "I don't understand where this guy is coming from. Most people thought our exchange was funny."
Steve worked here for 33 years. I really, really hope he didn't hate it, as you suggest. He was usually good for one of his distinctive, calm-piercing man-giggles each day, so I truly doubt it.
Reader: As a former public employee, I would have no problem with anybody posting my retirement amount; it would give the haters one more thing to complain about. The liberal state legislature gave me my retirement formula, I just had to work 24 years to get what I'm getting.
Contrasting public pensions with welfare, however, is lame. Maybe not all recipients choose to be on welfare, but many choose to stay on it; and in many cases, it becomes a generational thing. Just because the powers that be give you a nice retirement package, you still have to work 20, 25 or 30 years to draw a comfortable living. I would agree that those public servants in administrative or management positions get ridiculous retirements.
How many people know that the CEO of the American Cancer Society draws an annual salary of more than $2 million? And don't forget that even in retirement, us public workers' taxes are helping pay for welfare. I read somewhere that the average state retiree makes under $40k a year. So, all you haters, I am enjoying my hard-earned retirement, which was funded partly by me.
-- Jim Thomas
Price: All good points. I hope you are enjoying your well-deserved retirement.
Reader: Robert, regarding Mr. Ray Romagno's delightful comments I feel compelled to correct one small thing. If my memory from living in Western Michigan's less-populated areas is any good, the correct term is "youse guyses"... Thank you for your time.
-- Bob Braley
Price: Few topics in Sound Off have been of greater consequence than this, so it's important that we get it right. Your suggested "youse guyses" got exactly zero hits in my Google search. Romagno's spelling got 146,000. That dialectic usage, however you spell it, is generally considered "Philly talk," but I have no doubt that the term migrated to Michigan as well. The spelling and pronunciation of the term is, believe it or not, a matter of some debate. Go here: tinyurl.com/youseguys for more.
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 email@example.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.