Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA Nonsense

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Using this rationale, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's CEO and executive vice president, announced that the NRA's solution for stopping school shootings is to station armed guards in every one of the nation's schools by January.

Simply put, the NRA's answer to gun violence, one of the greatest plagues facing America today, is more guns. 

"How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them?" he asked.  "I call on Congress, today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation," LaPierre urged.  He then announced that the NRA is launching a "National School Shield" training program to help -- for free -- schools train security personnel and develop security plans.

Mr. LaPierre's remarks came at a Washington news conference that was disrupted twice by anti-gun protestors.  One protestor held up a sign that read "NRA Killing Our Kids," before being escorted out by security.  David Keene, the NRA's president, introduced LaPierre, saying they would take no questions until next week.

The NRA news conference followed by one week the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Conn., which left 27 persons dead, including 20 young children.  The horrific mass muder created a huge outcry across the country against semiautomatic assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.  On Wednesday, President Barack Obama appointed a commission, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to come up with meaningful recommendations to stem gun violence.  He also announced an aggressive timetable to enact such legislation. 

The NRA has more than 4 million members, and it is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington.  LaPierre explained the timing of the NRA news conference: "Out of respect for those grieving families, and until the facts are known, the NRA has refrained from comment. While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectfully silent."

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, one of several that has occurred over the past few years, some commentators had felt that the NRA might support some form of gun control.  They were wrong.  Instead, LaPierre blamed computer games, violent movies and music.  "In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes -- every minute of every day of every month of every year," he said.

LaPierre blasted the national media, their corporate owners, and their stockholders, "as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators."  He continued, "Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away."

LaPierre concluded his remarks with a plea: "For the sake of the safety of every child in America, I call on every parent, every teacher, every school administrator and every law enforcement officer in this country to join us in the National School Shield Program and protect our children with the only line of positive defense that's tested and proven to work." 

As a parent of a high school girl, I am personally opposed to guns in my daughter's school.   I find the LaPierre proposal to be ridiculous and highly flawed.  The National School Shield Program calls for retired military and police to be armed, trained and assigned to schools in a few weeks.  Who will screen these "volunteers"?  What will they be instructed to do?  What sort of weapons will they have?  Exactly what kind of training will they receive from the NRA, target practice?  And the questions go on and on.

Gun violence is a complex problem.  There are many complicated factors that may contribute to each incident, including easy access to weapons, mental health issues, computer games, violent movies and television programs. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg bluntly reacted to the NRA press conference in a statement, "The NRA's Washington leadership has long been out of step with its members, and never has that been so apparent as this morning. Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country."

A few days after the horrendous mass murder in Newtown, the NRA put out a statement that said they were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken," and would help make sure it would never happen again.  Instead, the NRA embarrassed themselves to the shock and sadness of most Americans.  If the NRA truly respects the grieving families, it should do something meaningful and worthy of respect.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown's Law

The tragic deaths at Newtown, Connecticut, have once again focused attention on one of the most painful problems this nation faces, gun violence.  The nation cannot let this moment pass without some meaningful action to stem America's epidemic of gun violence.   

About 30,000 people are killed by firearms in America each year.  All too often the victims are young.  27 people were killed Friday in Newtown, 20 of them were young children.  The assailant used a semiautomatic assault rifle in his massacre, the same weapon used in the 2002 Washington area sniper shootings that left 10 people dead.  Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the United States.  In a majority of these cases the assailants obtained their weapons legally.

The killings at a lower school in Newtown are inexplicable.  How could anyone commit such evil?  The deaths of these innocent children, who were robbed of their precious and promising lives, must be a turning point for this country.  It is time to act.

In his speech Sunday, before grieving parents, friends and neighbors, President Barack Obama challenged himself, and all Americans, to face this most heinous problem.  "In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have?" the president said.  "We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

But this problem is made even more complicated by the fact that there are more than 200 million privately-owned guns in America.   The right to own guns was enshrined in the Constitution by America's founding fathers.  The second amendment to the Constitution reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

But two hundred years ago there weren't any semiautomatic assault weapons or high capacity magazines filled with ammo.  There weren't any warlike computer games.  There weren't any violent movies that captivate audiences with bloody shoot outs.  Today, these are all as American as apple pie.

At this moment all Americans feel the suffering and pain that was brought on by a deranged lone gunman in a quiet village that represents the values and ideals of this great Democracy.  It is time to send a powerful message.  Congress must quickly pass a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons so the president can sign it into law before the end of the year.

And in memory of those 26 innocent victims of Friday's senseless mass murder, call the legislation the Newtown Semiautomatic Weapons Ban Act.  Give those who have suffered from this latest atrocity the comfort of knowing something has been done.     

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Journalism Professor

People often ask me how I like being a journalism professor. I always answer that it is great, especially because of the students.

During the fall 2012 term, I taught four courses at two universities. I am a full-time associate professor at Hofstra University, which is located in Hempstead, New York, a thirty minute drive from my Manhattan home. Their journalism school is part of the university's School of Communication. Hofstra has excellent facilities and a very strong radio and television program, along with a first rate public relations school. I teach three courses at Hofstra, including multimedia journalism, broadcast writing and something I call TV newscast.

This past Monday we aired our final newscast of the semester. Here I am pictured with my editorial team.

I am also an adjunct journalism professor at New York University, where I have taught for six years. The Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute is part of NYU's College of Arts and Sciences. They have wonderful facilities in the historic East Village, near the Cooper Union and Astor Place.

While I have taught basic television reporting, I now primarily teach video and television production. In the spring I teach graduate students Digital Newsroom, which creates a thirty minute newscast each week. In the fall, I teach undergraduates how to produce a newscast. In both cases the students at NYU not only function as journalists, they must also handle all of the technical positions as well.

Tonight my 2012 undergraduate class completed its final broadcast for the term. Here I am joined for a post broadcast picture by students and NYU's director of operations, Adrian Mihai.

Take a good look at both of these pictures. In particular focus on the students. They are the reason I love being a journalism professor.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Be Not Afraid--Do What's Right

The holiday season is already upon us, but Congressional Republicans are not in a holiday mood.  Because of their recalcitrance in the ongoing negotiations surrounding the pending fiscal crisis, they are on the verge of becoming the Grinch that stole America's economic recovery. 

President Barack Obama, who won November's presidential election decisively, campaigned for raising tax rates on the wealthy, individuals making more than $200,000, and couples making more than $250,000.  One month later, A Washington Post and Pew Research Center poll shows a majority of Americans still supports that position.  The poll also finds that 53 percent of the respondents will blame Republicans in Congress if the two parties fail to reach a budget deal.

But national opinion polls do not influence GOP Congressmen elected in heavily Republican districts.  Many of these members are under the firm control of the Tea Party and Grover Norquist, the conservative founder of Americans for Tax Reform.  They have both threatened to defeat any Republican members who do not toe the less "government-less taxes" party line by supporting more conservative candidates against them in the primaries.   

Republicans have a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, and conservatives have a strangle hold on these members and their leadership.  So tight is their grip on House Speaker John Boehner that if he were to act against their wishes he may lose his Speakership. 

Bah Humbug! This is just the right time for Speaker Boehner to compromise, and show the majority of Americans that a smoothly and smartly functioning government is possible.  A compromise on the “fiscal cliff” would be a wonderful gift for most Americans, businesses and the global economy.  Such a compromise would also polish up the tarnished image of the Republican Party, except among Tea-Party members.  But even they would benefit from a healthier economy and a more robust recovery.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill in July that would extend many of the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for middle-income families, while not doing so for wealthy income earners.  Speaker Boehner should call this bill up for a House vote and deliver the two-dozen Republican votes needed to pass it.  The president has repeatedly said he will sign this bill, which would mean certainty and relief for 98 percent of all Americans. 

Subsequently, Republicans can continue to the debate with Democrats the merits of extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy, entitlement reform, budget reductions and changes in the federal tax laws.  Each of these are difficult and complicated issues that will take more time to get right.  But why make the middle-class suffer any more hardship; why use them as a political chip in a effort to score political points with a vocal minority of Americans?

Republicans and Democrats both reminisce about how President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill worked together to move America forward.  This relationship, built on mutual respect, was historic.  Both men risked the wrath of their base supporters, but were not afraid to do so.  

Speaker Boehner, you too can make history.  And you can make this a happy holiday season for a majority of Americans.