- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2014

The two reporters who were arrested and detained during riots in Ferguson, Missouri, quickly took to the airwaves to share their experiences in visceral style — and that’s exactly what the news industry expected them to do.

“From the beginning of this situation, the police have made conscious decisions to restrict information and images coming from Ferguson,” says American Society of News Editors President David Boardman. “Of course, these efforts largely have been unsuccessful, as the nation and the world are still seeing for themselves the heinous actions of the police. For every reporter they arrest, every image they block, every citizen they censor, another will still write, photograph and speak.”

Indeed, Al Jazeera America showcased video footage of its own news crew at work as tear gas canisters and rubber bullets flew by, much to the distress of Kate O’Brian, president of the network.

“Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted ‘press.’ Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story. Thankfully, all three crew members are physically fine. We believe that this situation must be investigated along with those involving our colleagues at other media outlets,” Ms. O’Brian says.

Maybe there will be an investigation, maybe not. But news officials continue to cast a quizzical eye on it all, and they have learned to speak up and be specific. Like a decent reporter, perhaps.

“Journalists, in these situations, are fully aware of the security issues involved and understand the risks they take. In assuming those risks, however, they must also be provided with cooperation by law enforcement so that a difficult situation, such as this one, is not further exacerbated through conflict with peace officers,” Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said in an open letter to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

THOSE PESKY VACATION NUMBERS

Someone is always tallying up the number of times President Obama is not in leadership mode. But that is a given on the presidential landscape these days. This time around, the Republican National Committee has scrutinized press coverage to reveal 30 less-than-sterling statistics, and this is a little of what they found, credited to each source:

Number of Democratic fundraisers Mr. Obama has attended so far: 401 (The Washington Post); number of golf games he’s played in office: 186 (Yahoo News); number of fundraisers George W. Bush attended at this point in his presidency: 224 (CBS News reporter Mark Knoller); number of Mr. Obama’s vacation days: 129 (Yahoo News); number of “retreat days” at Camp David: 84 (Yahoo News); number of world crises during Mr. Obama’s vacation this year: three (Associated Press); number of times Mr. Obama displayed a sense of urgency about it: zero (RNC)

DAVID GREGORY’S SUDDEN FAREWELL

The silver-haired host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” departed his mighty host perch in two short tweets. Indeed, David Gregory took to Twitter late Thursday afternoon to announce his departure from the iconic show, noting, “I leave NBC as I came — humbled and grateful.” And that was that. His missive followed days of rumors from rival news organizations speculating that Mr. Gregory was out due to consistently declining ratings on the show, which has been on the air for 67 years. He is to be replaced by MSNBC host Chuck Todd, a veteran journalist with a signature goatee.

Headlines were terse — and often brutal — in the immediate aftermath. “NBC puts David Gregory out of his misery,” noted New York magazine.

Mr. Gregory had been the host since 2008, following the untimely death of the indefatigable and fair-minded Tim Russert. Critics often cited Mr. Gregory’s seeming lack of engagement with viewers, though much of his on-camera style was derived from years as an NBC White House reporter, firing questions at one press secretary after another.

For all the hubbub, it is still an excruciatingly close race between the three Sunday news programs — but in a pivotal election year. The most recent Nielsen ratings place CBS’s “Face the Nation” in first place with 2.6 million viewers, ABC’s “This Week” with 2.5 million and “Meet the Press” with 2.1 million.

FOOTBALL DIPLOMACY AND A BILLION CHINESE FANS

It’s football diplomacy, and even Steve Forbes is impressed. The onetime presidential hopeful is amazed that a few U.S. entrepreneurs have brought the gridiron to China, where the potential sports audience could number a billion people, he says.

“At a time of tension between Washington and Beijing — China’s worrying naval assertiveness, serious charges of cyber-spying, trade restrictions and protection of intellectual property — here’s a piece of good news: American-style football is coming to the Middle Kingdom. Chinese sports authorities have formally approved the creation of the country’s first football league,” Mr. Forbes observes.

The China American Football League fires up in 2015, with two conferences and eight teams. The man behind it all is Marty Judge, co-owner of the Arena League’s Philadelphia Soul, plus ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil. Mr. Judge, who already has a media company in Beijing, is excited about the “untapped Chinese audience,” adding “the sky’s the limit.”

Meanwhile, the optimistic Mr. Forbes recalls another sports diplomacy moment between the U.S. and China — this from the Nixon administration.

“Just as some 40-plus years ago the game of table tennis was an instrument in breaking down barriers between the U.S. and China, football could play a similar role today in improving relations between these two giants,” he notes, adding, “One good sign that China is desirous of defusing tensions with its neighbors came recently when it changed the location of a controversial oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea that had roiled relations with Vietnam.”

WEEKEND REAL ESTATE

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POLL DU JOUR

77 percent of U.S. voters say Russian President Vladimir Putin does not take President Obama “seriously”; 89 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of independents agree.

74 percent of voters overall say President Obama has not been “tough enough” on Russia; 88 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents agree.

65 percent overall approve of U.S. airstrikes against Iraqi insurgents; 73 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents agree.

52 percent overall have confidence Mr. Obama “can make the right decisions for the country”; 18 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents agree.

47 percent overall are not confident he can make the right decisions; 82 percent of Republicans, 11 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents agree.

Source: A Fox News poll of 1,001 registered U.S. voters conducted Aug. 10-12.

Hubbub and happy talk to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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