Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Republican Story

The Republican Party's election day celebrations were spoiled Tuesday night when it was announced that Democratic President Barack Obama had defeated the Republican candidate Mitt Romney by a count of 303 electoral votes to 206.

The Republicans of the Cedar Valley were invited to the Pipac Center on Tuesday night to watch the election pan out. The reception room slowly filled with people after kickoff at 8:00 P.M. There was food, drinks, and much talk of the years to come. Two giant screens projected Fox News' live coverage of the election with a podium set on a stage in between them should anyone decide to speak.

Throughout the night, one could feel the mood go from hopeful to defeated as the devout Republican voters were forced to wait and watch the electoral votes fall to Obama. That is all that some did was wait, while others made small talk and watched their children play on the floor.

Some of the guests however, were more outspoken and willing to talk to reporters without being asked. "If Obama wins, I'm filing for social security tomorrow," said Dodie Jones, a former Democrat turned independent voter. When asked why the change she replied "I would say I am more 'anti Obama' than pro Romeny."  She finished the topic by saying "The Obama administration is going to ruin social security."

Students from UNI talk to Republican candidates 
Ms. Jones, whose husband, Gary, lost his health insurance due, according to them, to Obamacare, had much to say on the matter of Chuck Grassley even though he wasn't up for election. "He and his wife are just such nice people. We've know them for the longest time, actually we have a recipe from his wife that we use on Christmas," she explained.

Judd Saul, head of the Cedar Valley Tea Party, was also in attendance. A self proclaimed "political trouble maker," Judd was adamant that "socialism just doesn't work." He went on to say that "if President Obama were to be reelected, then that is where the country is going to end up."

Bob McCabe, a Republican party activist and poll worker, walked right up to students and told them that "I would be worried if I were you. For me, I just have to work for a few more years and can live off retirement. You folk have to live through this." "In the short term, I'm concerned about the debt. In the long term, I'm concerned about this country's pathetic education system." McCabe then proposed a scenario to college students in which he would present them with datat and challenge them to not just read it, but to interpret it as well. He was convinced that if such an event occurred that they would be unable to do so with their level of education.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Senator Grassley

Senator Grassley seemed like an incredibly down to Earth guy. His dedication to keeping in touch with Iowa as a whole was remarkably impressive. From spending essentially his entire Tuesday on the phone with radio shows to answering live questions from Iowans every Thursday via the Internet, Senator Grassley is doing his best to maintain his relationship with the people he represents in Washington. On top of his 40 weeks per year spent in Washington, he makes it a point to visit all 99 Iowa counties at least once every single year and visit with the community members of them in some fashion; usually this gets done by Labor Day. Whether that be similar to his visit with us in a classroom setting or a town hall meeting, the Senator wants to make sure the people do not lose sight of who he is to them and what he can do for them. He answers almost every question emailed, tweeted, written in a letter, or from phone call that is directed to him personally so there is a sense of connection between he and his voters.

My initial impression of Senator Grassley was that he was simply an older man with an intense interest in politics that kept him going strong. I found out that he owns a farm and his family works it while he is away. He grew up on a farm as well, as is the case with many elderly Iowans. He said his parents weren't actively involved in politics, but that they always had an interest in them and had something to say about the current events. This introduced the Senator to politics at a young age and he has had an interest in them ever since. He took this desire to the University of Northern Iowa - the first in his family to go to college - and earned a BA in Social Science (now political science). Upon recollection of his time at the school, he remembered that the room we were in used to be all cubicles for professors and that it was not called Lang Hall but rather just "the auditorium".

Senator Grassley is member of the Republican party, and always has been, but he admits that in his earlier years he "wasn't an ideological republican." That change, he believes, "officially" occurred part way through his state legislative career.

Having been a senator since 1974, Grassley knows the routine of Washington, if one could call it even that. "Only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are really routine," says the Senator. "Being a senator is more than a full time job," says Grassley as he explains his schedule loaded with meetings from start to finish: breakfast meeting, radio program, committee meetings, Senate itself in session before noon, 2 hours of public questions, receptions and meetings in the evening. He comments on how his days are usually pretty planned out unless there is a vote on the Senate floor or another "surprise" as he calls them. Speaking of Senate votes, he has only missed one in July of 1993, and that was due to he and the other Iowa senator personally accompanying then President Bill Clinton to Iowa to see the widespread flooding throughout the state.

Inevitably, some political questions were asked. I don't know much about politics in general, but I do know that taxation is a big deal, to everyone. "You aren't under taxed, we overspend." That, and his view of amending the constitution to balance the federal budget, got my attention enough to at least listen to him talk about politics, even if i wasn't going to understand what he was saying. The man is immensely passionate about what he believes and about keeping someone who truly understands what it is like to live in Iowa in the Senate. Otherwise, laws such as "Fugitive Dust" would be passed.

After his political spiel, he pulled out his iPhone - very technologically aware for his age - and read some of his Tweets to us. Yes, the Senator has a Twitter handle, and he runs it himself. He uses is craftily too, tweeting things that will stir the pot just enough to get an answer out of people that would otherwise dance around it.

At this time, Senator Grassley is unsure if he will run again at the end of his current term. He is 79 and has his family to think about. Once he can no longer run 3 miles 4 times per week, or he/his wife is no longer able to take care of themselves, he will call it quits.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The documentary shown in class on Tuesday told the story of Corey Booker, a city councilman in Newark, New Jersey, and his campaign to become mayor. It told the back story of the campaign and portrayed what outsiders could not see during the process. I found it interesting to say the least. It was like "watching" a news story. What I mean by that is that it was as if someone took a newspaper article or feature story and turned it into an onscreen movie.

Although I don't really have much to say about the documentary itself, I do consider it to now be a form of journalism while I was skeptical going into the showing. As I said before, it's really just a live action feature story.

I enjoyed Corey's "choir boy" campaign, even though it had major downside with the voters rallying around the fact that he came from money and didn't know what it was like in the streets. It was better than all of the attacking adds from today's election where nothing is actually conveyed about what the candidate will do and it's just talking bad about what the other guy is trying to do. I liked his quote "make government officials live in the worst neighborhoods of the city and it will change faster." I would like to see this happen to find out if it would actually work.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Capitol Steps

Surprisingly funny. I think this was in large part due to the extremely unbiased nature of the humor. They picked on everyone, and it was incredibly clever. I'm admittedly a sucker a witty humor, but this was phenomenal. A rendition of the Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea" incorporating Osama Bin Laden's death might be some of the most creative writing I've ever seen or heard. Wipping your flords was astounding as well. To be able to rattle off that speech in that manner of verbiage was some of the funniest political banter, maybe ever.

The show overall was great and entertaining to someone even like me who does not care about all. But they conveyed their impressions and made fun of people in such a way that even I could understand the humor and what they were trying to convey.
The Iowa Supreme Court in Waterloo was perhaps one of the more interesting things I've seen, even if I don't realize it. The opportunity to see the IASC isn't exactly rare seeing as how their courtroom is based in Des Moines and is occasionally open to the public, but the fact that they are touring Iowa creates chances most people don't usually have to see them in action.

I've already covered that majority of the case in a previous blog, and the facts remain the same and were simply regurgitated to us as a class on Thursday. I knew this would be the case, so I focused more on the actions of the lawyers and the justices themselves during the process.

I don't know if it was nerves being in front of a larger audience, or being out of a court room setting, or if it was just because she was in front of the supreme court, but Karla Shea seemed shaky in her argument's delivery to say the least. She admitted herself, prior to Thursday, that she is always a little nervous in front of the Iowa Supreme Court so that might have had a little more to it than she let on.

Ray Walton, meanwhile, looked like he belonged there arguing his case to those judges. And those judges grilled him hard. He stood firm and stuck to his arguments and was clear and articulate with his words.

The judges themselves were surprisingly vocal during the arguments. I thought it would be them sitting quietly and letting the arguments be fed to them and then ask questions later, not interrupting the attorneys mid-stream and asking questions. I did think this was perhaps a little on the rude and irrational side due to the fact that they interrupting the lawyers may cause a question not to be answered or perhaps an important point not be made.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tuesday October 9th

Ray Walton was gracious enough to visit the class on Tuesday in the midst of preparing his argument to present in 2 days to the Iowa Supreme Court. His case struck me as intriguing to say the least because, by the letter of the law he wins hands down, but common sense tells you that the farmer couple shouldn't have to pay a dime.

When Walton said that the lady A: grew up on a farm and B: weighed 300 pounds, I thought he had sunk his own ship right there. Anyone with a brain could figure out that, even if the farmer (whom weighs less than she does) did check the sturdiness of the hay covering the chute, she could still have fallen through. Also, being that she grew up on a farm, she could have had prior knowledge of the dangers of a hay barn and that there are gaping holes in the floor she would need to look out for. This, coupled with the argument of the Recreational Use Statute, simply screams game over, done deal, case closed no money owed. Again, common sense says that showing kids around the barn is, in fact, recreational.

But his argument of the farmer acting as a tour guide and thus forfeiting any rights he had to be non-liable should something happen. Also, Walton made the point that it wasn't technically "open" to the public and people couldn't come and go as they please. Additionally, the definition of what is seen as "recreational", while admittedly gets murky and vague towards the end, doesn't seem to cover a kindergarten field trip as recreational. Based off of these arguments, Mr. Walton and his client need to get paid.

The last, and perhaps most disappointing thing I gathered, from Ray Walton's visit, is that the farmers would be willing to pay the bill. The insurance company is the one forcing this to trial and making this lady wait and flounder for funding for her medical bills. To me, this is ridiculous. I understand the insurance company is all about money, but how many customers do they have that they are still making money from besides these farmers that they can't afford to pay for her medical bills?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Editor Clips

When it comes to politics, there is no sugar coating it, I know next to nothing. And I don't pretend to. So when the assignment was to watch the presidential debate and clip what was considered "news worthy", my thought was "Well isn't everything considered newsworthy? It's the presidential debate." Needless to say, I watched it and was lost for the most part. 

The main thing I would have done differently is either be more educated about the topic, which I would presumably be based off of what I was covering, or pick something to edit I actually care about. Had it been a sports related press conference or something about the newest Apple productions, I would have been more intrigued and more entertained by the subject and the ability to instantly clip what I was watching. 

The tool itself is astounding. The ability to clip and share near live T.V. will ultimately revolutionize online journalism. Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers and every type of social media should and will utilize this and gain traffic as well as readers from this tool. One of the coolest and easiest things I've used on the internet. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Evelyn Press Release

Casey Fredrickson, 33,has been convicted of murdering Evelyn Miller after a 7 year investigation.

Evelyn Miller, daughter of Noel Miller, was declared missing on July 1st, 2005 and her body was found 5 days later in the Cedar River. No information about the condition of the body was released to the public at the time of its finding.

Fredrickson has been convicted of possession of child pornography, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of drugs.

This is how the press release should have been written. No detail of Fredrickson's habits or any other non-essential details should have been included. Being as it is a news story, it should be reported objectively and with the audience's best interest in mind. That does not include necessity for details on what he likes to pleasure himself to or who he talked to in prison. This seemed more like a court report than a press release, the public didn't need to knowhalf of the details that were included and it is really shameful to the family involved.

Iowa Judges

On Tuesday, October 25th I got the opportunity to attend a press conference for those in favor of retention for the Iowa judges. A small crowd of mainly elderly folk and college students there for a class showed up to the event to hear Dan Moore speak Moore has been practicing law for 35 years and is the former president of the Iowa State BAR Association. Those in the crowd sported signs such as "Yes Judges" as Moore encouraged the audience to "turn your ballots over and vote yes."

Moore's main argument during his speech was that the judges "applied the constitution" in their decisions instead of going from personal beliefs. "Justice should not be for sale to the highest bidder," said Moore. He also stated that the campaign he is currently on is meant to appeal to those undecided voters or to those whom are leaning towards voting yes, but need, "a little push in the right direction." In his closing statement, Moore said he is still "proud to be an Iowa lawyer," and reminded people that, "you don't throw out a justice based off of one decision."

Iowa State Senator Bill Dotzler was present in the crowd and spoke to the group of attending college students after the conference. Lisa Hansen also let them observe how she approaches someone for an interview as well as view the interview process itself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pentagon Papers Reflections

The Pentagon Papers is a movie based off a series of true events involving a 47 volume research project entitled "History of U.S. Decision Making Process on Vietnam Policy." The movie tells the story of one Daniel Ellsburg, a former marine turned strategist for the U.S. government and one of the country's brightest young minds.

Ellsburg was serving at the Pentagon at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin conflict and decided to go over to Vietnam to see for himself what the situation was. What he gathered upon arrival and through a two year tenure, was that the war could not be won by the United States if things kept going at the current rate, and even then it might be a hopeless cause.

While working at RAND, Ellsburg was sought out to help with the History of U.S. project. It was because of his incredibly high security clearance that he was able to obtain a full set of the documents, all 47 volumes and over 7,000 pages of information or as he called it, "7,000 pages of lies."

Upon reading the completed Pentagon Papers, Ellsburg decided to take it upon himself to somehow get the information to the public. He tried appealing to congressmen, to no avail, and after a year of failed attempts, decided there was only one option left. According to the movie, Ellsburg released the first volume of his condensed version - 43 volumes omitting all troop positions, future plans, essentially all still usable military intelligence that could endanger the country or the stationed troops - to a reporter for the New York Times. The next day, the newspaper published the story.

This sparked a proverbial "War" about the meaning of freedom of speech and what should be considered public record. The case of New York Times v. United States went to the supreme court where they ruled in favor of the NY Times.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Supreme Court did so only due to the lack of credible evidence that the government was able to provide to get the publications stopped. The court did not remove the Espionage Act nor did it give the press freedom to publish classified documents.

The Pentagon Papers became fully declassified in 2011.

Mark Owens Interview

In the episode shown to the class of "60 Minutes" with Mark Owens' interview was, to say the least, mind blowing. Even though it happened about a year ago, I was unaware that there had been an interview with anyone of the special forces team that killed Osama Bin Laden. The fact that there has been a book written about it was just icing on the cake.

This brings up an interesting argument over what information should be available to report and what should be kept "Top Secret" as the government classifies it. The man interviewed was a former member of Seal Team 6 before leaving the special forces group. He was sworn, by the government and the navy seals, to never talk about what happened during his missions or any of the on goings of the Navy itself. Where the line becomes shady is when it becomes a matter of if the public "needs" to know. Sometimes, secrets of the government should be known as public information. This, I believe, is one of those times. The public needs to know the story of how the man that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.

I think, that even though he acted against his signed contract and went against the will of the government, that nothing is wrong with what he shared during the interview. He didn't give away any national secrets, everyone involved in the mission is either dead (the enemy) or remaining silent, and no noticeable threat to national security has arisen even a year later. This, coupled with the fact the "60 Minutes" did virtually everything in their power to hide his identity - giving him an alias, a full makeup disguise, altering his voice, etc. - makes it hard for the government to have a case against him. I'm sure they could find out fairly easily who actually wrote the book or gave the interview (the man's name has since been released onto the internet) but that could endanger him, his family, and potentially the rest of the unit.

How humble he was that he was in the unit that killed arguably the most hated man on the planet also made it clear that he wasn't trying to break rules or undermine the authority of those above him, but simply educate the masses as much as he could about the events of that historical day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Black Hawk County Jail

Sheriff's Office/Black Hawk County Jail Visit

After the class' trip to the Black Hawk County Jail and talking with Sheriff Tony Thompson, I have reached the conclusion that we have perhaps the best Sheriff in the state of Iowa, and that he should perhaps run for a higher office; admittedly though, a county jail is not the same as a city/state to run. This is the impression Sheriff Thompson leaves me with.

In large part, this is due to what he has done/dealt with during his time as a sheriff. These things include: a $600 thousand profit increase for the jail (in a public service environment), over $100 thousand dollars in security updates to the jail, managed the $12.5 million budget to near perfection, dealt with two national news stories originating from his office, and a state wide story involving an 18 hour manhunt.

"I love 80% of my job, and 20% of it takes up 90% of my time," Sheriff Thompson said. He followed that up with an anecdote about getting tasered during training and said it was, "like getting shocked by an electric fence 10 to 20 times as strong." Undoubtedly, this would fall into that other 20% of his job. I found Sheriff Thompson to be very quotable and sociable, a real help to the media.

To build on this, Thompson said himself that he is, "a firm believer in transparency," and, "not a very good liar." He also stated that he will always tell the media what he can within the confines of the law and that he understands part of his job is to, "feed the media," and that both the police and media have a job to do. His point about respecting the media because of what they can do to a public image was interesting to hear a sheriff say, I've never noticed that the police are aware of what the media says due to them being mainly focused on gathering facts.

Under Sheriff Thompson there is 102 deputies and 45 vehicles and maintains a 50:1 inmate to jeopardy ratio in the jail. He runs a jail with one of the few courtrooms physically in the jail house.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Defense Attorney Aaron Hawbaker Speaks

One of the most interesting things that Mr. Hawbaker said to the class was when he was talking about the journalism aspect of his job whether it be talking to reporters or what he considers to be newsworthy. He also stated that "A lot of what is able to be reported is not considered evidence." This surprised me at first but upon further thought I realized that it is very evident. When you think of all the cases reported in the papers or able to be found online, rarely is it reported what the evidence is prior to a case being adjourned. He also believes that it is a journalists responsibility to be a civilian first and a journalist second. For example, if you, acting as a journalist, come across information that could be incriminating or help in a case, you should report it to authorities firstly before you do anything with a story in mind. When it comes to what he considers to be newsworthy. According to him, just because someone got pulled over and arrested does not make it news. The fact that this arrest goes to trial then becomes news. He also made the point that acquittals  are rarely reported. When it comes to talking to reporters, or anyone for that matter, Hawbaker has to be incredibly careful about what he says due to confidentiality purposes. Anything on public record is fair game to talk (and write) about, however. 

It was quite interesting to hear him speak about his experiences in the field. I was blown away by his 100% commitment to a fair trial no matter how heinous the crime. I also found it interesting the way that he so loosely talked about what he had seen; murderers, rapists, child molesters and others. He mentioned that he was "calloused" and that you had to be to do his job. His view on the law in general is very enlightening, saying that, "the law is there to protect, not as a sword to make things happen."  However, he also stated that the "the law bends to the circumstance." 

Overall the main thing I drew from him talking to the class was towards the end of his time when he said "Always ask, but don't be offended when you get shot down." He was referring to asking trial lawyers about their cases and how they rarely talk about them until after the case is officially over and even then it is a rarity. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Credibility in News Interviews

When it comes to the credibility of the person being interviewed, it could make or break the story. Readers and/or listeners may decide to take the story seriously, and in extreme cases, whether to take you as a journalist seriously. If you go out and interview the average person about deep space exploration and the problems that can occur with it and then write your entire article based solely off of the information they give you, it has the potential make you look foolish by demonstrating to your audience that you think this is a credible enough source to write a story about it. In the case of the two missing girls Lizzy and Lyric, we have three examples available to us for evaluation: a self proclaimed medium, Missy, the mother of one of the girls, and Drew, the father of the other girl.

For starters, let's look at the medium. Common knowledge tells us that mediums (otherwise know as psychics) are not creditable sources. But why? First, there is a lack of either physical and scientific evidence that confirms these peoples' ability. Secondly, a quick internet search will show you more than enough ways to scam a person by acting like a medium. The same search will probably be able to tell you how to spot who is being genuine in their attempts at other world communication and who is a fraud. With the likelihood of frauds and the amount of non-believers in the world, these two reasons alone are enough to discredit most that call themselves mediums. For argument's sake, let us take a look at the medium showed in class. While it is true that this opportunity will in likelihood be a once in a lifetime occurrence, it only makes the interview intriguing rather than creditable.

To this lady's credit, (not credibility) she drove an extensive amount of time to try her hand at helping the two girls and their families. The medium seemed for all the world to be connecting to another dimension or world based off of her actions: flustered speech and movements, describing how she felt as she connected with one of the girls spiritually, even going so far as to say that she saw binoculars in her mind which symbolize being watched. However, when she and her actions are looked at closely, it could have also very well been a fraud; this doubt is already enough to cripple one's credibility from a reader's or listener's perspective. An example of her potentially making things up on the spot can be recognized right away when she states "Lizzy needs help." Being quite frank, it is fairly obvious she needs to be helped seeing as she has gone missing. A less obvious example can be found when she describes herself struggling to breathe and it feels like her chest is being pushed down or she is being suffocated. There was a chance, at the time, that the girls could have still been in the lake and presumably had drowned, i.e. suffocated. She also spoke of a burgundy truck being involved in some way; the simple reasoning behind this could be that she saw a burgundy truck drive by off camera. In addition to potential fabrication, mediums, real or fake, tend to go on a lead that someone gives them with a question such as if it is a man? Could it be a sex offender? Do you think they were raped? All of these questions came after she said she felt "naked with my legs up." These questions fueled that fire so she kept on that line of thought for an extended period of time. In sum, the credibility of this medium isn't to be taken seriously unless evidence or something of substance can come from her readings and the credibility of mediums in general should be highly questioned before using them as legitimate sources in a story.

Family Members
On perhaps an entirely different end of the spectrum of those that can be interviewed lies the victims' families. Considering there were two separate interviews conducted, but they were both of family members, they will both be covered here in a comparison scenario. Interviewing family members can be trick business as you don't want to say something that could offend or irritate them to the point where they could potentially end the interview, but you don't want to get the bland, straightforward answers that don't require any thought either. It's these in between questions where the family's credibility may begin to be questioned. It's fine to ask what the girls were like, their habits, their friends, the adults they frequently had contact with because parents and families could and should know these things. However, when it comes to asking if they think it is possible for someone in the family to be guilty, truth could be cast to the wayside to protect one's image or simple delusion may blind them from the truth.

In the interview with Lyric's grandmother, she seemed extremely adamant that no one in the family had anything to do with the girls' disappearance. She even went so far as to talk about where her prime suspect son was at the exact time that the disappearance would have occurred stating "I had talked to him not ten minutes prior (to the incident)." Grandma seemed so confident that it wasn't any member of the family that it was actually convincing. This, taken into consideration along with her extremely optimistic attitude toward finding the girls and the way she spoke about them made it hard for anyone not to believe what she was saying. In actuality, however, her supplied aliases need to be verified before any real credibility can be attributed to her.

The interview with Lizzy's father was, by comparison, a 180 degree difference, (although it was speculated that he was heavily medicated at the time of the interview, which was much later than the former). Perhaps the wear and tear of the search was catching up with him and he was just sick of talking about it at the time. There wasn't much of a credibility issue with the father on account of not many in depth questions were asked; again this could be attributed to the timing of the interview as well as the state of mind he was in at the time. The point remains, though, that when it is a family member being interviewed, the basics of the case and victims involved may be the only "real" thing that they say and this should