I'm a sucker for the guy who wrote Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis and always pay attention to a journalist with that kind of soul.
That said, Howell Raines shows a bit of hypocrisy in his piece about journalism's failure to call out Fox. His criticism of Fox's Roger Ailes raises visions of the equally raucous MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and The Ed Show. Asking aesthete print journalists to referee two bare-knuckle behemoths is reasonable but daunting.
Raines is unhappy that cable news has trumped print newspapers in politics. He sees Fox making money spinning tall tales while journalists sit on their keyboards. Robyn Blumner, David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, and Bill Maxwell use their keyboards artfully, but George Will, Charles Krauthammer and the Weekly Standard give credence to the sly Fox. "Real" journalists are not silent. Folks who read also consume cable fare and books, often written by — you guessed it — journalists!
Howell Raines sounds like a dyspeptic Civil War vet beholding the future in 1910. He fumes at his new dad-burned typewriter and begrudges the emerging radio, Tin Lizzie and moving pictures. What really gets his goat is the energizing effect of reasonably accurate history lessons on Glenn Beck's old-school blackboard.
Gary Harrington, St. Petersburg
Seeing the problem
Howell Raines has hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head in his commentary. I, too, have been wondering why otherwise capable journalists have chosen to give Fox a free ride in its "yellow submarine" newscasting. It would seem W.R. Hearst has been brought back to Earth in the person of Rupert Murdock.
Blaming economic conditions for dragging print media down is far too easy. Print media have always had a dual personality as a business entity. The problems began when editorial ceded boardrooms to publishing. The bean counters have so dampened journalistic integrity, to protect the bottom line, that print media have lost the confidence of its constituency.
Raines takes a giant step in the right direction by acknowledging the illness. Perhaps print media can now work to find a cure.
Ed Murrow, Nelson Poynter, where are you?
R.R. Campbell, St. Petersburg
Failing the fairness test
My guess is that Howell Raines is a committed liberal, considering his ill-tempered diatribe against Fox News and Roger Ailes.
While he hammers on the perceived sins of the right, he conveniently overlooks the Jayson Blair incident at the New York Times; Chris Matthews, at MSNBC, getting a "thrill up his leg"; Keith Olbermann's nightly displays of hatred for all things conservative or Republican; Dan Rather's use of a phony story to deride the Bush administration, and the list goes on.
Raines makes a case for "fairness," but from his writings, it is obvious that his definition of "fair" means that left-wing commentators are all scrupulously fair, while those on the right distort the news and are not fair in their writings and commentaries. And he probably also wonders why a large chunk of the American public distrusts the media, and why the Fox News Channel crushes its opposition in the ratings.
Here's a clue: While Fox's hosts often have liberal advocates on their programs, when was the last time MSNBC had a conservative guest on prime time, other than its token house conservatives?
Real professional journalists, regardless of their political leanings, should be able to see all sides of an issue and present them in clear and concise terms, without bias, spin or hint of which position they prefer. Howell Raines fails this test.
Kenneth R. Gilder, St. Petersburg
I enjoyed reading the inane ravings of Howell Raines. His one specific criticism of Fox News Channel regards "its endless repetition of its uber-lie: 'The American people do not want health care reform.' "
But contrary to his tirade, Fox's "raucous commentators" (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck) have expressed their agreement that health insurance reforms are warranted and desired by the American people, but that Obama's monstrosity of a bill is not — which even Raines' cited poll numbers confirm.
And talk about the pot calling the kettle black! In a widely reported UCLA-led study several years ago (tinyurl.com/yoywf8), Raines' New York Times was rated the third most left-wing media outlet of the 20 studied, with Fox News Channel's newscasts rated no further to the right than ABC and NBC News were to the left. CBS News was even further left than the New York Times.
Gary P. Posner, Tampa
Common folk clued in
Howell Raines' many journalistic accomplishments are acknowledged. However, I do not accept his patronizing us American common folk.
As a retiree, I have become a "news-oholic." I read and listen to them all — from the "raucous commentators" on the Fox News Channel to the Bush/Cheney bashers on MSNBC. The vast majority of us can distinguish when they are blowing smoke or not. It is not so much what the "professional journalists" on ABC, NBC or CBS cover as what they leave out. I have never found any reference to the administration's hiring tax evaders except on Fox.
Citing Fox's endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health care reform" is a faulty allegation. Fox's reporting is: "The American people do not want Obamacare." Big difference.
Perry J. Dahl, Tampa
Just passing the word
Howell Raines says that "Fox distorts."
I beg to differ. We believe that Fox tells it like it is. President Barack Obama and his cronies do not yet understand that the good God-fearing, hard-working, taxpaying citizens of our fine country do not support Obama's policies. Fox is just passing on these people's feelings.
James H. Evans, Belleair
Teacher tenure targeted | March 15, story
Don't hurt good teachers to punish the bad ones
I have been teaching for 16 years. I have an elementary education degree as well as a degree in economics.
I am appalled at the high-handedness of Sen. John Thrasher's measure to do away with professional service contracts across the board. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to children are being treated as if we were unworthy of being called professionals. The vast majority of educators work their tails off and go above and beyond because we do what is right for the children.
I do agree that it is difficult to get rid of bad teachers, and unfortunately the ones who are bad are the only ones the public hears about. I should not be punished for their incompetence and unethical behavior. Give administrators more power and fewer hoops to jump through to fire them. Don't destroy the good teachers in order to punish the bad.
I would like to send Sen. Thrasher and his colleagues an invitation to join me in my school for one full week before they vote on this horrifically destructive bill. I doubt they would even consider accepting it.
Carolyn Vorse, New Port Richey
Teacher tenure targeted | March 15, story
Unfairness and hypocrisy
Though hypocrisy and politics go hand in hand, our Legislature is about to take it to a new level. Lawmakers decry tenure for teachers while they enjoy job security from the moment they are elected. Due to gerrymandered districts their seats are so safe that the only way they can lose them is through term limits or getting caught committing a felony.
In addition to this hypocrisy, there is the matter of fairness. How would anyone like to have their pay determined by circumstances outside of their control? You can have talented, hard-working teachers get saddled with a classes with inordinate numbers of problem students, and no matter how hard they work, their pay is reduced because of their students' poor performance. How is this fair?
To add insult to injury, the Legislature has added a provision for parents to be part of teacher evaluation. Are the parents whose children are undisciplined, stay up late and come to school unprepared going to accept the responsibility for their children's poor grades or are they more likely to blame it on the teacher?
If this bill is passed in its present form, it is likely that a number of good teachers will decide that they have had enough and leave teaching. And others will be deterred from becoming teachers.
John Johnston, Clearwater
Real business realities
As supporters of Senate Bill 6 would like to think, public education is out of touch with the everyday concerns of working people; this is supposedly the reason why children are not learning what they need to. The solution, says state Sen. John Thrasher, is to alter teachers' working conditions to make them more like those in the "private sector."
Fortunately, I have only been an education bureaucrat for seven years. I have experience in the business world that informs my realistic thinking on how people are paid in what is considered by many public education detractors as "the real world."
For me, this real world experience came at a local insurance company. I worked at a computer help desk. Not once was my pay docked because response time was slow. I never gave up one dime from my pay whenever a computer user's problem resurfaced after our quick fix.
Incidentally, I enjoyed one thing that I do not have today: overtime. If I spent more than 40 hours manning the help desk, I got paid to reflect my extra hours. When my car is parked outside of school and I am parked behind my desk until 8 p.m., I still get paid the same flat rate. Of course, we do not hear public education critics advocating to change that disparity between schools and business.
Let's make a deal: When we make these professional politicians in Tallahassee more accountable for failing their fiduciary responsibilities to our state, then we will talk about somehow making public education more like the private sector. Just make sure that teachers also get their overtime pay.
John Meeks, Jacksonville
Effort to save homes lags | March 16, story
Mediation is available
Your front-page article has misinformed the public about foreclosure mediation in the 6th Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco counties).
Mediation has been available in any circuit civil case — including foreclosure cases — since 1988. A specialized program focusing on mediation of foreclosure cases was implemented in October 2009. This program allows homeowners to opt into mediation and foreclosure counseling. Since October, a sample motion to request mediation has been available on our Web site. See 6th Circuit Administrative Order 2009-065, posted on our Web site at http://www.jud6.org/LegalCommunity/LegalPractice/AOSAndRules/aos/aos2009/2009-065.htm
This foreclosure mediation program will continue until we can implement the managed mediation program, an opt-out program. All homestead property owners will be contacted through "outreach" by the program manager. Once the program manager is selected, this aspect of the mediation program will be implemented.
I chose to issue a Request for Proposals for a program manager to ensure that we contract with a vendor who has the capacity to handle the volume of cases.
Implementation of this program in the 6th Circuit considers the possibility that the Legislature may amend the statute. I do not want to enter into a contract with a program manager until it is clear that the Legislature will not modify the program during the legislative session. The RFP was issued with a time line that anticipates we will contract by May 3 and will implement the program June 1.
Once a contract is signed, managed mediation will be available to all borrowers who reside in their homestead property. Borrowers with other types of property will continue to have access to the mediation program that has been in existence since 1988.
J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge, 6th Judicial Circuit, Clearwater
Caution on red-light cameras | March 11, editorial
A puzzling concern
I totally fail to understand the caution expressed in you editorial that "the state must ensure that red light cameras are not just money machines for cash-strapped governments."
Why must it? A camera only becomes a "money machine" when drivers run the light. When they obey it, the camera does not generate one dime. So why the concern?
Personally, I would like to see a camera at every traffic light in St. Petersburg. Those who endanger the lives of others by running the light will get caught, while those of us who drive responsibly will have nothing to fear. Install them now!
R. G. Wheeler, St. Petersburg
Just obey the law
The law is plain and clear: Do not run a red light. There is a fine if you do. We cannot have police at every red-light intersection, and hopefully these cameras will stop or at least be a financial reminder for people to obey the law.
If you have not been hit, injured or known someone who died because of a driver running a red light, you may not stop and think what damage it has done to others. The people complaining and giving a feeble excuse — "The city wants to make money" — are self-centered and feel the laws do not apply to them. Let it happen to them or a loved one and see how they change their minds.
Stop and think, folks. You run the red light, you pay the fine and hopefully learn a lesson.
D.A. Sims, South Pasadena
Ponderous killjoy | March 13, letter
A reason to read
I'm so sorry to see this letter reflecting disenchantment with Garrison Keillor's columns in the St. Petersburg Times. Pity. Surely there are mammoth numbers of the letter writer's own political persuasion in both print and other media who will provide respite from Keillor's commonsense approach to the political scene.
Frankly, his reflection on America's past and his vision of its future are what keep me subscribing to the St. Petersburg Times.
Lou Hunter, Clearwater