Saturday, May 2, 2009

Space Shuttle, Challenger Disaster

The space shuttle, Challenger crashed in 1986, and the whole crew was killed, including a teacher. I chose to look at articles from January 8, 1986, the day of the crash. The Houston Chronicle article focused on the teacher who died, Christa McAuliffe, and the other crew, as well as the students in McAuliffe’s school in Concord, NH. The article does not ask the question “why.” No mention about what happened or who’s fault the explosion might be. The article focused on the events and listed the crew and each of their respective achievements. It seems like the quotations they used and the language supports NASA in their efforts. No difficult questions are posed in this article, written by Carlos Byars, a Chronicle science writer. We were putting tons of money into the space program then, and our government was avoiding the contra-gate scandal by focusing on the quaint idea of a teacher in space. In fact, other articles question why the disaster happened and what they did wrong. The article says positive things about NASA. It almost seems like the Chronicle is trying to defend NASA by not echoing the question each American had on her mind, “What caused this malfunction. Is it NASA’s fault?” This article gives the facts of what other people observed happen that day, but it also talks about NASA and how the crash will affect them. The main concern seems to be that the disaster will delay more flights, therefore impending NASA’s progress.

The LA Times’ coverage of the disaster is much more complete. While it, too leads with the disaster and people’s reactions to it, there is a paragraph dealing with various scenarios of what might have happened. The scenarios are incomplete and they are speculation, but they at least address why the shuttle crashed. It is also mentioned that Reagan has suspended more flights pending a probe. There is no mention of a possible investigation in the Houston Chronicle article. This article doesn’t mention NASA’s chances of continuing the program. It spent less time on the gory details of the crash, and more on the who, what, where, why and when of the event. Perhaps that is because LA is far from Houston, therefore the paper there doesn’t feel the need to protect the space program that Houston might.

Challenger explodes/Shuttle falls into ocean; crew apparently killed; [5 STAR Edition] CARLOS BYARS, Houston Chronicle Science Writer. Houston Chronicle Jan 28, 1986.

Shuttle Explodes; All 7 Die Teacher on Board as Challenger Blows Up on Liftoff Reagan Postpones Future Flights Pending a Probe; [Late Final Edition]
MICHAEL SEILER, PETER H. KING. Los Angeles Times Jan. 28th, 1986

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

I looked at both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for this essay.
The New York Times reported about the attack and then reported on all the Japanese nationals being rounded up and imprisoned at Ellis Island. Apparently over 2000 people were rounded up that day. The coverage seems factual, but it strikes me that not one Japanese person was quoted for the article. The article describes the rounding up of the Japanese as a security precaution, and lumps it in with securing the ports and shipyards. There is no evidence that the writer even thinks its shocking. I read the coverage of the attack in several different papers, and the New York Times is the only paper to report this kind of reaction the day after the bombing. I don’t know whether that is because other places did not start imprisoning Japanese until later, or if it was happening all over the place on Dec. 8th and the New York Times was the only paper to report on it that I could find.

The LA Times article was an article about the Japanese business community declaring its support of the war effort. The statement the article made was that the action of the Japanese army was abhorrent, but that the Japanese people who were born in the US were supportive of the US war effort. Several businessmen signed pledges of cooperation to the government. On Dec 8th there was no mention in the LA Times of any detention of any kind happening on that day. The Chronicle had no articles listed about Pearl Harbor on Dec 8th, 1941. There is another article about what’s going on in Little Tokyo on Dec 8th. The article states that it’s “business as usual.” So it seems that the LA Times was looking into the action around Japanese Americans, but that they took longer to start throwing Japanese in jail in LA.

Entire City Put on War Footing: Japanese rounded up by FBI, sent to Ellis Island—Vital services are guarded. New York Times December 8th, 1941

Japanese-Americans Pledge Loyalty to United States; Citizens’ League Offers Faclities to Government; Declaration of War on Nippon Supported by Editor. Los Angeles Times, December 8th, 1941

Little Tokyo carries on Business as Usual; Los Angeles Times, December 8th, 1941

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Deadly AIDs Disease Identified

When AIDS was finally identified in the early 80's people were not only shocked by fear but a stigma against homosexual men was created as well. As the Center for Disease Control struggled to find the funding they needed to conduct the proper research the fear and worry only escalated throughout society. With fear of the unknown being a basic human condition, many individuals were left only to their own devices to decide what was safe and what wasn't when it came to the AIDS virus.
In 1984 The New York Times released an article titled, The Slow Response to AIDS, in which a sense of relief was conveyed in knowing that AIDS only existed in homosexual and bisexual men, intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs. However, the article then goes on to point out that AIDS may also be sexually transmitted by someone who shows no symptoms what so ever. Although extremely tame, the author attempts to criticize the American Government for its slow and effortless response to the current issue at hand. The main source for the story appears to be the House Committee on Government Operation who was said to have shunned the Public Health Service for turning down the initial funding to further study of the deadly disease. The article seems to be framed for the more conservative reader while still trying to shed some light on the dissatisfaction of some.
Quite opposite to this approach, The Washington Post published an article in 1985 titled, The Spread of Fear, in which Mary McGrory expresses pure and utter disgust with the reactions of American society to the issue of AIDS. She points out the various references to the disease that portray gay men in the most negative of lights. Once considered the "gay plague" and "God's punishment of homosexuals for their perverted lifestyle," McGrory attempts to use statements from such officials as politicians, doctors and Health and Human Services Officials to dispel these false theories. The writer suggests that the fear that is spreading among parents for the safety of their children at school is purely absurd. McGrory uses a variety of sources to get her point across and appears to be targeting the every day citizen. Her writing is powerful, compelling and radical for its time.
While both of these articles show some sense of discontent with the nation for their inability to handle such a fragile tragedy, the writing for The Washington Post is clearly the more dramatic and honest. They do share a certain commonality however. As both of these articles were written in the mid 80's they are a testament to the changing of the way in which reporters choose to express themselves. Never before would we have seen such out right insult to the American people or a challenging of the status quo to this degree in a major news publication. Historically homosexuals have always been discriminated against by the news media. Here we see a coming of age in which people feel confident in their right to stand up for a minority group and speak their truth. Articles like that of The Washington Post should be praised because they represent true, raw journalism.

New Polio Vaccine Works

In 1953 a new vaccine for polio was discovered. As this was a devastating disease sweeping the nation, citizens were hopeful that many of their children would be saved or better yet, prevented from ever contracting the paralyzing condition. While many wanted to believe that this vaccine would be the end all of polio, some contrasting points of view presented themselves within the articles of some of the country’s top newspapers.

In an article by the New York Times, titled Vaccine for Polio Successful; Use in 1 to 3 Years is Likely, William L. Laurence writes a very detailed description of just how the vaccine is expected to help. He explains that experiments with the treatment were performed on 90 children and adults, treating for all three viruses known to cause the disease. The main source for the story was Dr. Jonas E. Salk, Professor of Research at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk’s article in the Journal of the American Medical Association proved to be the main point of origination for many of the facts that Laurence presented in his writing. The conclusion of the article lets readers know that while strives have been made with the hope of success, a practical vaccine is not yet at hand. Coinciding with the times, the reporter bases much of his writing on the official source or may possibly be following the guidelines of government officials, creating a story that is not just informative and detailed but also very cautious.

            Conversely, The Washington Post delivered an article titled, Two Reports Show Polio Can Be Beaten. Here, Nate Haseltine attempts to encourage the success of the vaccine after several tests were performed upon animals. It is clearly stated about half way through the article that no evidence has been found that the vaccine will work for humans, but at the same time, there is no known reason why it wouldn’t work. The main source for this article is Dr. David Bodian, a scientist from the Johns Hopkins University. While Haseltine also focuses on the official news source, he seems to throw caution to the wind a bit more in his reporting suggesting that there is no reason what so ever that the treatment will not be useful in the near future.

            The two articles examined here show that while most reporting for major newspapers was, and still is, based solely on the official source, there may still be discrepancies from paper to paper. The New York Times demonstrated a style of reporting that was educational but a bit more reserved than that of the Washington Post. And the as the Washington Post falls on the other side of the fence in terms of conservatism, the reporting seems to be much less in depth as well. In any case, these two articles from the 50’s demonstrate that the reality represented by the news media is constructed through interactions between journalists and public or medical officials.

Jackie Robinson or Babe Ruth? You Decide

After examining the “Top News Stories of the Century”, I was stunned to realize a glaring omission. Noticing the inclusion of Babe Ruth’s record-setting 60th home run in 1927, I scanned the list for other sports stories. Realizing that Ruth was the only sports story deemed significant enough to merit recognition, I contemplated which sports stories outweighed the “Sultan of Swat, Great Bambino” and twenty other nicknames appointed to Ruth in his illustrious career. This post will focus on merely one of the stories that I consider monumental, not only in sports, but in American history.

The legacy of Jackie Robinson and his shattering of the color barrier in professional baseball is unquestionably one of the top news stories of all-time. Remarkably, this life-altering event failed to crack the top 100, according to Newseum. Signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the immensely talented Robinson was initially shunned by fans and players, including his own teammates. The hateful actions of racist Americans were suddenly focused on an African-American baseball player, who just so happened to be one of the greatest the game had ever seen. Robinson burst onto the scene in his rookie year with phenomenal results on the field, earning Rookie of the Year honors. Two years later, he was named Most Valuable Player.

While Robinson was clearly an amazing player on the field, the real significance of his achievements went far beyond hits and home runs. The hostility and viciousness of what he endured throughout his baseball career are simply unimaginable. Nearly anyone who was forced to live under the conditions that Robinson regularly battled through would have quit after one day. He was constantly threatened with physical violence and even death. The choice to remain in pro sports endangered the lives of his family, yet he persevered. The indomitable courage of Jackie Robinson transcended sports, laying the foundation for diversity in all athletic competition. Yet, what Robinson accomplished was even more meaningful to American society. His unconquerable spirit has forever changed the country, and really, the entire world.

When researching newspaper coverage of Jackie Robinson, I found that reactions were varied. In a New York Times article in 1945 (two years prior to Robinson’s major league debut), Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey, the man credited with helping to break the color barrier by signing Robinson despite massive criticism, clarified his position. “I have not been pushed into this,” Rickey declared. “I signed Robinson in spite of the pressure-groups who are only exploiting the Negroes, instead of advancing their cause. I signed him because I knew of no reason why I shouldn’t. I want to win baseball games, and baseball is a game that is played by human beings.” And in a letter to Rickey in reference to the signing of Robinson, the president of the Negro Baseball League wrote “I feel that I speak the sentiments of fifteen million Negroes in America who are with you 100 percent and will always remember the day of this great event.”

Curiously, on the day of Robinson’s first major league regular season game, the New York Times did not deem the historic event headline worthy. According to ProQuest Historical Newspapers files for the Times, the headlines on April 15, 1947, did not include a story revolving around the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. In Brooklyn, New York for that matter! There was, however, a story on the Dodgers and opening day, which contained a brief section on Robinson, discussing the overwhelming pressure he would soon face. “Robinson almost has to be another DiMaggio in making good from the opening whistle. It’s not fair to him, but no one can do anything about it but himself. Pioneers never had it easy and Robinson, perforce, is a pioneer. It’s his burden to carry from now on and he must carry it alone.”

While this writer touches on some truthful points, he also epitomizes the ignorance of many white Americans during this time period. Why must he carry this burden alone? Should not other players, fans, and media do whatever they can to help his noble cause? The attitude of the writer is one of complacency, satisfied to sit back and observe as Jackie Robinson was tortured with death threats and humiliation throughout his baseball career, especially early on. How the incredible story of Jackie Robinson was not included among the top 100 stories of the century in unfathomable.

References - New York Times 1945-1947 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wrights fly first airplane, 1903

Wrights fly first airplane, 1903

“Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines”, “they go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down”, up, down, flying around, impressing the ladies and defying the ground”. Those are the lyrics from the theme song of the 1965 British comedy of the same title, about a 1910 air race, sponsored by a Newspaper. In the movie, “aeronauts” as they were called, from many countries, competed to see who had the best “flying machine”, design and piloting skills. It is truly a great film even now, and I couldn’t help but think of it as I browsed articles and looked for something on the Wright Brothers historical December 17, 1903 flight. I found many articles about many different flying machines, and many of the pioneering people in avionics, as I searched the S.F. Chronicle and the New York Times from 1901 to 1909. The funny thing is that until 1908, when the Wrights started successfully testing an airplane they had built for the U.S. government, there was not much coverage of their 1903 flight at all. The “Newseum Top News Stories of the Century List” has the “Wrights fly first airplane” ranked a solid # 4, so one might expect to find a lot of media coverage, which did happen years latter, but when they made the breakthrough flight at Kitty Hawk they were virtually ignored by the press. The New York Times reported nothing, while the S.F. Chronicle had one small article (page 7) on Dec. 18th and one small slanted article (page 6) on Dec. 19th. In real life, just like in the movie, there was a big air race being held at the Worlds Fair in St Louis in 1904, and the prize was $100,000.00, a lot of money in those days. The press was into reporting about it but the Wrights were not competing, probably because they weren’t ready at that time. The only airships that had a chance were the lighter-than-air “dirigibles”, and even they didn’t do vary well. The problem was in not being able to control and navigate the aircraft in any wind. Since the only things that had been able to sustain flight were lighter-than-air, the air just pushed them around like the big balloons that they were. Brave inventers from many countries were all trying to solve the problem of navigation. Dirigibles and heavier-than-air flying machines of all shapes and sizes were being experimented with and the Newspapers had a lot to choose from but were skeptical because of the many failures. However there was good public interest in the stories of mans attempts at what some articles called “unnatural” or “artificial” flight. People were starting to become more interested in things scientific and investigative reporting was becoming more popular at that time. Yellow Journalism had been common in the1890s and by this time Newspapers were trying to be more accurate with the facts and build credibility. It was the beginning of the "Progressive Era" in Journalism. The Times and Chronicle had many articles about more prominent aeronautical pioneers such as the Brazilian dirigible pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, Alexander Graham Bell and his box kites, and Samuel P. Langley Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution among others. As Johnathon Briggs of the Baltimore Sun puts it, Part of the disbelief in the Wrights accomplishment came from Samuel P. Langley’s failure with his $70,000.00 “Aerodrome” just nine days before. If Dr. Langley of the Smithsonian couldn’t do it, how could these Wrights pull it off? Also the idea of man flying was new and mostly only accepted as possible by the scientific community. The Church was saying things like “if God had meant for man to fly, he would have given him wings”. And journalists were also critical with quotes like: “Flying machines are evidently nothing better than dangerous toys, and probably never will be anything else”, from an article titled “An Aerial Tragedy” S.F. Chronicle (Jul. 20 1905). For the Wright Brothers though the press, who were critical already, was down right cold. The second article by the Chronicle on Dec. 19th titled “New Flying Machine Record”, calls their flying machine a “novelty in aeronautics”, and ends by saying “it cannot ascend or move through the air in any direction except against the wind. It is therefore, of no value as an airship.” The Wright Brothers advances were just not understood yet by the press.
Modern News coverage of the aviation industry is subjected to limeted or edited access to information as developments are usually kept secret and the Press is managed by P.R. people. Of course as new developments like the unmanned radio controlled airplanes are being tested in the field it becomes easier to get the story. The problem is that the test field for new aircraft has historically been the battlefield. Like now it's Iraq. In times of war you can't expect the whole truth about sensitive things like weapons systems.


Schudson, Michael, “Discovering the News”, (1978), Basic Books, Inc.
JOUR> 301 sp.2009, course materials and lectures
New York Times Historical articles on ProQuest at SFPL, News Dated 1901 to 1909
San Francisco Chronicle Historical on ProQuest at SFPL, News Dated 1901 to 1909
Briggs, Johnathon E. “Writes Flew into a Newspaper Fog” (2003) Baltimore Sun
“Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” film, 1965, produced by Stan Marguiles, written and directed by Ken Annalakin

Watergate engulfs Nixon 1973

In the beginning the Watergate scandal was a huge question mark. Journalists could only report the facts, no theories or strong opinions (yet). All anyone knew was that 5 men had broke in to Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel with “…at lease sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations, lock-picks and door jimmies, cash, one walkie-talkie, a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns” (Lewis). In one of the first articles after the break-in Alfred Lewis reports, the police suspected that the men were attempting to take photographs of documents. This one event fueled the investigation of the entire Nixon presidency, even brought to the surface some conspiracies and theories about money laundering, illegal campaigning, to Nixon’s personal taxes. Watergate refers to the cluster of events that followed the actual Watergate break in, and even though its number 88 on the public vote it deserves its 67th placement for the journalistic rating.

As Watergate started to unfold, Nixon was dragged into the scandal kicking and screaming which ultimately resulted in his resignation. Two reporters for the Washington post were chief to the Watergate investigations: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (who both went down in journalistic history for their amazing coverage).

In most of the coverage I followed from the Washington Post, the stories didn’t include a lot of quotes from outside sources, or opinions but included things that were said by Nixon himself. I don’t think that it was to tread lightly because of the gravity of the situation but rather to let the reader draw his or her own conclusions about what was happening. Journalist reported in a way of using all the facts and piles and piles of information and delivered it written form so even the simplest reader could understand. In the Articles I read Journalist didn’t need to anything more then the facts, because it was such a great story on it’s on as with any other presidential scandal. It wasn’t necessary to fill out the articles with what whoever has to say the evidence was stacked against Nixon and so all that was left was to uncover all buried information and let things fall where they may.

Watergate made for exceptional news. Right in the thick of it all, this scandal had it all, a crook for a president with a crooked cabinet. Spies, phone taps a mysterious informer the papers dubbed Deep Throat and no non-sense journalists tracking all who were involved,
every trial, every hearing or TV appearance, their pens waiting for any slip ups, and this made a gripping story on a massive scale. This type of investigative reporting has such a pull for me. Journalists have such a profound calling to find the truth and no matter what it’s buried under the truth on out the tip of a pen.

Sources:Lewis, Alfred E. "5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats' Office Here." Washington Post 18 June 1977: A-01.
Bernstein, Carl , and Bob Woodward. "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats." Washington Post 0 (1972): A-01. The Watergate story. Washington Post. 20 Apr. 2009​wp-dyn/​politics/​specials/​watergate/​articles/.Bernstein, Carl , and Bob Woodward. "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats." Washington Post 0 (1972): A-01. The Watergate story. Washington Post. 20 Apr. 2009 .