Yeah, yeah, thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers …

Of course they published today.

It happened again yesterday.

A white man with a gun killed five innocent people.

But this one hit really close to home. This one was personal.

This angry white man came after reporters and editors at the Capital in Annapolis, Md., and shot five of them dead.

The creature currently squatting in the White House has claimed again and again that the press is the enemy of the public, and apparently, some people are starting to believe it.

Those brave people, who covered the events unfolding in their newsroom by jumping under their desks for protection — and sending out information on social media.  They continued to do their jobs, even as someone was trying to kill them.

I spent a career as a reporter, following in the footsteps of my father. Telling the truth about what’s happening in government and in the world was his life and it’s still mine.

I do freelance reporting now, and this blog. The truth is important to me, and telling the stories of people affected by bad public policy is the only way to force changes. That’s why I do the work I do now with the Poor People’s Campaign. That’s why I tell the story of how my precious son died every chance I get.

Journalists tell these stories:

  • The stories of children ripped from their parents’ arms at the border and caged like animals, forced to appear in court without representation;
  • the stories of people kept in jail for months at a time because they don’t have $250 or $500 cash bail, so they lose their jobs and their homes, even though they’ve committed no crime;
  • the stories of protesters with disabilities being pulled from their wheelchairs while trying to speak to elected officials who want to cut their services;
  • the stories of teachers, eligible for food stamps because they’re paid so little, buying classroom supplies for the children in their charge;
  • the stories of teachers throwing their bodies between their students and an angry white man with a gun;
  • the stories of young black men gunned down by cops, who never suffer any consequences;
  • the stories of soldiers who come home after five or more deployments to combat zones and then get no help with their PTSD — 22 of them die by their own hand every day.

The creature in the White House and his minions don’t want us to hear those stories. They don’t want us to know about their crimes against humanity, their corruption, their theft of public money, their collusion with a foreign power — and people like the angry white man who killed five innocent journalists yesterday do their dirty work for them. You don’t have to lock up journalists if you can get an angry white man to intimidate them for you by killing off a few here and there.

But journalists aren’t easily intimidated. We face threats all the time. We get angry calls from people who realize they sounded really stupid at the meeting last night when they read what they said in the morning paper. I’ve had many, many such angry calls. I even had someone threaten to kill me in a phone message after I wrote that LGBTQ people should enjoy the same right to marry that I do.

I laughed it off, but my editors did not.

My father had police checking up on our house frequently after he wrote about a crime ring.

Journalists don’t stop doing what we do because we know the truth is of the utmost importance. When a public figure lies, that’s our challenge to call him or her out and to find the truth.

The creature in the White House has no affection for the truth. He cares for nothing beyond his own self-aggrandizement. That’s why he’s so eager to attack and vilify the press. He is a toxic sociopath, and his reign will be short. It will be a footnote in history, a little asterisk with the notation, “worst president in American history.”

Meanwhile, the Capital will go on publishing.

Meanwhile, journalists in newsrooms that have been decimated by corporate greed will keep on seeking and writing the truth.

What we all need to do is support local journalism. Subscribe to publications you trust, online, on the air or in hard copy.

Show the creature and his minions that the truth does matter, and that you will defend it. That’s the only way we’ll make it through this dark time.



The death of American journalism


So, here’s what we’ve come to: Donald Drumpf’s penis size is all over the news this morning, but Bernie Sanders, who’s talking about real issues, real problems and real solutions, can barely get the time of day.

I get it; penises sell. Everyone’s interested in the discussion about penises.

A responsible Fourth Estate, however, would walk away from the circus and talk about income inequality, systemic racism, the lack of access to health care, the ravaging of our public education system, endless wars, the rampant destruction of the natural world, climate change, poisons in our food and water, voter suppression …

You get the gist.

What we get instead is the distraction, what my late son used to call “sparkly issues.”

“Ooooh, look over here. The leading Republican candidate is talking about the size of his penis. Sparkly!”

I worked in newspapers for 30 years before I volunteered to be laid off so I could pursue a life of activism after the death of my son. I’m deeply grateful I left when I did.

I was fortunate to be a reporter at a time when news stories might shame state and local officials to do the right thing. Stories my colleagues and I wrote helped to change state policies.

But those stories took time to research and write, and they weren’t sexy. It was my job to explain complex government policies and how they affected real people. My colleagues and I were given the time it took to do the research and write the stories.

Today, my former colleagues work harder than ever, but they aren’t often given the time for investigative journalism. Corporate overlords have cut newsroom staffs to the bone and then some. Older reporters who remember what it was like to write about corruption or bad policy are overloaded with work. They can be disciplined for not having enough bylines. Story count means more than content.

Too often, today’s journalists aren’t encouraged to tackle the issues; they’re asked to contribute to the drivel that distracts people from the real issues. I have some very frustrated friends in the business, and none of this is their fault.

When I criticize the corporate media, I am in no way blaming the front-line people for what has happened.

The decisions about what will be at the top of the news don’t rest with reporters, or even most of the editors who work with them. Much of it comes from the corner offices in the form of kudos for the number of page views online and demands for more of the same.

My former company, Gannett, is in no small part responsible for this mess. Newspapers aren’t dying; they are being suffocated. Gannett demands obscene profit margins, and when the profits aren’t big enough, the company boots a few more reporters and copy editors to the curb. Employees may be loyal, but the company most certainly is not.

News became a product, not a mission, and that’s what is killing newspapers.

So, my former colleagues work in a pressure cooker, where they face increasing demands, minuscule raises that don’t keep up with inflation and the constant threat of unemployment, no matter how good they are.

Most reporters are still trying to do good work, and some have left corporate media to pursue good journalism.

Here in Asheville, we have Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit headed by a former Gannett reporter, and The Asheville Blade, a one-person operation covering local government and issues. We have some great bloggers who are as likely to break stories as the local paper or TV or radio stations.

This well may be the future of journalism, but it has a lot of noise trying to drown it out, and the rise of Donald Trump and the coverage of his penis size is sad proof that we may not return to civilized, responsible journalism any time soon.




Let me introduce myself

Publisher’s note:

AWOP is pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Leslie Boyd. A fierce advocate of health care for all and I am super excited to have her join us!


I’m Leslie Boyd. As a newspaper reporter for more than a quarter century, I saw and told the stories of real people in real situations who were being held down by systems that worked against them.

In 1983, it was Jeannie Alkema, a woman in Passaic County, NJ, with debilitating multiple sclerosis who was being cared for in her home. Her 12-year-old son suffered nightmares of his mother being put in a nursing home and him being placed in foster care. It was less expensive to care for Jeannie in her home than in a nursing home, but one day she called me in a panic and said the Department of Social Services was going to cut off her home care. Her son’s nightmare was about to become reality.

I called the DSS director and told him I was working on a front-page story about the mess( which I was, if she was going to be sent to a nursing home)  and he knew nothing about it. A few minutes later, though, he called me back and said it had been a computer glitch and Jeannie and her son would continue to get services at home.

My father, also a newspaper reporter, loved when he was able to right a wrong, to help people caught up in systems that were harming them.

I called what I did – writing about social justice issues by telling the stories of real people – advocacy journalism.

In 1992, I started writing about the health care crisis when a woman I knew told me she would be in debt for the rest of her life because she had thyroid cancer and had to pay for her treatments out-of-pocket. President Clinton had just been elected and was promising to help the then-16 million uninsured get access to quality health care.

His efforts were defeated by the health care industry, which didn’t want any controls in place.

Then, at the end of 2005, my son, Mike Danforth, got sick. He had a birth defect that left him very vulnerable to colon cancer. That being a pre-existing condition meant Mike couldn’t get insurance at any price, so he couldn’t get the colonoscopies he needed. The gastroenterologist wouldn’t even let Mike pay over time – he insisted on having the full price up front.

Mike and his wife, Janet, were students. They didn’t have $2,500 or more to pay, so Mike didn’t get his colonoscopies, and in December of 2005, he got sick. He couldn’t keep food down and he had abdominal pain. Still, he couldn’t get a colonoscopy. His doctor wrote in Mike’s medical record that Mike needed a colonoscopy but couldn’t afford it and then suggested Mike should get financial counseling.

Mike went to the emergency room several times and was given laxatives, pain killers and antibiotics, but he continued to get worse.

The doctor finally agreed to do a colonoscopy, but he never told Mike the results: “couldn’t finish procedure; next time use (pediatrics) scope.”

Mike’s colon was blocked. His life was in danger and his doctor just sent him home.

The next time Mike saw the doctor, a couple weeks later, he was vomiting fecal matter and his organs were shutting down. Mike, who was 6 feet tall, weighed just 112 pounds. He was admitted to Memorial Health Center Hospital in Savannah.

It took doctors five days to stabilize Mike so he could have surgery. By then his cancer was stage 3; it had spread to 11 of 13 lymph nodes.

Mike got chemo and radiation through a charity in Savannah, where he lived and was neglected, but the radiation caused a new blockage. This time his doctors let him get down to 104 pounds before they did anything, and the only reason they did was because we were going to take it the media.

The pathology report found “a few viable cells,” and they just gave up. No one from oncology ever even came to talk to him, and his doctor failed to treat a life-threatening infection in his surgical incision.

Fortunately for Mike, his life was extended when I got him a consultation with Dr. Herbert Hurwitz at Duke University Medical Center. He took one look at Mike, and knowing Mike would be dead in a few weeks if he was sent back to Savannah, Dr. Hurwitz “adopted” him.

Mike still needed Medicaid for his chemo, though, and he and Janet had to split so he could get it. He applied for disability but was turned down twice. He was finally approved in March 2008, but he died at age 33 on April 1, 2008, nine days before his first check came.

We used the bulk payment to pay off the debt we incurred supporting Mike for three years while he waited for disability.

In July 2009, I left the newspaper to do real advocacy. I founded Life o’ Mike as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so I can stand up for what’s right and try to help people get the care they need. I tell Mike’s story and the stories of others who are suffering because Americans don’t think health care should be a basic human right.

Americans desperately need to be told the truth, but Big Insurance – and Big Media – prefer to keep people in the dark; that’s where they operate best – in the dark.

It’s up to progressives – liberals – to stand up and tell the truth and to work for social justice – living wages, safe, affordable homes, health care, education, consumer safety, food safety and more.

We have our work cut out for us.

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