Posts Tagged ‘Pew Research Center’

The Pursuit of Journalistic Truth and Justice

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm


As expressly stated in the “About” section, The Firmest Pillar Blog is dedicated to the principles of truth and justice.  These themes are then applied to current events.

One current event is the Trial of Whitey Bulger, which dominates the news on a nearly daily basis; very relevant is the tendency of media to associate James “Whitey” Bulger’s younger brother, William, with the criminal allegations for which he now stands trial.

Allow me make one thing clear: Those events, illustrated in large part by various news outlets, exemplify these themes of truth and justice.  Journalism is, by design, inherently about truth.  The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) notes clearly and unambiguously, “Journalism’s First Obligation is to the Truth.”

Furthermore, “Its First Loyalty is to Citizens.”  Also, “Its Essence is a Discipline of Verification,” “Its Practitioners Must Maintain an Independence from Those They Cover,” “It Must Serve as an Independent Monitor of Power,” “It  Must Provide a Forum for Public Criticism and Compromise,” “It Must Strive to Make the Significant Interesting and Relevant,” and “It Must Keep the News Comprehensive and Proportional.”  In theory these should form a solid foundation by which “Its Practitioners Must Be Allowed to Exercise Their Personal Conscience.”

These are noble and lofty principles which parallel the Code of Ethics promulgated by the Society of Professional Journalists.  Yet too often, I see skewed news coverage.  In a profession whose wellspring is truth, what does it mean when what is essentially a means to educate the populace does not comport with these principles?

Time and time again, news stories have played out and disseminate misinformation, or unverified information.  This is dangerous and wrong.  It is for this reason that the experience of William Bulger exemplifies this very theme, where assumptions have been made, where gossip becomes fact, and when repeated enough times, it becomes the reality which we do neither question nor notice; we simply live with it without thinking twice — and without seeing any need to think twice.

The views conveyed in this blog may at times be unorthodox; they may protest against the grain.  They may present a perspective which is so off the mainstream path that the Reader may even conclude this is a propaganda tool aimed to portray William Bulger and others in a positive light.  At all times, every effort is made to show the facts as they are and prompt the Reader to think deeply and to question that reality.  The news is forever filtered through its messenger; that is the nature of any secondary source, is it not?  Like it or not, it can only be seen through a veil.

Drawing from one early political theory text, it is in Plato’s Republic that Socrates depicts the beginning of enlightenment as “…human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads…”

Socrates next describes the path of progress: “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him…”

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, concludes, “But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort…[T]his is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.”

This old idea equally applies today — the joy of reading the past is realizing that it’s not past at all.  In many ways, learning urges the questioning of convention.  It first requires that one must be open to it, to consider the matter at issue, to make conclusions, and then to “exercise personal conscience.”

That is what this blog strives to do.  There is no other agenda than to explore truth and justice; if any of the issues presented here contribute to contemporary dialogs, then I have done my part, however small; that is the only hope and the sole agenda.

While journalism “must serve as an independent monitor of power,” the field of journalism is itself a source of power.  Who monitors journalists?  With the First Amendment functioning often as both a shield and sword from interference, in the end the pen may very well be mightier than the sword.  It may also prove to be a potent tool in the pursuit of journalistic truth and justice — especially when wielded for good.

The Unusual Case of William M. Bulger abounds with voluminous material to illustrate situations where what is reported, simply does not reflect the actual facts.  Instead, false facts inherently adorn a false reality.  This is true even in instances when facts are readily and easily verifiable simply by consulting a primary source.

Going forward, there will be further discussions involving William Bulger, but there will be illustrations involving others as well. Every day, I come across articles which distort or misstate the facts.  Exploring these pieces is an apt direction to take.

To get closer to the light, one must open the window and pull away the shades, and that task is left for the Reader.  If you are reading this, surely there is some willingness to consider issues raised here and elsewhere.  That purview shall serve you well.

Finally, I must commend one British news outlet about which I posted previously.  After writing to The Independent, I have heard from its Deputy Editor regarding an article which is now corrected.  Many thanks to that publication for demonstrating a side of journalism which we do not often see.  Coupling the duty to report responsibly, it is also incumbent to take responsibility when due.

That message is below, in relevant part:


Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your email below.

You are absolutely correct of course that we made a mistake with our headline, which referred to William instead of James Bulger.  The sub-heading was correct and the body of the article made clear that the man on trial was James, rather than his brother – who also featured in the piece as you know.

I am sorry about this slip, which we have now corrected, and hope you might continue to read the Independent, in spite of having had cause to write to us on this occasion.

With best regards

Will Gore

Deputy Managing Editor

London Evening Standard, The Independent, i & Independent on Sunday




Why “More Fertile” Doesn’t Mean “More Intact Families”

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2013 at 12:23 am


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a lightning rod of controversy today after lauding America’s immigrant women for being “more fertile” than native-born women at a “Faith and Freedom Coalition” event.  Now, let’s dissect this debate and try to distill truth and justice.

First, the fact that Bush used the word “fertile” was quickly analyzed by some diligent reporters, some of whom immediately consulted the dictionary and concluded that Bush intended to use the biological sense of “fertile,” which would mean “more capable of reproduction.”  However, in the statistical sense, “fertility” is the term used to designate “births per woman,” which would make more sense as the intended meaning behind Bush’s choice of words.  This understanding was identified by CNN commentator Jake Tapper.

However, this opens a whole new road less traveled which shall undoubtedly make all the difference now as we walk down its uncertain path.  While immigrant women do have higher rates of fertility than native-born women in America, it is also true that fertility rates among immigrant women dramatically dropped according to a Pew Research Center study published in November of 2012.  While native-born women between the ages of 15 and 44 had a fertility rate of 58.9 per 1,000 women, foreign born (i.e. immigrant) women had a fertility rate of 87.8 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.  The combined average for all women in the United States was 63.2 children per 1,000 women.  Yet immigrant women had the largest drop in fertility rates, which was a 14% reduction compared to the 6% reduction for native-born women in America.  What else does fertility reveal?  These statistics cannot be presented in a vacuum.

Indeed, on the global scale, Niger is the “most fertile” nation in the entire world, with each woman bearing an average of 7.1 children.  Also in the “Top Ten” for most fertile countries are Somalia and Afghanistan.  Ethiopia comes in at #14, Syria is at #72, Mexico is #99, and the United States is a distant #122 with an average of 2.06 children born per woman.  Puerto Rico comes in at #177 with an average of 1.64 children born per woman in this U.S. territory.  The World Bank has prepared a comparative chart by country for the years 1980-2012 for those wishing to learn more about fertility trends.  The world’s fertility rate is an average 2.47 children per woman, which means that the United States is even below the world average.

Yet another factor to consider is infertility; that is, the number of women who have “impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term,” formally referred to as “impaired fecundity.”  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10.9% of all women in the United States aged 15-44 have “impaired fecundity.”  That is a significant number; interestingly, 40.8% of woman bearing children were unmarried — also a significant number.

Finally, because these fertility statistics start counting from age 15, these statistics cannot neglect to address teen pregnancy rates as well — how “fertile” are they?  According to data from the CDC, the birth rate for women aged 15-19 was 34.2 live births per 1,000 women, which is a rate of 3.4%.  Compared to other countries, the United States reportedly has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of 20 other top industrialized nations in the world.  According to this same report, Mississippi is the State with “more fertile” teenage women, with its teen pregnancy rate of 64.4 children per 1,000 women aged 15-19 — slightly higher than the average rate for all pregnancies nationwide for the 15-44 age group.

What does all of this mean?  Jeb Bush correctly noted that immigrant women have a higher fertility rate than native-born women; however, he neglected to mention the purported reasons for why the immigrant fertility rate is dropping so dramatically.  One sociologist named William H. Frey opined that, “‘When you hear about a decrease in the birthrate, you don’t expect Latinos to be at the forefront of the trend.’  Mr. Frey feels that the decrease is more about the aspirations of young Latinos to join the middle class, rather than being affected by a poor economy.”  When it comes to teenage pregnancies however, “Indeed, while the share of births to teenage mothers has dropped over the past two decades across the country, the highest teenage birth share is among native-born Hispanics.”

Of course, raising children is expensive and demands that caregivers make sacrifices.  So it follows that the drop in fertility rates was also attributed to the economic recession, as families sought to reassess priorities and escape or at least mitigate the effects of poverty.  There is also the issue of infertility, for which no woman can be disparaged.  Finally, if fertility is, standing on its own, an indicator of strong economic vitality and promise, then it would appear that Niger, Afghanistan, and Somalia are role models for America to look towards for guidance, as is the State of Mississippi a guide for other States as well.  Yet Niger is a country with 63% of its entire population living below the poverty line, and Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of all 50 States.  The clear answer is that high fertility rates are not evidence per se of strong family values or business acumen, as Bush improperly asserts.

While his plain words were factually accurate, they obscured the larger point which he could have made by invoking George Santayana: “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”