Editorial: The Culture of Entitlement, Part Two

By Becky O’Malley
Tuesday September 18, 2007

Two letters which came in over the weekend are worthy of comment: 

The pivotal political turmoil in Washington D.C. has been seriously ignored of late by the Planet in favor of local news. The Impeachment debate has also been silenced, we suspect by the Editor, Becky O’Malley, who disapproves of Impeachment. Within the last three weeks, two Commentary submissions, one from a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and at least two letters-to-the-Editor advocating the impeachment of Cheney and Bush, have not been published. It is very disappointing to realize that the Planet, heretofore an exemplary community debate forum, is now strangling news and opinions according to its own political bias. 

Libby Lhasan 


And (from early Saturday morning): 

I had heard there was a demonstration at the tree-sitters' site near the stadium yesterday, and checked your website today to see if you had a report. 

On the right side of the page there is a box:  

Special Report:  

Confrontation at the Oak Grove (Video). 

I assumed that this was a video report on yesterday's event.  However, the web link is to a YouTube video uploaded August 29th.  The video begins with a sign announcing the demonstration yesterday, then shows undated video of the police and protesters confronting one another -- clearly made prior to Aug 29.  

So what appears to be a BDP news report on yesterday's events is an *advertisement* promoting yesterday's event.  Shame on you. 

Nancy Van House 

Professor, School of Information 

University of California 

The interesting link in the two letters is the unspoken assumption—what some philosophers would call the presupposition—that whatever shows up in newspapers or on websites reflects considered intent, and that absent any other data it can be assumed to be malevolent intent on the part of the management. 

We should be so lucky. 

My initial response to the Frau Professor’s comment was “fair and balanced”: 

“I'm glad you were able to figure out that the bcitizen video on YouTube was from before Aug.29, which as you note is clear to some viewers, including you yourself.  Your suggestion that the date of material to which we link should be even clearer for the benefit of other viewers is a good one, and I have forwarded it to Mike O'Malley, who designs and maintains our web site, for his comments.  By the way, I think bcitizen, whom we could never afford to pay for the videography they do for the community, has a new video from yesterday posted on their YouTube site.  We'll link to it when we get around to it, but in the meantime you can access it directly.” 

However, my second paragraph perhaps reflected just a bit of annoyance: 

Your charge that a small understaffed community newspaper's having a slightly stale link to old news on someone else's site is intended to be an advertisement for anything is ridiculous on its face.  Shame on YOU, Professor!  

Not to be deterred from her quest for truth, beauty and the American way of life as she sees it, the professor snapped back: 

This looks like a news report from you -- instead it's intended to encourage people to turn out for a demonstration. That's NOT news. That's advocacy.  If it's editorial content, label it. If it's not your paper's opinion, label it.  If it's labeled, as it is, a "special report," we think that's NEWS. .... 

And to my personal email, when she figured out that she had a live human on the hook, 

No, I can't excuse a small NEWSPAPER for having outdated and misleadingly-labeled advocacy content on its dated front page -- we expect the web to be more up-to-date than the paper, not less.  

Then, I regret to say, it got worse. 

Editor to Professor: I'm not familiar with your byline.  What papers have you worked on? 

Prof. to Ed.: Snide, aren’t we? 

Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been accused of making snide remarks. In my defense I must say that at least I avoided vamping on the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto surrounded by hostile tribes: “What’s this WE, white woman?” 

Instead, I sent the Professor (obviously a web junky, not a print reader) a link to Janet Malcolm’s excellent review of Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, which appears under the title “Pandora’s Click” in the latest New York Review of Books. Malcolm quotes the authors: “On email, people aren't quite themselves," Shipley and Schwalbe write. "They are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous. Email has a tendency to encourage the lesser angels of our nature." Yes indeed. 

But what’s fascinating about this exchange is that Dr. Van House seems to assume (“we expect”) that those she claims to speak for deserve instant service: that news on the web is something like fast food, and has to be served up hot or not at all.  

The Planet didn’t even have a reporter at the demonstration, that’s how much we knew about it before the fact. Mike and I are the only poor suckers working on a Saturday morning, but he and I, with the generous aid of a participant’s donated commentary and another of LA Wood’s bcitizen videos on YouTube, did actually get around to bringing our weekend web readers up to date on the action at the oak grove by 2 in the afternoon. But we didn’t have to do it. We could have taken time off, gone to the football game for example. 

Our print paper is published twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, as dated issues which go to press Monday and Thursday nights. The web version uses the same content which was sent to the printer, uploaded on the morning the print papers are put in boxes.  

We do put news flashes on the web between issues as often as we can. We’d like to be able to do it more often. But the idea that a faculty member whose job is funded by taxpayers like us has the right to demand anything (using her university-supplied email) from our small free paper is—sorry-- ludicrous. 

And what about the peace lady’s complaint? The latest weekend edition of the paper, as well as the web edition, was graced by a lovely front page photo of Code Pink protestors in Oakland, accompanied by a long article. On the one hand the peace lady accuses us of “strangling news and opinion” because we haven’t yet managed to fit a letter from a member of WILPF (an estimable old-time institution which I myself first joined in 1964) into our lavish opinion section, though her cause is amply reported on the front page. On the other hand, the Professor accuses us of promoting opinion just because we left up a link to an old video produced by admittedly partisan activists. You can’t win in this city. 

Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse, as the kids’ camp song says. We are surrounded by a culture of entitlement. I recently griped in this space that some members of the entertainment and real estate segments weren’t doing their bit to support local media’s reports on their activities with advertisements, but as ingrates they haven’t a patch on readers like these.