Adventures with the Press

"The function of the press is to mould public opinion"
Frequently heard at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s

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My Friend in Journalism School
I began college in 1949. The dorm "Pioneer Hall" at the University of Minnesota was still set up for the World War II V-12 program to train naval officers - the two person "suites" (two tiny bed rooms and a central room with 2 desks & two soft chairs) still had bunk beds and housed 4 people. Lots of roommates -

One of my roommates in the dorm was Howard Brakeman, a quick short scrawny scrapper from the Bronx. He claimed to be a good welterweight boxer - and people watching him shadow box quickly backed up!! The kind of guy who at the end of a party or mixer would call out loudly "Is there anyone here I haven't offended yet?"

Howard was in the School of Journalism. He was at the University of Minnesota under a kind of reverse quota system. Minnesota did not want to help pay for the education of eastern big city folks (frequently "Jewish" - what ever that is). Howard loudly claimed that he was an atheist - with Orthodox parents.

Howard and I loved to argue - about everything - and we would occasionally flip sides to keep it interesting. He liked to bet on the Saturday night TV fights. We would flip a coin to see who would bet 25 cents on the guy with the white trunks. "My" fighters lost 7 times in a row before I finally decided gambling was not my strong point.

In any case, Howard was a sensible Liberal - and we had a good time needling each other. He also exposed me to a lot of his street smarts - needed by this basic farm boy nerd. He even set me up with his girl friend to broaden my horizons - I was so retarded even that that didn't help!

We talked about the journalism school - and he said (in 1950) that any conservative would not last one quarter there. The conservative would be failed on everything. I made some comment that I could fool 'em and he said "Ed - you have no chance - you are so transparent!!"

I felt hurt, and that kind of took the fun out of it. A few weeks later he left for a fraternity and a new roommate moved in.

It is my view that most all journalism schools carefully filter out (fail) students with incorrect political attitudes.

Hey Howard! - where ever you are - sock it to 'em ;-))

I Failed Freshman English - determining bias in a publication -
I had gotten reasonable grades in high school English - so tried to avoid college Freshman English. I didn't succeed well enough in the avoidance test and so had to take the subject :-((

We students debated behind the instructor's back whether he was a Communist (the Soviet kind) or a communist ( the Amana Church Society kind). The instructor was full of the wage oppression of secretaries which forced them into prostitution. (By then I was a janitor cleaning dorm toilets - and dating a secretary at the university. She was definitely doing better than I, and not selling anything on the side.)

Part of the curriculum was to study bias in publications by examining each article and judging in what way it was biased - and by averaging, determine the bias of the publication.

Soon we were to select publications to read, measure, judge, average, and report the bias. I thought the publication of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) would be interesting - but my fellow students said that was a poor choice - that I would be sorry. I thought "What could the instructor do to me? Instructors should be fair". After all, he had given me a "B" as a mid-term grade.

What a vapid publication. After all the smoke about the evil NAM, the monthly publication was a disappointing wimp. A typical "house publication" - So here I was with my 3x5 cards to enter observations, all fired up, reading this vapid stuff. The meeting of xxx was delayed. The president of yyy was awarded some plaque. Joe Shmuk was promoted after 5 years of faithful service.

Here I was expecting fire breathing anti-union, strike breaking, price gouging, thunder - and reading this brainless mush. Just how do you evaluate the article on Joe Shmuk's promotion as pro or con labor? My 5 inch stack of 3x5 cards, one card for each article, yielded no lightning - my term paper was not as expected, and the instructor gave me an "F" as a final course grade!

I appealed to the Student Senate to revise my grade to passing. The response was that the contract of the instructor had not been renewed and he was unavailable, and I would have to take Freshman English over again! :-(((

Maybe this web site is overcompensation for the above episode?

Watching News Happen - and the later press account
There was an amateur radio station at the ROTC building - and I was fascinated. They let me hang around. I even tried to learn Morse Code - another thing I didn't succeed at -

One day there was a serious blizzard that paralyzed the Dakotas and Western Minnesota. Kids died walking home one block from a bus stop. Folks died in stalled frozen cars on the highways. Power was out over large areas. Phone lines were down. (Remember all those wires that used to be along the roads?) Big trouble.

The only communication many towns had with the outside world was via local radio amateurs with emergency generators. The amateur radio station in the ROTC building ( part of the outside world ) was going full blast "24/7" handling reports for sheriffs, hospitals, folks hoping loved ones were OK, local reporters sending reports to press services, ...

A few days later a reporter from the local Minneapolis Star and Tribune came to interview the folks who had done the radio work - and I lurked in the background watching the interviews. The next day we all watched the papers to see the resulting story. What a disappointment!! Maybe the reporter lost his notes? Nothing in the resulting article was close to reality except that ROTC radio was involved. Names were garbled past recognition - it was about an 8 inch article - and all screwed up.

We were all shocked that there was so much scrambled between what went into the reporter's ears and what appeared in print. I have never really trusted newspapers much since - and there weren't even any politics involved.

Watching my first TV hatchet job - Harold Stassen - 1960
There were two national political players from my home state Minnesota active at the same time in the 1960s
- Harold Stassen (Republican) and Hubert Humphrey (Democratic Farmer Labor) - very interesting :-))

I was in the Teamster's Union in the early 1950s when they were helping Hubert, but that is another story -

and there was the very popular Huntley-Brinkley Report which was much more universally watched than anything today.

Harold Stassen had the reputation of always trying for the Republican presidential nomination, and not getting it -
- a bit like Hubert Humphrey on the Democratic side -

One night our young family was watching the Huntley-Brinkley Report when they mentioned that the following film was of Stassen. Every one sat up!!

We watched a TV film crew basically invade Mayor Stassen's office and a guy claiming to be from the IRS demanding Stassen's Income Tax receipt for some previous year. Around and around they went - the demand and the statement I don't have one.

The clear implication was that Harold had not filed his federal tax return and was in big trouble. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley looked at each other for a second - then the program went to other things.

I had been paying Federal Income Tax for a few years, but had never gotten a receipt. The IRS only sends mail just before tax time and if they think you have screwed up. What receipt could the IRS guy be talking about?

I decided to force the IRS to give me a receipt, and carefully overpaid by several dollars above the computed amount - triggering a refund. That way I could demonstrate that I had filed a return and the government had received it.

I did this for years until a tax guy said not necessary - But I would still like the IRS to say they got my stuff - and not make me worry about a big expensive fuss if the Post Office or they lost it.

Later I noticed that the media tended to generate stories of Republican troubles just before election times. The LA Times with their Arnold Schwarzenegger touching story - the Tom DeLay finance probe - and on and on where there was a lot of pre-election smoke by the media, but no fire found afterward.

My liberal friends say this is just coincidence - Yeah - over and over predictably again yet. Like the drummer in a rock band!

Newspaper Semiconductor Expert
Our family moved to Silicon Valley in 1970 and as a techie I was highly curious about how they made those mysterious chips with the "features" that were so much smaller than the width of a human hair. Jim Kane, one of our favorite neighbors, was a mid level manager at Signetics - a semiconductor powerhouse at the time. Jim delighted in finding my interested ears and even took our family on a tour of the technology of the time. "Parts" were laid out "by hand" and masks were made by a large overhead machine cutting thin red plastic called "rubylith" with a diamond scribe on large granite table. The images of the "rubylith" were photo reduced a couple of times to get the required tiny dimensions.

A few years later, a young couple moved into Cupertino, California from recent graduation from University of Florida Journalism School. The young man was hired to be the semiconductor business expert for the San Jose Mercury News. Eager to learn - I started asking questions -

The guy had no clue about the semiconductor processing, and could not even name many of the companies involved!!! He had been editor of the Florida college newspaper, and had held a job for some months at a Florida newspaper before being hired by "The Murky News" as their semiconductor industry business person.

I was delighted to tell him what I knew - by this time largely out of date. He was a quick study. I lent him a new copy of the new "Introduction to VLSI Systems" by Carver Mead. In a few weeks I started seeing his byline in the paper - and the content improved with time. A couple of years later he moved to Arizona with some semiconductor trade journal - and I had given him his first lessons! :-|

I Don't Trust You Guys to Get It Right
Our family moved to Silicon Valley (near one of the earthquake "capitals" of the world) in 1970. I had seen how amateurs had made seismometers/seismographs in "Amateur Scientist" column in "Scientific American". (The column has since been abandoned and I abandoned Scientific American.)

Being a techie in earthquake country I built a seismometer of the "garden gate" variety - invented by some Russian prince in the 1900s. And since semiconductor analog amplifiers - like the 741 - were now available, the amplifier electronics were greatly simplified :-)) Soon I heard of WASS - World Amateur Seismological Society. And like most volunteer organizations it needed help.

Soon I was the chief author, then editor, then editor and acting treasurer, then acting everything. "We" had about 140 paying members providing dues but few articles and no help. I published the quarterly newsletter before word processors, laser printers, and cheap Xerox. You know - banging it out by typewriter onto stencils and begging at local schools for time on their Gestetner machines. And trying to con my kids into folding and sticking stamps and ... That went on for over three years before I quit - couldn't get a replacement. :-((

A reporter from the San Jose Mercury News called and wanted to interview me - the amateur seismologist person. I told him that I would do that only if I could look at his proposed article and correct errors. He said that was against policy and would not let me do that.

We did not agree. I did not get interviewed and so missed my millisecond of fame. ;-))

The Trolley vs The Traffic Lights
About 25 years ago, San Jose, Ca decided to get "mass transit" and passed a bond issue to pay for it.

Well - OK - "mass transit" consisted of a single trolley ("light rail") line from way south in San Jose, through down town past one convention center and ended at the other convention center. (Yes, there are two competing convention centers.) There were the usual inept turmoils where the silly were trying to dictate to the wary.

Finally, years later and wildly over budget, the thing started rolling. The ridership was light as route went through undense residential areas and did not go to where most of those people worked - It was OK if you were a city council person living on the route wishing to go to a city council meeting. Or someone working downtown going for a noontime lark.

Down town there were left turn signals across the trolley track, but the left turn signals were not coordinated with the movement of the trolley. The green left turn signal could be on for drivers, and the green light for the trolley crossing over the driver's left turn lane. I was down town, turning left, obeying the green left turn signal, when all of a sudden there was this loud horn and screech of brakes over my left shoulder
- that damned trolley had damned near nailed me -

After I quit shaking, I figured that here was an accident waiting to happen. The newspaper reported some damage reports of trolley vs auto - and always ruled that the trolley had the right of way even though there was clearly a problem if the auto driver was not aware of a trolley approaching from the driver's left rear - the left rear is the least of your troubles on a left turn
- a left turner has three other directions to worry about - enough yet.

So one day, the San Jose Mercury News reported that a trolley had indeed broadsided a Cadillac at 3 in the afternoon, and the driver had been hospitalized - but the driver was drunk, and therefore responsible. - ok?

Some months later I was hiking near the Almaden mercury mines south of San Jose. While chatting with the hike leader I got to bitching about the trolley - and my near brush with disaster - and I mentioned the newspaper report of the drunk in the broadsided Cadillac.
The leader looked at me and said "I was *not* drunk!! I had just left work in the county assessor's office to go home, and got hit from the left by the light-rail. The Mercury News is covering up for city troubles".

Later I worked for Landis&Gyr and found Landis&Gyr had later installed controllers for the separate set of trolley warning lights - but the contract did not mention coordination with the left turn lights. As a result, the left turn green light and the trolley warning light might not agree - you had to check both. A later separate contract fixed that obvious problem.

I hope that every sixth grader could have planned better. Makes NASA appear relatively competent.
So much for San Jose city planners - and San Jose Mercury News "facts" -

Flaming the military

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Larry Trainor 
Sent: Sunday, August 09, 2009 7:29 AM
Subject: An historical perspective
Hay Ed;

I was stationed at BU-52 from Mar. 58 to Dec 60. I know you must have been a NIKE guy, why else would you host your web site. In all the ramblings on the your web site, (and by the way, they are a lot of fun to read) I never read comments that so typified life on a NIKE base as a book I once read called "Rally Round The Flag", I'm sure you've read the book, it's old, and was written by Max Shulman. If you haven't read the book, you should. It is possible for those who spent time on a NIKE base to put names of people they were stationed with to characters in the book. It's a lot of fun to read, believe me. It should be in the National Archives under "Cold War History"



Indeed I was a Nike guy, Ajax.
Defended Chicago, successfully :-))

I also have read "Rally Round The Flag" -
Lots of fun, and realistic, until the mandatory liberal representation of military officers as psychotics.

That grates on my nerves -
The liberal writers portray just about every military officer is a dangerous nut -

Granted a psychotic officer definitely makes the story more interesting -
The book is really rather boring for outsiders otherwise :-((
I guess military officers don't have an organization to protect their "rights",
- are not a large economic voting block,
- and don't have civil liberties for the ACLU to defend
just imagine the ACLU defending any military person ;-|

(I'm not defending myself -
I topped out at E-4. ;-))

Ed Thelen

and incompetence, the sad case of Scientific American

I had been a long term subscriber to  "Scientific American", 
    started in 1946, (high school Christmas gifts from my parents)
I quit my subscription to "Scientific American" in about 1991
     when it quoted the LA Times solution
     to the radioactive waste problem, basically,
     "throw all those contaminated rags into the reactor
         and make pure power".

So I sent a 4 page letter "to the editor" complaining about
    the depths to which the "Scientific American" had sunk.
      - lots of examples -
  Including the special features, such as Amateur Scientist.

Amazingly, Johnathan Piel, son of Gerald,
      Gerald had apparently stopped editing a few years earlier,
   answered, seriously, and ended with

    "I suppose you won't bother to read this."

He was wrong, I studied his response as carefully
   as I had my complaints.

However, the magazine didn't improve,
    and I abandoned my subscription.

Last month (April 2011) I was given a copy -
    The same liberal arts types are still confused by
       things they should have learned in high school science.
    And the major articles, written by serious types,
       have suffered also.
    Basically, given any choice at all, it isn't worth looking at   :-((

Ed Thelen