Of News, News Sites, and Chicken Sandwiches

Daily Wire Headline

Updated 2/24/16, 9:05 a.m.

There’s been a bit of a hullabaloo on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus for the last week or so over what restaurants students would like to see come to the student union.  There was a student poll that included  Chick-fil-A in the list of choices.  After the survey found that lots of students like the company’s chicken sandwiches, the university was reminded that Chick-fil-A’s ownership has not always been particularly friendly to the LGBT community. (Not the restaurants themselves – just ownership.) So a second survey was done, this time with the chicken-choice being the newer chain Raising Cane’s. Not surprisingly, this choice was also popular. Contrary to claims that have been made in stories from a variety of web sites, the university has yet to make a decision about which restaurant to invite to come to campus.

So that brings us the topic at hand.

Stories that claim to be about UNK “banning” Chick-Fil-A from campus have been posted to several web sites. These stories then get shared all over social media.  And so the story has gone national, a university PR person has been mocked as a “spokes-dude,” and lots of people from around the country who have never been to Kearney have weighed in on the “scandal.”

The story first broke on The Daily Wire, a conservative news site operated by Ben Shapiro, who is a writer/editor for conservative news site Breitbart.com.  Under a headline of “Chick-Fil-A Banned From The University of Nebraska Because CEO Supports Traditional Marriage”, the story then spread across Facebook and Twitter.  The Daily Wire’s stated goal is to “unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases.

A second story appeared a day or two later on FoxNews.com as an opinion piece by commentator Todd Starnes. In the middle of the story is a promo calling readers to “Click Here to join Todd’s American Dispatch – a must-read for Conservative Patriots!”  This is the story that refers to UNK’s PR professional as a “spokes-dude.”

Todd Starne’s article links to another one at Campus Reform that carries the headline “UNK refuses to bring Chick-fil-A to campus over CEO’s marriage views.” Campus Reform gives as its mission: “As a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system, Campus Reform exposes bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses.

Campus Reform is a web site run by The Leadership Institute, which has as its mission: “The Leadership Institute’s mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists and leaders in the public policy process.”

So where are we seeing this story play out? Of course there are stories in the local paper, The Kearney Hub. Stories that are accurate and give a fair look at what’s actually happening. There’s a mocking opinion piece on FoxNews.com that is more concerned with making a point about conservative chicken sandwiches than giving an understanding of the facts.  And there are stories about the controversy on activist web sites that have the goal of advancing a conservative agenda.

In closing, here are a few tweets from local reporter Josh Moody who has done a good job of accurately reporting the conflict:





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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

And finally…

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The Good News and Bad News on Student News Consumption

Student news sources

I asked my media literacy students this morning where they go for news.  And the results look pretty good to me.  Lots of local TV news and local newspapers. A number of them watch the Today Show (who knew the kids were watching legacy media?).   And a predictable number get there news through Facebook – but their Facebook feeds generally include a number of respected news providers.

So that’s the good news.

The bad news?

I asked how many of them had paid attention to the news yesterday? (A standard kind of question for getting at real, rather than ideal, behavior.)

Their response?

4 out of 23 students raised their hands.

Not particularly surprising/alarming of college students approaching mid-term time, but it does raise an important issue – regardless of where you go for the news, you have to pay attention to it before the source matters.

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Go See Coen Bros. Movie “Hail, Caesar”!

Went to see Hail, Caeser! the latest movie from the Coen Brothers last night.

Here’s my take on it:

  • It is a wack job of a movie.  But I mean that in a good way.  There is almost no way to summarize what it is except for perhaps Woody Allen and Mel Brooks have a love child.
  • It references a huge number of old movies, many of which I’m sure I didn’t catch.  But here several that I noticed being referenced:
    • Singing in the Rain
    • Sunset Boulevard
    • Ben Hur
    • The Front
    • Any of a number of Esther Williams films.
    • On The Town
    • The Bad and the Beautiful
    • Iron Man 3 (Yes, this is a relatively current movie, but the house overlooking the ocean is a dead ringer for Tony Stark’s house.)
    • Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (Not really, but Dead Men quotes actual footage from a large number of vintage black and white movies.)

If you love vintage movies and wacky comedies, you need to see this.  And see it in a theater. Don’t wait for the video.  Go ahead – Deadpool will wait.

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Fastnachts for Shrove Tuesday

Today is the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that if you are in New Orleans or similar parts, you will be celebrating Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras implies many things, including those we won’t talk go into detail about here. But you can get a somewhat sanitized peek here from the New Orleans Times-Picayune

But if you live up in Pennsylvania Dutch country (which is of course referring to the Pennsylvania Deutche or Germans), you will be celebrating Shrove Tuesday with fastnachts.  What are fastnachts you may ask? An uniformed person will tell you they are donuts.  A fanatic might refer to them as “little bites of heaven fried in lard.”  But mostly they are a tasty treat before things get serious with Lent.

Fastnachts from St. James Lutheran ChurchMy friend Matthew Riegel used to fry them on the steps of the Lutheran Student Center at West Virginia University, till the challenges of cold weather drove him inside to cook them in the chapel’s basement.  But now that he is a bishop, he is visiting St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for his annual fix.

My friend novelist Holly Jacobs lives in near Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, and I really regret I’m not in her delivery area to receive a box of her triangular goodies!

Fastnachts from Holly Jacobs

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Along with all the commercials, a couple of teams played football, too.

Yesterday was the biggest day of the year for high-profile television advertisements along with a bit of football in between.  As always, the ads attracted praise, condemnation and more than a few head shakes.

For me, the strangest and most memorable was Mountain Dew Kickstart’s “Puppy, Monkey, Baby.” (Say it – puppy, monkey, baby…)

Running a close second for me was the Kia car commercial titled “Walken Closet” staring, who else, Christopher Walken.

“It’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks. But it’s a midsize sedan.”

There were, of course, many lists of best and worst commercials, and there will be links to them in a moment, but let me take one final moment to show you Lady Gaga just absolutely nailing the national anthem.  Regardless of the rest of her image as a pop icon, that lady can sing!

And now, the rest of the story:

And finally – the halftime show with Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce

Personally, I liked seeing the inclusion of the marching band (shades of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”), the whole umbrella bit reminded me of an olympics opening ceremony.

Puppy,monkey, baby…


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So Huffington Post lets the world know how it really feels about Trump

Trump on HuffPoThe Huffington Post has been making no secret of its distain for Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.  But this week they’ve either hit new records for transparency or contempt (you decide).  According to a blog post from Politico, the HuffPo will print the following at the end of all future stories about Trump:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynistbirther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

What do you think? Is the HuffPo being:

  • honest,
  • transparent,
  • snarky,
  • biased,
  • offensive,
  • all of the above?
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“I need some muscle over here” – The rest of the story

Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication at University of Missouri’s Department of Communication who became briefly last fall when she called for “some muscle” to help get rid of a student photographer and a videographer covering campus protests, has been charged with misdemeanor assault, according to a story from the New York Times.

According the Times report on a  a campus police warrant, Click “assaulted a videographer ‘ by grabbing at his camera with her hand and attempting to knock it from his grasp’ and ‘by calling out and asking for other people in the area at the time to forcefully remove him.'”

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What kind of cancer was it? And why do we care?

If you’ve been following the recent series of deaths in the entertainment world, you likely noticed that both Alan Rickman and David Bowie died of cancer.  What kind? The otherwise very specific obits did not mention that fact.

The Washington Post had an excellent article today examining the question of why the obits omitted the type of caner.  Post obituary editor Adam Bernstein told reporter Ian Shapira:

“If we pus too much, it carries the risk of sound to the family like we have a lurid obsession. But ‘cancer’ is very general. It’s like saying someone died of a ‘disease.’ Well, what kind of disease?”

There can be a range of reasons someone wants to keep information about the type of cancer private – especially when the type might imply something negative about the person.  For example, people with lung cancer are often blamed for their own death because they were smokers, or liver cancer because of alcohol or drug abuse.

I can understand that, but I also think that it is good for all of us to understand that these diseases are evil things and that we should not be blaming the patient for their own suffering.  And, as a cancer survivor myself, I think it is essential we focus on the detection and treatment of cancer rather than looking for people to blame. (I had a stage 1 melenoma on my upper arm about 14 years ago.)  I will also confess that as a journalist I am always curious as to why people die.  I always look for cause of death in obits, and I’m always sorry when I don’t find it, especially for a younger person.

For the rest of you who think too much a about these sorts of things, I highly recommend Carl Hiaasen’s comic mystery novel Basket Case, which tells the story of a somewhat disgraced obit writer who’s trying to track down the story of why singer Jimmy Stoma of Jimmy and the Slut Puppies has died.

(If you go searching, you can find reports that Bowie died of pancreatic cancer or of liver cancer.  None of this has been confirmed by multiple sources, at least as far as I can tell.)

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Martin Luther King, Jr. – A brilliant practitioner of public relations (and that’s a good thing!)

One of the greatest honors of my life was being invited to speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. candlelight vigil last year at the UNK student union, along with Kevin Chaney, who was then UNK’s women’s basketball coach. 

This year’s vigil will be at 7 p.m. at the Nebraskan Student Union with UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen speaking.  If you are in the area, I urge you to attend as we honor Dr. King

Here’s what I had to say last year:

Visalli-11-10-13When we think of public relations, we think of a professional in a suit trying to persuade us about something related to a large corporation. But not all PR is practiced by big business.

Civil rights leader The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a brilliant understanding of public relations during the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

The goal of the campaign was to have non-violent demonstrations and resistance to force segregated businesses to open up to African Americans. What King, and the members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wanted to do was stage a highly visible demonstration that would not only force change in Birmingham, but also grab the attention of the entire American public.

King and his colleagues picked Birmingham because it was one of he most segregated cities in America and because it had Eugene “Bull” Conner as police commissioner.

Conner was a racist who could be counted on to attack the peaceful marchers. Birmingham was a city where black protestors were thrown in jail, and the racists were bombing homes and churches. There was a black neighborhood that had so many bombings it came to be known as Dynamite Hill.

Dr. King and his colleagues had planned demonstrations and boycotts in Birmingham, but held off with them in order to let the political system and negotiations work. But time passed, and nothing changed. Signs were still up at the lunch counters and water fountains, and protestors were still headed to jail.

King and the rest of the SCLC needed to get attention for the plight of African Americans in cities like Birmingham.

They needed to do more than fight back against the racism of segregation. They needed to get Americans of good will in all the churches and synagogues to hear their voices.

Starting in April of 1963, predominantly African American volunteers would march in the streets, hold sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and boycott local businesses in Birmingham. As the protests started, so did the arrests.

On Good Friday, King and Abernathy joined in the marching so that they would be arrested. While King was in jail, he was given a copy of the Birmingham News, in which there was an article where white Alabama clergy urged the SCLC to stop the demonstrations and boycotts and allow the courts to solve the problem of segregation.

But King was tired of waiting, and so he wrote what would become one of the great statements of the civil rights cause. One that spoke to people who were fundamentally their friends, not their enemies. This came to be known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Writing the letter was not easy. Dr. King wrote it in the margins of the newspaper. He wrote it on scraps of note paper. He wrote it on panels of toilet paper. (Think about what the toilet paper was like if Dr. King was able to write on it!)

The letter spoke to the moderates who were urging restraint. To them, he wrote:

“My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas…. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”

He went on the acknowledge that perhaps he was an extremist, but that he was an extremist for love, not for hate:

“But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” …

Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” …

And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”

And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

King’s jailhouse writings were smuggled out of the jail and published as a brochure. His eloquent words were given added force for being written in jail. As he says toward the end of his letter, it is very different to send a message from jail than from a hotel room:

“Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”

Once King was released from jail eight days later, he and his followers raised the stakes. No longer would adults be marching and being arrested, children would become the vanguard. And as the children marched, photographers and reporters from around the world would document these young people being attacked by dogs, battered by water from fire hoses, and filling up the Birmingham jails.

King faced criticism for allowing the young people to face the dangers of marching in Birmingham. But he responded by criticizing the white press, asking the reporters where they had been “during the centuries when our segregated social system had been misusing and abusing Negro children.”

Although there was rioting in Birmingham, and King’s brother’s house was bombed, the campaign was ultimately successful. Business owners took down the signs that said “WHITE” and “COLORED” from the drinking fountains and bathrooms, and anyone was allowed to eat at the lunch counters. The successful protest in Birmingham set the stage for the March on Washington that would take place in August of 1963, where King would give his famous “I have a dream” speech.[King, 1998 #552],[Kasher, 1996 #553]

We are now more than fifty years from King’s letter from Birmingham Jail. This letter was not one of his “feel good” speeches. It doesn’t raise the spirit the way his I have a dream speech did.

But it did give us a message that still matters today:

 “I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

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