Free societies need an Agora: Knightfall: Knight Ridder and how the erosion of newspaper journalism is putting democracy at risk

By Davis Merrit

Born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

Graduated in 1958 from the University of North Carolina

(born 1936?) ~ 83 years old

Adjunct journalism professor at University of Kansas and Witchita State

~Live in Wichita, Kansas?

21 N Cypress Dr, Wichita, KS?

316-686-4728 ?



A free press is essential to a functioning democracy. A function democracy is essential to a free press.  They synergy of these two ideas is important because a free society cannot determine its course — that is,, self-determination does not exist — without three things: shared, relevant information; an agora (that is, a place or mechanism where the implications of information can be discussed); and shared values (at a minimum, a belief in personal liberty itself).


Coming to Public Judgement is the title of a seminal book in which Daniel Yankelovich explains the phenomenon of public judgement and how it is formed. Published in 1991, it demonstrates that the democratic way of dealing with problems is to strive for a resolution that

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everyone can live with; that benefits more people than it harms; that recognizes and allows for differing opinions and values but nevertheless helps settle the issue so the public’s business can move on.

Public judgement,, Yankelovich explains, is far more complex than mere opinion. In his three decades of research into public opinion preceding publication of the book, he developed ways to distinguish between off-the-cuff public opinion, as reflected in most statistical surveys, and true public judgement.

A public judgement is “the state of highly developed public opinion that exists once people have engaged in an issue, considered it from all sides, understood the choices it leads to, and accepted the full consequences of the choices they make.

Reaching public judgement about important and complex issues can take years or only hours. For instance, Americans reached public judgement about women’s rights decades ago after more than a century of debate, but aligning that determination with life’s realities is still a work in progress. On the other hand, surveys showed that public judgement on Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was almost instantaneous and supportive.

.. True public judgement, once arrived at, reflects values at least as much as it reflects information because of the complex way in which the public arrives at the judgement, Yankelovich contends. The process involves three stages: consciousness raising, working through, and resolution. He describes them this way:

Consciousness raising is “the stage in which the public learns about an issue and becomes aware of its existence and meaning .. When one’s consciousness is raised, not only does awareness grow but so does concern and readiness for action.” In other words, people decide: We must do something about this. But what? And how?

Working through can be complex and time-consuming, for it involves individuals having second thoughts — that is, “resolving the conflict between impulse and prudence”; accepting new (and sometimes unsettling) realities; and resolving conflicts among the competing values that they hold. In other words, working through involves cognitive, emotional, and moral calculations.

Resolution occurs only after successful consciousness raising and working through, and the accumulated mass of that effort then reflects a public judgement.

Consciousness raising — which journalists are good at and dearly love — does not alone lead to public judgement. The working-through phase is essential. So when newspapers, either deliberately or by lack

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of insight or public service orientation, limit their role to merely calling attention to things and flit, hummingbird-like, from one issue to the next, the process begins to break down; public judgements rare not given time to mature; the working-through process is time-consuming, expensive, and full of risk. It is not the sort of thing that newspapers can do with one eye always on the bottom line.


For decades, the mantra that people in journalism delivered to people who thought they wanted to be in journalism went something like this: You won’t get rich and you probably won’t be famous, but you can make a difference and have a lot of fun in the process.

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Seeing Richard Nixon as a prototype rather than an anomaly, journalists began a two-decade-long practice of treating all political figures at any level as potential suspects in the next Whatever-Gate. The journalistic norm became “We catch crooks.” Scalps on the belt, particularly government scalps, were the sign of rank and the measure of testosterone at gatherings of the journalistic tribe. The democratic process, which had been superbly served by the Watergate reporting, was enveloped in a flood of self-indulgent and self-serving efforts by journalists-cum-cops to find a bogeyman under every government and institutional bed.

.. Journalism also learned from Watergate that, unlike the era of Chester S. Lord, journalists could indeed become both wealthy and famous, a realization that would turn the occasional knaves or fools who sneaked into the profession into an army of wanna-bees much more sinister and difficult to deal with: serial liars, cheats, and thieves driven by reckless ambition and bereft of the restraint and respect for intellectual honesty that guided most of their predecessors.

In the first thirty-five years of my experience in daily news-papering, I did not encounter any such liars, cheats, and thieves, or at least

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was not aware of the if they workd around or for me. In the last ten years of my experience, they were everywhere infecting a business, and a society, that seemed to have no useful serum for combating them.

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Hodding Carter III is president and chief executive officer of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has within its mission the improvement of American journalism through many mechanisms, including endowed chairs at journalism schools. Carter is also, by genetics and training, a newspaperman inflamed by the idea of journalism as a public trust. And he’s angry about what is happening to newspaper journalism. In a speech at Kent State University in April 2001, he argued that newspaper companies need not march to Wall Street’s drumbeat of ever-increasing profits.

It is a fallacy, said Carter that newspaper companies “must accept the market’s logic and demands,” and went on to say:

Actually you don’t [have to accept it], as long as you’re not emphasizing profit growth as masculinity surrogate, a macho game of “my profit growth is bigger than yours.”  The Washington Post goes to the market. The New York Times goes to the market. Neither comes close to the profit margins the market allegedly demands. Neither will as long as current management endures. Both these great newspapers prosper and lead.

What it takes is a little guts. A little cohesion among media managers and all would echo [Washington Post CEO] Dom Graham’s remarks to Wall Street analysts not long ago. You want profits, he told the. We want profits. But we know what matters. Our journalism is not the focus of your interests, but it is the focus of min, and it is better than ever. It’s going to stay that way.

Let me put a proposition to you. Today, GM averages around a 5 percent to 6 percent profit.. Suppose GM went to 20 to 25 percent. Would you buy its cars? Would you believe the product was as good at a 25 percent return as a product at 5 percent? And yet the newspaper industry has doubled what used to be the acceptable profit margin, well past what we routinely call “obscene profits” in the oil industry in days gone by, and things it can’t live below 25 percent.

Of course, the way Wall Street see it is determinative for

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some. Terry Smith of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer did a segment on the issue of newspaper profits.  Well, he ask the bright analyst, what margin does Wall Street expect from a publicly held newspaper company? If they average in the twenties, is that enough? No she replied, it’s never enough, of course, This is Wall Street we’re talking about.

Precisely. And what we should be talking about is journalism in the public interest.

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The Great Soybean Conspiracy

The Trump administration appears to be headed for a trade war on three fronts. As far as anyone can tell, it is simultaneously going to take on China, the European Union and our partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The economic fallout will be ugly.

But that’s probably not the whole story: There’s also likely to be ugly political fallout, not just abroad but here at home, too. In fact, I predict that as the downsides of hard-line trade policy become apparent, we’ll see a nasty search by President Trump and company for people to scapegoat. In fact, that search has already started.

.. So did the administration say, “Look, we’re taking a tough stand, and there will be some costs”? Why, no. Instead, Ross declared that the price changes were the work of “antisocial” speculators engaged in “profiteering,” and called for an investigation. See, we aren’t looking at the predictable effects of administration policy; we’re looking at an anti-Trump conspiracy.

.. How will the administration react to the blowback when the trade war really gets going? Will it admit that it misjudged the effects of its policies? Of course not.

What I predict, instead, is that it will start seeing villains under every bed. It will attribute the downsides of trade conflict not to its own actions, but to George Soros and the deep state. I’m not sure how they can work MS-13 into it, but they’ll surely try.

.. The point is that the politics of trade war will probably end up looking like Trump politics in general: a search for innocent people to demonize.

The Republican’s Guide to Presidential Etiquette

Remember the hand-wringing when Barack Obama wore a tan suit or tossed a football in the Oval Office?

 .. As part of our continuing effort to resist the exhausting and numbing effects of living under a relentlessly abusive and degrading president, we present, for the third time in nine months, an updated guide to what Republicans now consider to be acceptable behavior from the commander in chief. As before, these examples, drawn from incidents or disclosures in the last three-plus months, do not concern policy decisions — only the president’s words and actions.

Question the authenticity of a recording of you bragging about sexual assault, even though you previously admitted it was real

.. Call the American justice system a “joke” and a “laughingstock”

Have your lawyer pay $130,000 in hush money to a porn star with whom you had an affair while your wife was at home caring for your new son

.. Continue to call for a criminal investigation of your former political opponent, whom you call the “worst (and biggest) loser of all time” a year after the election

.. Tell your rich friends after your tax bill passes, “You all just got a lot richer

Boast that you have a higher I.Q. than your secretary of state, who fails to deny that he called you a “moron”

.. Defend your mental competency by saying that you are “like, really smart” and a “very stable genius”

Tell your attorney general not to recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into your campaign, then when he does anyway, call it “a terrible thing”

.. Falsely claim that your predecessor failed to contact the families of fallen soldiers, and then exploit the death of your chief of staff’s son to defend yourself

.. Threaten to take away a TV network’s broadcast license for reporting on your deliberations about the nation’s nuclear arsenal

.. Threaten to use federal tax law to punish a professional sports league for letting its players express political opinions

Tell reporters that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it”

Warn American citizens in Puerto Rico, only weeks after a catastrophic hurricane, that the federal government can’t help them out “forever,” even as you tell victims of a hurricane in Texas, “We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover, and REBUILD!”

.. Spend one-third of the first year of your taxpayer-funded presidency visiting your own golf courses or properties
.. While debating policy with lawmakers on live television, accidentally agree to a deal that is the opposite of what your party wants, get corrected by the House majority leader, and then release an official White House transcript that omits the exchange

.. Say that your former White House adviser and campaign chief has “lost his mind,” after another former adviser and campaign manager is indicted on money laundering and other federal charges

.. Claim that a new tax bill you support will “cost me a fortune,” even though it will probably save you millions, but who knows since you refuse to release your tax returns

.. Take credit for the fact that no one died on a domestic commercial airliner during your first year in office

.. Continue to mock foreign leaders by implying that they are, among other things, “short and fat”

.. Try to stop the publication of a book that says critical things about you and your administration

.. Accuse an F.B.I. agent of treason without evidence

.. Watch four to eight hours of cable television a day, mostly the channel that feeds you self-serving propaganda
 .. Choose for federal judgeships nominees who cannot identify or explain basic legal concepts, and who were rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association
.. Falsely claim that you have signed more legislation than any first-year president, when in fact you have signed less than any post-World War II president
.. Taunt a foreign leader who claims he has nuclear weapons by saying your “nuclear button” is “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
.. Criticize a law that your party firmly supports, then, two hours later, reverse yourself

.. Pick nominees to the federal bench who call a sitting Supreme Court justice a “judicial prostitute” and refer to transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan”

.. Campaign hard for a Senate candidate; then when he appears likely to lose, say “I might have made a mistake” and later delete your tweets supporting him .. Behave so erratically and irresponsibly that senators of your own party resort to saying you’re treated like someone at “an adult day-care center” to keep you from starting World War III
.. Spend one of every three days as president visiting at least one of your own properties
.. Publicly and privately humiliate your own attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation into your campaign
.. Say nothing when a foreign leader’s bodyguards brutally attack peaceful protesters in the streets of Washington, D.C.
.. Tweet GIFs of yourself violently attacking the media and your former political opponent
.. Encourage police officers not to be “too nice” when apprehending criminal suspects

.. Help draft a misleading statement about the purpose of a meeting between your son, other top campaign aides and representatives of a rival foreign power intent on interfering in the election

Deliver a speech to the Boy Scouts of America that includes mockery of a former president and winking references to sexual orgies, and then lie by claiming that the head of that organization called and told you it was the best speech ever delivered in Boy Scout history

Hang a framed copy of a fake Time magazine cover celebrating your business acumen in your golf clubs around the world

Mock a female television anchor’s appearance, saying the anchor was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” at a holiday gathering at your private resort

Force your cabinet members to take turns extolling your virtues in front of television cameras

Welcome into the Oval Office a man who threatened to assassinate your predecessor, whom he called a “subhuman mongrel,” and who referred to your political opponent as a “worthless bitch”

Continue to deny that Russia attempted to influence the presidential election, despite the consensus of the American intelligence community — and yet also blame your predecessor for not doing anything to stop that interference

Grant temporary White House press credentials to a website that, among other things, claims that Sept. 11 was an “inside job” and that the massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax

.. Pardon a former sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey the law

Continue to repeat, with admiration, a false story about an American military general committing war crimes

Mock the mayor of a world city for his careful, sober response to a terrorist attack

 .. Admit to trying to intimidate a key witness in a federal investigation

.. Profit off the presidency, accepting millions of dollars from foreign government officials, businesses, politicians and other supporters who pay a premium to patronize your properties and get access to you — while also attempting to hide the visitor lists at some of those properties from the public
.. Promise to drain the swamp, then quietly grant ethics waivers to multiple former industry lobbyists who want to work in your administration

.. Call for criminal investigations of your former political opponent, seven months after winning the election

Appoint your family wedding planner to head a federal housing office

Shove aside a fellow head of state at a photo-op

Accuse a former president, without evidence, of an impeachable offense

.. Employ top aides with financial and other connections to a hostile foreign power

.. Call the media “the enemy of the American people”

Demand personal loyalty from the F.B.I. director

Threaten the former F.B.I. director

.. Allow White House staff members to use their personal email for government business

Claim, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally

Fail to fire high-ranking members of your national security team for weeks, even after knowing they lied to your vice president and exposed themselves to blackmail

Refuse to release tax returns

Hide the White House visitors’ list from the public

Vacation at one of your private residences nearly every weekend

Use an unsecured personal cellphone

Criticize specific businesses for dropping your family members’ products

Review and discuss highly sensitive intelligence in a restaurant, and allow the Army officer carrying the “nuclear football” to be photographed and identified by name

.. Hire relatives for key White House posts, and let them meet with foreign officials and engage in business at the same time

Promote family businesses on federal government websites

.. Compare the U.S. intelligence community to Nazis

.. Share highly classified information with a hostile foreign power without the source’s permission

Jared Kushner’s Role Is Tested as Russia Case Grows

Mr. Kushner, who at age 36 occupies an ill-defined role somewhere between princeling and President Trump’s shadow chief of staff

.. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person

.. That relationship had already begun to fray a bit after Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which Mr. Kushner had strongly advocated, and because of his repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as well as the president’s overburdened communications team, especially Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

.. It has been duly noted in the White House that Mr. Trump, who feels that he has been ill served by his staff, has increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials

.. the most serious point of contention .. sister Nicole Meyer .. dangled the availability of EB-5 visas

.. In the following days during routine West Wing meetings, the president made several snarky, disparaging comments about Mr. Kushner’s family and the visas that were clearly intended to express his annoyance

.. Both men were reared in the freewheeling, ruthless world of real estate, and both possess an unshakable self-assurance that is both their greatest attribute and their direst vulnerability.

.. a deep confidence in his abilities that critics say borders on conceit

.. intensely proud of his accomplishments in the private

.. is given license to exercise power and take on a vague portfolio .. without suffering the consequences of failure

.. propensity for avoiding messy aspects of his job

.. he wants nothing to do with the legislative process

.. Mr. Bannon .. has taken to comparing the former real estate executive to “the air,” because he blows in and out of meetings leaving little trace

.. Mr. Kushner quickly forms fixed opinions about people, sometimes based on scant evidence.

.. Often, that entails soothing Mr. Trump.

.. Mr. Kushner has made it plain to them that they needed to choose sides or be iced out

.. Mr. Kushner remains infuriated by what he believes to be leaks about his team by Mr. Bannon

.. Mr. Trump admires Mr. Kushner’s tough streak, and shares his taste for payback

.. Mr. Kushner sees his role as a freelance troubleshooter

.. Mr. Kushner has quietly sought revenge on enemies