A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers:
The Anniston Star – Bad news and bad reports
In the last two days, a collection of abductions, shootings, interstate car chases and murder trials has caused us to scramble to our TV and computer screens. We’ve wanted to know what’s going on.
In Colorado, a jury found theater shooter James Holmes guilty on all counts for the killing of 12 people and wounding 70 others in 2012.
In Chattanooga, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed four U.S. Marines before being killed by police.
In Cleburne County, two women died following a car chase on Interstate 20 in what authorities believe may have been a murder-suicide.
And Friday morning, Maine police caught Anthony Lord, a suspect in another U.S. shooting spree that killed several people in three different locations.
In times like this — when terrible news is breaking — it’s imperative that journalists (a.) resist the urge to take chances and (b.) report only what they know to be fact. That’s not as easy as it sounds. In high-pressure situations, and in competitive media markets, being first isn’t a desire. It’s a necessity.
Each of those situations — even the Cleburne County case, which The Star’s staff covered at length — could have led to the reporting of wild and unsubstantiated facts. Who shot whom? What is the suspect’s name? Who’s dead? We all want to know, and now.
Social media has forever changed news delivery. Now, any news outlet — even newspapers like The Star — can report news instantly and in real time. That capability no longer is the sole domain of our colleagues on television and radio.
The Birmingham News – Gay Baptists and black Rebels: an unexpected week in review
Alabama’s always been a state of contradictions, and it’s been interesting to see how those have played out over the past several weeks. This week we heard from a few unexpected voices, including a gay Baptists and a few black Rebels.
Earlier this week ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter published a tweet showing Jason Pierre-Paul’s medical records. By publicly sharing an athlete’s medical records, did Schefter violate journalistic ethics? John Carvalho, associate professor of journalism at Auburn University and a former sports journalist, offers keen insight about the legal and ethical dilemmas at play.
Bryan Kessler grew up in the Baptist church. He was also born gay. In a moving essay, Bryan wrestles with the complexities of his soul and his desire to be true to himself while maintaining his faith. It’s a must read.
Last week, BP announced a settlement with the five Gulf States seeking damages following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Alabama will receive approximately $2 billion in economic and environmental restoration funds, but the state’s political leaders are divided about whether it’s a good deal for the state.
Attorney General Luther Strange argues that it is a good deal and will continue to rejuvenate the state’s coastal environments.
Congressman Bradley Byrne, however, says that the state deserves better. He says that too much of the settlement will go to the federal and state government and that “less than $500 million will be under the control of Alabama officials on the Gulf.”
The Decatur Daily – New Horizons’ Pluto journey is invaluable
When astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, working out of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovered Pluto in 1930, Pluto was just a faint dot moving slowly across the sky, so distant it takes roughly 248 years to orbit the sun once.
Through the Hubble Space Telescope, Pluto appears as a shining, white ball. Astronomers can make out its largest moon, Charon, but both still are fuzzy and indistinct.
Now Pluto has come into its own, and whether you think of Pluto as a “dwarf planet” or stubbornly still call it the ninth planet, it’s putting on quite a show.
The New Horizons spacecraft passed by Pluto on Tuesday and will spend the next 16 months beaming its data back to eager scientists on Earth. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is the NASA center managing the mission.
The first pictures of Pluto are nothing short of astounding. They show a world much different than the one most scientists expected. The planet’s smooth, copper-colored surface barely has any craters. That lack of surface impact indicates a geologically active world, where the surface is perhaps 100,000 years old — barely anything in the grand scheme of things.
Pluto also is dotted with high mountains, some 11,000 feet tall. They’re no Mount Everest, which is 29,029 feet tall, but they’re nothing to sneeze at, and some of them are capped with what appears to be water ice.
Most captivating, however, are the surface features that, like the “man in the moon,” remind us of things we see here at home. Near Pluto’s south pole is a whale-shaped expanse scientists have named the Cthulhu region, after horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous monster. Another dark blotch is named the Balrog region, after the creature in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Clearly the scientists in charge of naming Pluto’s features are having some fun. Pluto itself, after all, is named for the Greek god of the underworld.
Yet the largest feature is a bright spot shaped like a Valentine’s Day heart. That is named the Tombaugh region, after the only American to have discovered a planet in our solar system.
Pluto was a planet at the time he discovered it, anyway, and it was a planet when New Horizons launched.
Dothan Eagle – Golf carts aren’t street legal
A few years back, it would be difficult to find someone who owned a golf cart unless they spent enough time on the links to justify its cost. These days, ownership of these vehicles is far more common, but not necessarily for golfers. They can be purchased outfitted with an additional bench seat where one might usually find racks for golf bags, and they’re used as recreational vehicles in neighborhoods.
You’ve likely seen them in use in some of the city’s more upscale neighborhoods. Often, they’re being driven by children too young to have a license to drive a car. That’s only a part of the problem.
This week, Dothan police announced a plan to “crack down” on the use of golf carts and all-terrain vehicles on public roadways. Driving such vehicles on city streets is illegal in most cases, and considering the hazard they pose to other drivers, particularly at night or under the control of a youngster – or both – prohibiting such use is a wise move.
The down side is that most people tend to view their own neighborhoods from a different perspective than they see other public roadways. People who would never consider taking the golf cart to the mall or letting the kids drive it across town to school might not think twice about taking a spin around the neighborhood, or allowing their children to use the vehicle as they would a bicycle.
However, the law doesn’t make that distinction. According to police, those under 16 who are stopped on a Dothan street can be issued a citation along with the parent or guardian who gave them permission to drive the golf cart or ATV.
The best course is to keep them on the fairway cart paths and off the streets.
The Enterprise Ledger – After Cosby, in whom shall we trust
“A fool’s paradise is a wise man’s hell.” – Thomas Fuller
I can honestly say that before the multiple allegations came up about Bill Cosby and his history of drugging women and raping them, I cannot remember ever hearing a discouraging word about the comedian. NEVER!
Has there ever been a more widely beloved celebrity?
Even Whoopi Goldberg, who defended Cosby for a lengthy period despite all of the allegations, has finally conceded that all signs point to Cosby’s guilt. We’re talking about Whoopi, the same woman who is so far left of liberal she is almost bordering up to conservatives.
Light has been shed on the fact that Cosby testified in 2005 that he did indeed purchase quaaludes with the intent of having sex with them.
Shocked, disbelief and all of those other emotions perhaps all of us had even if briefly are out the window now. How many of us would have voted for Cosby among the most respectable people on the entire planet. As one friend said, if Cosby had even hinted at running for president, he would have voted for him here and twice in Cleveland.
Has anyone fooled us more?
TimesDaily – Around the state
Anniston Star on Luther Strange’s only choice about gay marriage:
Luther Strange, Alabama’s attorney general, seems to finally realize a legal tussle against same-sex unions is a losing proposition.
Strange, like virtually all Republicans, disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that legalized gay marriage. Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, disagreed with it. Roy Moore, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, vehemently disagreed with it — and instructed county probate judges to defy the high court ruling by not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. In time, most ignored Moore’s direction.
On Tuesday, Strange said he will file a document in a gay-marriage case that says state agencies in Alabama will comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.
That is the only choice.
Alabama’s leaders have every right to voice their disapproval of same-sex unions. But openly defying the court’s order — modern-day nullification, in essence — is a fool’s game. Moore’s previous campaign over his Ten Commandments monument serves as a reminder. Alabama’s top law enforcer doesn’t have to support gay marriage, but he is duty bound to follow the law.
Dothan Eagle on Scout and Atticus:
On Tuesday, all eyes were on Monroeville’s most famous resident, Nelle Harper Lee, as her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” hit bookstores.
For many who held Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” dear, the day arrived to mixed emotions. After the success of “Mockingbird,” Lee retreated into a closely guarded private life, and friends said she had no plans to publish another book. Earlier this year, her attorney, Tonja Carter, who practiced law with Lee’s elder sister Alice until her death last fall, revealed a manuscript found in a safe deposit box — a story with the same characters set at a later time, a draft that ultimately was set aside in favor of the rewritten story millions of readers have come to love.
Now 89, hard of hearing, suffering from impaired vision and residing in a Monroeville assisted living facility, Lee agreed to submit the manuscript for publication. And shortly thereafter came reactions of alarm, fears of exploitation, abuse or worse. Even after the state Department of Human Resources investigated and found Lee to be in sound mind, and after a statement from the famously reticent Lee herself, doubts still linger for many.
The publishing industry expects the new Harper Lee book to be a phenomenon, in particular, a boon to bookstores, both big box retailers and independent shops. It’s a safe bet “Go Set a Watchman” will be a best-seller. That, too, may breathe new life into Monroeville’s “Mockingbird” cottage industry, perhaps the town’s most viable economic engine.
However, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be how the new novel, an alternate view of the Scout Finch’s Maycomb world, will affect the legacy of the heroic Atticus, or the enigmatic Harper Lee herself.
The Gadsden Times – Full commitment needed on megasite project
There’s no universally accepted definition of the word megasite. We like the one offered by the head of a South Carolina consulting firm in some TVA literature: “A large parcel of land ready for heavy industrial development.”
Etowah County has the parcel — its Little Canoe Creek property between interstate 59 and U.S. Highway 11 near Steele.
It has the will — the County Commission has announced plans to designate the property as a megasite, although it will need another 150 acres on top of the 850 it already owns to qualify.
Readiness is the problem, and changing that will take time and money — lots of money, like about $21 million, according to Gadsden/Etowah Industrial Development Board Executive Director Mike McCain.
The potential payoff could be enormous — lots of jobs, possibly in four figures.
The guarantees are non-existent — massive industrial projects rarely materialize from thin air, and there’s brutal competition for them when they happen.
So, is this a path worth taking, whether you consider it an investment or a gamble?
Even if, as McCain contends, about half that cost could be recouped through state development funding, it still would leave a net investment of more than $10 million to prepare and market the property.
That’s a scary number for a county that’s watching every dime, but we’re talking about work that’s a prerequisite, not something to dress the place up.
Ted Clem, director of business development with the Alabama Department of Commerce, stressed to the commission last week that developers looking for places to locate either want the infrastructure — electricity, gas, sewer and water — in place, or a definite commitment as to when it will be in place.
The Huntsville Times – Abortion debate (and other culture wars) returns to Alabama
Immigration policies, a surprising twist for Atticus Finch, abortion rights, and an Iranian nuclear deal. There was certainly a lot to talk about this week as our guest columnists engaged in a few culture wars, old and new.
As if illegal immigration weren’t controversial enough, Sen. Jeff Sessions thinks Americans should also be terrified of immigrants who apply to enter the United States legally. In a neat little example of fear mongering, the senator lists a litany of examples of terrorism by legal immigrants, or even native born American citizens with Middle Eastern ties – conspicuously missing from his list are attacks allegedly conducted by people like Dylann Roof or James Holmes. One wonders if Mr. Sessions would just have us close our borders to our melting pot all together.
This week, President Obama made headlines for negotiating an agreement with the Iranian government to deter their nuclear programs. Jonathan Miller, a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, argues that it is a bad deal for America, Israel and western society.
With the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage drawing to a close, it is apparently time to return to the culture wars of abortion. This week, Operation Save America descended into Alabama to host a series of controversial anti-abortion protests. Danielle Hurd, the Alabama state organizer for URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, argues that their hateful tactics are not representative of Alabama and Southern hospitality.
Many of you have probably seen the controversial video of a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the sale of fetal tissue. Guest writer Morgan Rice writes that “Rubella, chicken pox, and rabies vaccinations were created utilizing fetal tissues” but AL.com’s Cameron Smith asks if society is willing to accept a “completely legal human chop shop for research purposes.”
Press-Register – Should we arm domestic armed forces?
The questions came quickly after Muhammod Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on two military facilities in Chattanooga Thursday, killing four U.S. Marines.
Why, people asked, do we not arm our soldiers at home? AL.com’s Leada Gore explores the question.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions says in a guest opinion piece that those questions will be addressed in the aftermath of the Chattanooga attack. But he warns that America’s immigration system makes us vulnerable to terrorism.
As the controversy over the U.S. deal with Iran over its nuclear program simmers, Rabbi Jonathan Miller of the Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham writes in a guest opinion piece: Deal with Iran is bad for US, Israel and the Middle East.
Danielle Hurd, the Alabama state organizer for URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, an advocacy organization formerly known as Choice USA, responds to Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group, descending on Alabama for protests and disruptions at reproductive health clinics. Hurd writes: Pro-choice advocate: Cruel protest is not my Alabama.
With all the fuss over the release of Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman,” AL.com cartoonist J.D. Crowe shared with us a cherished possession: In 2003, Harper Lee sent J.D. a personal note of thanks for a tribute drawing of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, which he had drawn after Peck’s death and sent to Lee through a personal friend.
Unfortunately, the framed letter had faded through the years and was barely legible. So J.D. today posted a transcript of the letter, plus suggestions from AL.com readers for how to preserve the precious document.
Montgomery Advertiser – Gun-free zones work
It is likely that by now, if you spend any time at all conversing with the outside world or watching a particular entertainment-news channel, you have seen a picture of the front door to the Chattanooga naval reserve office where four U.S. Marines were shot and killed on Thursday.
And undoubtedly highlighted in that picture is the small sign just beside the door, which features a drawing of a handgun inside a large, red circle with a red slash running across it. It is the common sign alerting those who plan to enter the building that the facility is a “gun-free” establishment.
For some reason, this is a point of emphasis among this country’s gun nuts – that group of people who are convinced that more guns is always the best answer.
Shooting at a school?
Arm the teachers.
Shooting at a military office?
Arm the military personnel working inside.
Shooting at a college?
Arm the students.
Shooting at a mall?
Opelika-Auburn News – An ounce of prevention can stave off a fine
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance aimed at employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors. The DOL claims that most such workers qualify as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and not independent contractors, under their expansive definition of employment.
The DOL 15-page “administrator’s interpretation” points out that under the FLSA, the key question is whether a worker is genuinely in business for him or herself, which makes that worker an independent contractor, or is economically dependent on the employer, going on to discuss six “economic realities factors” that guide the classification assessment. It is the DOL’s position that the Economic Realities Factors should be applied in view of the FLSA’s broad scope of employment and “suffer or permit” standard.
The factors are as follows:
1) Is the work an integral part of the employer’s business?
2) Does the worker’s managerial skill affect the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss?
3) How does the worker’s relative investment compare to the employer’s investment?
4) Does the work performed require special skill and initiative?
5) Is the relationship between the worker and the employer permanent or indefinite?
6) What is the nature and degree of the employer’s control?
The Tuscaloosa News – Public should be patient with investigation
In numerous cases of alleged police malfeasance in the smartphone era, it has taken video shot by citizens to bring the incidents to light. That was not the case when Anthony Ware died in Tuscaloosa Police Department custody late Friday night.
The Tuscaloosa News and other media received a news release about it from a TPD spokesman at about 2 a.m. Saturday. Since then, the department has been responsive to inquiries and has released more than two hours of raw video footage from responding officers’ body and dashboard cameras.
Some crucial moments, such as when Ware, the subject of an arrest warrant, was sprayed with pepper spray or when he collapsed, were not included in the released video. Police say that those moments were not recorded.
Nevertheless, the police department has neither condemned nor exonerated the officers involved with the arrest, and appears to be making a good-faith effort to share as much information with the news media and public as possible. We’ve seen no reason to assume otherwise, pending the results of a thorough investigation. Openness and honesty usually go hand in hand. What the public and investigators make of it will be revealed in time.
Of course, police and city officials should be aware that there is a perception among some people that the police will not be forthcoming with information that could incriminate any of their officers. In cases like this, most people seem to fall into one of two camps: They either assume that the police are in the wrong and are covering up misdeeds, or they assume that the suspect in their custody is at fault and hold the police blameless.