Commentary: Lack of Engagement Problematic


Print Newspapers

A letter in the local paper caught my eye.  A reader was criticizing a Debra DeAngelo column on Christmas.  He called the column (which I have not read and therefore have no opinion of) “appalling.”

He probably had the line of the day – “She is clearly a left-wing Democrat, but has failed to take to heart liberal compassion.”  He then quipped: “Would Michelle Obama say: ‘When they go low, we bitch slap them?’”

What caught my eye was what he wrote next: “When I talked about the column to my friends, the question came up ‘what is wrong with her?’ I thought maybe DeAngelo’s extreme partisanship had made her forget her humanity. When I wrote to her about it, she said she was delighted with the column and advised me to not read it if I didn’t like it.”

It was the advice to “not read it if (he) didn’t like it,” that caught my attention, because I got a similar reaction last year when I tried to have a discussion with her on one of her columns.

In August of 2015 she wrote, “Whites want to join the Black Lives Matter conversation, but we’re afraid to.”

As I responded in a column, “As someone who has been part of the conversation for years – quite frankly, I was taken aback by her theme.”

Ms. DeAngelo wrote: “But here’s the thing: Most white Americans want to support the continued efforts toward racial equality, but we’re becoming afraid to join the conversation. The temperature in the room is very hot right now, and frequently when whites attempt to chime in, we’re shouted down with ‘white privilege!’ which has the same effect as ‘Shut up!’ And so, fearing being called racist above almost anything else — we do. But: Shutting whites out of the conversation hurts, not helps, the effort toward racial equality. We need each other.”

As I exhorted her in my column, “If, Ms. DeAngelo, you want to be part of the conversation, then start speaking. Start using use your podium to advance understanding. Join with others in your community to be part of that voice for change.”

But the problem is Ms. DeAngelo doesn’t want to be part of any conversation – certainly not any conversation where she is subjected to criticism or disagreement.

In a Twitter exchange, I said, “Your column is certainly not reflective of my experience.”

She responded, “Well, that makes sense, given that you aren’t me.”

I tried again, “But you spoke for whites, not just the circles you travel in.”

She responded, “I don’t think we travel in the same circles.”  And then, “by writing the column I AM joining the conversation.”

Finally she said, “You really shouldn’t read my columns.”

The reality is that she was not joining the conversation, she was having a monologue and that I think that is the problem with the old media format – it is a one-way, top-down conversation.  To be fair, many columnists and reporters have become better at engaging with their readership, but that is not the case here.

The response from the reader: “I agree with her right to hate speech as long as she doesn’t directly instigate others to violence. Even so, I feel moved to protest hate speech when I encounter it. Therefore, I have canceled my Enterprise subscription. I had supported the paper for 36 years.”

A number of other readers joined in and one noted, “I cancelled my Enterprise subscription years ago because of articles like Debra wrote on Sunday.”

For me, especially since I have made it a point not to read her column, the key was her unwillingness to engage in a discussion.

Two weeks ago, I responded to columns from Debra DeAngelo and Tanya Perez in the local newspaper, that posit newspapers as the solution to fake news.

Wrote Debra DeAngelo: “I’m having a grand chuckle over all the hand-wringing about ‘fake news.’ You know where you find real news? Newspapers. Boom. Mic drop.”

I found myself largely agreeing with David Musser’s column in response – and I rarely see eye to eye with him.

He wrote, “I was not impressed with the Perez headline: ‘Subscribe to the dang newspaper, people!’ followed by DeAngelo’s laughable comment: ‘You know where to find real news? Newspapers. Boom. Mic drop.’”

“No Ms. DeAngelo, no mic drop here. Actually, I’d prefer to trade the mic for a megaphone,” he wrote.  “It takes real chutzpah for mainstream media apologists to sarcastically tell us what news to buy or not buy, considering mainstream polling, punditry, projections, etc., in this election cycle turned out to be horribly inaccurate — just as fake as anything written in the National Enquirer. At least when the Enquirer makes stuff up, it manages to provide me with substantial entertainment in the process.”

As I said two weeks ago, I’m rubbed the wrong way that the paper is arguing that they are the antidote to “Fake News.”

Part of the problem is that, during the election, the mainstream news – both the papers and broadcast media – mixed punditry, fact checks and, yes, I think their opinions, into the news coverage in a way that the lines got blurred.

The mainstream press has a problem – they want to be the voice of truth and accuracy, but they got the election wrong from start to finish.

One answer would be to humanize themselves – engage the readers.  But that appears out as well.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Commentary: Lack of Engagement Problematic”

  1. Tia Will

    “considering mainstream polling, punditry, projections, etc., in this election cycle turned out to be horribly inaccurate — just as fake as anything written in the National Enquirer”

    I think that this comment is itself conflating “inaccurate” with “fake”. Polling, punditry and projections are by their nature tentative and reflections of opinion. They are not “fake news”, they are not “news” at all  in the sense of an accounting of what has actually occurred. The pollsters were not lying or trying to trick or confuse people. Their models were simply in error. Deception is not the same as error and should not be portrayed as such.

    I perhaps feel strongly about this point since I recently wrote an obviously satirical piece for the Vanguard. The article was promptly acknowledged as satire, but in the same post criticized as “false news”.  Ibelieve that in consumption of news, both the authors and the readers have a responsibility. The author of “news reporting” has an obligation to be as factual as possible. The author of satire or punditry or opinion or speculation has no such responsibility. The reader has the responsibility to recognize the difference by either fact checking, reading multiple sources from differing points of view or in some way confirming the veracity of the material being consumed. Best choice in my opinion is to search for actual quotes, pictures or videos of the individual or events in question which can be edited to be deceptive, but in and of themselves do not lie.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      While I think you have a point Tia, by the same token, I think the media more than blundered in this election – they were biased and in part, the reason they got the election wrong was their bias.

      1. Paul Thober

        Well, no, the media didn’t blunder, it reported on the polls. The polls were wrong, not the media. Probably the liars were the supporters of Mr. Trump who didn’t respond truthfully to the pollsters.

        1. Roberta Millstein

          The media blundered big time.  It gave disproportionate coverage to Trump over other Republicans and disproportionate coverage to Hillary over Bernie.  It repeatedly proclaimed the Democratic primary over when it wasn’t, and provided misleading reporting about super-delegates.  There is also evidence of collusion between the media and the DNC.  It failed to fact check Trump on numerous occasions and to call out his false statements.  All of these are major reporting blunders.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Also the polling errors were avoidable and were based on assumptions about the electorate, and that just played into the problem.

  2. Alan Miller

    There’s hope for you yet, DG.  I don’t know about the stretch to national media as a whole, but well written about DdeA (especially not reading the column) who is a good writer, as such, but oft a pathetically narcissistic columnist, and of late has become simply obsessed with her mental meltdown from the Trump election, reflected in her ever-spiraling-downward columns.  I suggest you read the “b-tch slap” article.  It is worthy of an award in pathetic-icity.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    I used to really like Debra’s columns, but she took a bad turn a few years ago and it’s been a long time since I’ve read one that I found anything of value in.  I agree that her inability to engage in dialogue seems to be part of the problem.  A year or so ago I tried to engage her over email about one of her columns, concerning Hillary and Bernie, but it was clear that she was not interested in discussing.  She repeatedly comes across as a person who has made up her mind, and the rest of us can like it or lump it.  Too bad, because as I said, I don’t think she was always that way.

    Good journalism comes from good journalistic practice, whether it’s in print or online.  Putting stuff on paper doesn’t magically make it good.

    1. Howard P

      Debra was never a ‘journalist’ as in “reporter”… more of a “provocateur”… always trying to be more “edgy”… perhaps she should be invited to speak @ UCD… there is precedent…

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        I know I’m splitting hairs here, but journalist is the broader category and reporter is one subset within that category. Editors and columnists are also types of journalists.

        1. Howard P

          So are diarists… as in “diary of a mad woman”… and yes, there is more than one definition of “mad”…

          But fully accept your nuance, David… je d’accord…

  4. Marina Kalugin

    she is one of my pals..and I probably get her more than anyone.  ..

    more often then not we were on the same side of many an issue  but she started losing me over the other cecilia.. aguilar.. .

    and now this meltdown re: Trump

    when her fave place burned to the ground, Harbin Hot Springs, I was so sad because I had never had time to make it there…

    I listened in interestedly when she found the only good man left on this planet or something..   as somehow some guy showed up in my life around the same time…

    I hear she is still happy and I have learned more and more lessons….

    She just needs a long vacation in a country not nearly so crazy..    😉     MX comes to mind…

    1. Alan Miller

      when her fave place burned to the ground, Harbin Hot Springs, I was so sad because I had never had time to make it there…

      There are WAY better.  Harbin, though some of my friends love the place, is to me a glorified faux-new-age meat market.

  5. Marina Kalugin

    if some of ya folks who were around on that fateful day in April..  the 27th to be more specific.. when I showed up here a few weeks after the DE told me my letter was too long.. they said they would publish it only to shorten it.. never saw daylight….

    if ya head back to some of my earliest columns..

    you may start to understand….  this is a very special time and so many signs of that..

    the fact that centuries have gone by since it snowed in the Siera madres aka siera martyr…. on the Sea of Cortez side.. just a  few km from my place on the beach I planned to retire at.. . on Christmas Eve…

    when it was the first night of Hanukah also..

    well .    some may get the point but others may need more spoonfeeding..  my ride is here gotta run


  6. Dave Hart

    Well, to be fair, Debra D’A’s column is an opinion piece.  She doesn’t have to be “fair”, accurate or exhibit any other normal attribute of good journalism when writing her op-ed pieces.  As I understand it, she is also the editor for the Winters paper and writes actual journalistic accounts of events centered on Winters for the Winters paper.  I don’t read it, so I don’t know how good a job she does on that.

    I put Debra in the same category with Bob Dunning as op-ed writers. It gets worse, you know, as in the case of national writers like Charles Krauthammer.  Totally worthless if you are looking for information or analysis.  Some editorial writers have the capacity to throw real light on a subject even while taking sides and are the people I like to read.  I suppose Debra, Bob and Charles must have their own fan clubs.  I will read them when, like broken clocks, they are occasionally right (though I’ve never known Charles Krauthammer to be right, even twice a day).

    1. Alan Miller

      DDA is a decent writer.  The day she completely lost me was when she wrote a piece about the new Palms, and she opened it was a line about Trump getting elected.  If you took that out, great article, but she had to add spin that had nothing to do with what she was covering, except that the election seems to pervade her every thought, so we have to hear about it even in an article on another topic.  That makes no sense.

    2. Roberta Millstein

      It seems to me that Debra DeAngelo’s opinion pieces used to be factually based and well-reasoned; that’s when I really liked her column.  Then she seemed to make a conscious decision to go for lighter pieces and entertainment.  But from time to time, she still wants to weigh in on the more serious issues, yet she is doing it with the new, lighter style.  It’s a bad combination.  I wonder how she is feeling about her multi-column diatribe against the Putah Creek restoration now that there are record numbers of salmon in the creek.

      Bob Dunning, however, is rarely ever serious.  When he is, he occasionally does a bit of legwork to get the underlying story, but often not.  And that’s frustrating.

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