The Oklahoman

Oklahomans Lead Charge To Deny People Food

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You have to wonder why so many state Republicans just want some fellow Oklahomans to go hungry.

The propaganda ministry for the GOP here, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, published a commentary this week that not only terribly distorted what a state agency has done related to cuts in the federal food stamp program but also revived a version of the “welfare queen” story started by the late President Ronald Reagan.

The commentary also failed to mention that Oklahoma’s own U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas recently pushed through a despicable, immoral bill cutting $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, while lauding the “free-market” (i.e., ultra-conservative) concerns of the right-wing extremists at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

The gist of the editorial is that a short news release about upcoming SNAP cuts published by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is “political activism.” The cuts are not related to Lucas’ efforts to starve certain Oklahomans. That bill has not and will not be approved by the Senate or signed into law by President Barack Obama. The cuts are related to the expiration of stimulus funds that began in 2009.

The new release simply stated that beginning Nov. 1 a family of four with no income would see a $36 monthly decrease in their SNAP benefits. What bothered The Oklahoman is that the release said SNAP recipients would be “significantly impacted” and that the cuts “will have an economic impact on the state.” Both statements are entirely true by any reasonable measure, but The Oklahoman finds them to be left-wing politics.

Let’s be clear: Virtually any cut in food assistance will significantly affect those people, mostly children and the elderly, relying on the assistance, and any cut in SNAP benefits will absolutely result in less money for grocery stores.

It’s The Oklahoman that’s distorting the issue, not OKDHS.

The editorial also did a retro-take on Reagan’s infamous 1976 presidential campaign statement about a woman accused of welfare fraud. It’s become widely known as the “welfare queen” narrative in the American lexicon. This what Reagan said:

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

This is how The Oklahoman perpetuates the narrative in contemporary, right-wing terms:

Succentto Jackson, a 34-year-old mother of five children in Oklahoma City, is among those who will be affected. Her food stamp benefits previously totaled $659 per month. While the benefit reduction for her family of six may be larger than the cuts facing DHS's hypothetical family of four, it will hardly wipe out benefit payments.

Obviously, the newspaper is not accusing the mother of fraud, but the statement lacks context and dehumanizes six people trying to eat and stay alive. Any SNAP cuts would obviously significantly impact Jackson and her family. Of course, the cuts “would hardly wipe out benefit payments,” but the cuts will literally take food out of the mouths of children. The newspaper is simply using a specific family to generate and localize hatred among its right-wing readers, just like Reagan did in 1976. This is how Republicans get votes.

The editorial also undercuts the newspaper’s relentless anti-abortion stance. According to the logic of The Oklahoman, it’s wrong to have an abortion, but it’s also wrong when you want to feed your babies adequately. There’s no way out of that contradiction.

It’s also absurd the editorial refers to OCPA, which apparently didn’t like the news release, as a “free-market think tank.” OCPA is an ultra-conservative organization that undoubtedly favors major cuts in most government spending, especially cuts in programs that help poor people. I don’t think OCPA staff would deny that so why didn’t the editorial give us the truthful perspective?

Topping off the editorial’s absurdity is that it failed to mention how one of Oklahoma’s own Congressmen, Lucas, just pushed through a House bill that would leave millions of Americans without government food assistance. (I recently wrote about it here.) This information would give readers more perspective on the food-stamp debate here.

The OKDHS news release was informative and also, frankly, innocuous. It’s The Oklahoman and OCPA that are politicizing the issue. They have the agenda, not OKDHS, which is duty-bound to help people.

Analyzing The Tramel SI Analysis

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I want to take a look at how Berry Tramel, the well-known and longtime local sportswriter for The Oklahoman, responded to the recent Sports Illustrated articles outlining problems in the Oklahoma State University football program.

Tramel’s responses are the most thorough, at least in writing, to the articles among local reporters, and Tramel’s undoubtedly the newspaper’s best writer, but his defensive reaction to the articles was representative among the media types here and shows why it takes an out-of-state publication to reveal information that should be of interest to Oklahoma taxpayers. (Note I wrote, should.) His responses were also filled with cringing sweeping generalizations whenever he ventured into matters such as academics and drug use among players.

None of Tramel’s responses really get at this issue: There are present and former coaches here in Oklahoma and elsewhere who have become multi-millionaires at taxpayer-supported institutions only through the athletic talent of young men, most of whom don’t go on and play professional sports and some of whom get terribly exploited. These coaches deserve scrutiny and should be held accountable for their actions, and that includes Mike Gundy and, yes, Bob Stoops.

I’ll use a format similar to what Tramel used to respond to the articles. First, I’ll make a Tramel point, and then I’ll respond. My responses are in bold. (The SI articles can be accessed here.)

I think it’s fair to say one of Tramel’s overall points, and he responded to each article, is that the series of articles by SI were over-hyped and often didn’t live up to their promotion.

The problem with this argument is that big-time college and professional sports are highly dependent on media hype. Tramel’s income from The Oklahoman is dependent on hype. (In fact, he’s hyping the “hype” to make a living in this case.) Take away the hype and the spectacle from big-time sports, the good and the bad, and what do you have? Well, you don’t have as many fans, that’s for sure, and you don’t have as many readers, viewers and listeners.

In his initial article, Tramel outlines SI’s claims about players getting paid money by coaches and boosters, but his responses are sometimes skeptical and even sarcastic. In response to the point that a booster gave money to a high-school recruit, Tramel wrote, “Finally, a recruiting violation. All this other stuff is alleged to take care of guys already on campus. But this is old-fashioned paying players while in high school. Of course, it also doesn’t completely jive.”

Note the tone here in Tramel’s quote. He essentially qualifies paying players, but then supposedly claims paying a recruit is a serious issue. No, it “doesn’t completely jive” either. As I wrote earlier, I think players get exploited as coaches run off with the money, and the system should change, but paying players for making individual plays is a complete violation of any college’s mission. Does an OSU band member get paid $500 when they play their instrument particularly well at a game? Does a member of whatever the OSU Spanish Club is called get $1,000 for speaking in perfect Spanish at a meeting? Does a . . . Why go on? The point is big-time college football programs are not professional teams. If they can’t be part of the university because of the corruption of money, then privatize them by spinning them off into farm teams for the NFL.

Tramel is at his absolute worst when he analyzes SI’s academic allegations, which claim, among other issues, that tutors wrote papers for players. Tramel writes, “There wasn’t nearly as much meat on the bone as there was in the first installment.” He goes on to make this embarrassing statement, “If you ask me, online classes of most any kind are a scandal. I know people learn in different ways, and I know technology is changing society, but I’m skeptical of all online classes.”

SI’s academic arguments, some of which are widely known or suspected on campus (for the record, I taught at OSU in the late 1980s and early 1990s), are extremely important. The allegations alleging direct cheating may not be important to Tramel, but they are to most professors I know, and I’ve been teaching college going on 25 years in this state. Cheating is an issue on all university campuses, of course, but if and when a head football coach, a powerful, multi-millionaire enriched by the university, enables or ignores the cheating, it’s even worse. Also, Tramel’s comment about online courses is a sweeping generalization, which shows he probably doesn’t know much about them. Online courses are here to stay. Online education is the happening thing in higher education today, and quality-controls and academic integrity are a major part of online initiatives. Tramel doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and it shows.

Tramel begins his assessment of SI’s story about drug use among OSU’s players with the tone he maintains throughout his analysis. He writes, “And just like the others [articles], it’s a difficult sell for SI, for this reason. The sources are all a bunch of potheads, by their own admission.” He then argues that OSU made mistakes by recruiting “knuckleheads,” and that’s the main problem.

The issue, as I see it, is not so much that there’s a drug culture surrounding the OSU football team—we all live in a drug culture—but how the university responds to someone who really has a problem. The disparity in the responses, as outlined in the SI article, is the problem. Tramel, with his use of “knuckleheads” and then this, “ . . . we’re not talking about the brightest of the bright when we talk about people who want to toke their way to happiness,” shows he might just be a tad out of touch. I know they don’t “smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” Berry, (of course, they do a lot of meth there these days) but they can still be durn knuckleheads, too. My point is Tramel is over his head on this issue. Here’s an idea: Just don’t drug test players at all except for performance-enhancing drugs unless there’s an issue, such as an arrest or obvious abuse.

Tramel seemed more interested in just discrediting the entire SI’s series overall in his analysis of the story featuring the Orange Pride hostess program. He begins by arguing the article “. . . clearly was hastily edited after the disastrous Thursday that SI experienced with Part III.” Then he goes on to pretty much dismiss the story with snarky rebuttal. In response to the argument that OSU chose attractive women to be hostesses, Tramel writes, “There’s no way I can say this without sounding like a clod, so I’m just going to say it. No kidding. Who wants to be around pretty and outgoing women? It would be wonderful if the world was different and lollipops grew on trees.”

I think it’s a shame that Tramel and others in the media here have chosen to simply dismiss the SI stories. Maybe, they’re protecting their turf, but they sure aren’t producing longer, thoughtful pieces of journalism concerning one of the state’s two major football programs like SI. As far as Tramel’s response to the hostess program, I think he misses the point. Why even have such a program? Why is it only for women? He points out the problem of objectifying women with the everyone-does-it excuse, but that, too, misses it. This is a school activity at a taxpayer-supported institution. The university should broaden the membership of the program if it plans to keep it, and millionaire coaches shouldn’t be allowed to dictate its membership based on a person’s appearance.

Tramel claims that part of the final installment of the series, which showed the sometimes broken lives of former non-star OSU players, was “a little overdramatic. Seems like someone tried to write their way to making this series a success.” He even argues that another part of the article is “total crock.” Again, note the defensiveness and the sarcasm.

OSU does have a responsibility to those young students who get cut from the football program for one reason or another. Most of them were recruited and given scholarships, and some moved from their out-of-state communities to Stillwater. Obviously, determining what that responsibility is can be problematic, but one thing is certain: Cut players should be given every opportunity to continue their education. Again, the immoral disparity between millionaire football coaches and a poor kid who gets cut from a program should be the issue here. It just violates the academic and the overall mission of the university. It’s not right. OSU is a public college, not a farm team for the NFL.

I don’t think I’ve been too harsh on Tramel, and, at least, he took the time for thorough responses. One important issue, which I’ve already brought up in early post, is that local media outlets here are complicit in the “corruption,” or whatever you want to call it, of the state’s two major college football programs. These programs not only make a lot of money but also help create a local media industry, from the sports pages to radio shows to television programs. If you ask me, to use a Tramel-like sweeping generalization, that’s the real scandal. Taxpayers essentially are helping fund millionaire coaches and our local sports media “celebrities” while many young players get discarded, don’t make it to the NFL, or don’t finish their degrees. It’s an ugly system that needs to change, but it won’t as long as the money flows in. I think the SI articles shed some light on one of our state’s major college football programs, and that’s a good thing.

Editorial Deceptions

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Another anti-abortion editorial published in The Oklahoman is so excruciatingly disingenuous and so filled with false comparisons it deserves a mention if only for conducting a rhetoric analysis of juvenile argumentation.

The short editorial, titled “Health question:,” (Aug. 5, 2013), makes the point that a recently proposed Alabama bill and other similar bills throughout the country restricting abortion is really an issue about good health standards, which “would be noncontroversial if abortion weren't involved.” But the clear intent of the Alabama bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin and later blocked by a federal judge, is to essentially do away with the abortion procedure in Alabama, not protect women’s health. In other words, so this argument goes, to ensure good health standards we should do away with medical procedures. That’s setting good standards, isn’t it? Let’s do away with basic medical treatments in order to have good standards.

“The real purpose of this bill is to make safe and legal abortion in Alabama unavailable under any circumstance," said a Planned Parenthood official about the bill. Who would think otherwise?

The editorial then makes its way to this comparison:

It strikes us as odd that standards for humane treatment of animals headed to slaughter are widely supported, yet the idea of requiring that a women's health clinic be tied to hospitals in case of emergencies is seen as an unconscionable attack on women.

Note the “us,” as if that’s clear in an unsigned editorial, but especially note the illogical comparison between animals and humans. So, in other words, if you’re in favor of the humane treatment of animals, you should also be in favor of legislation that essentially stops access to the abortion procedure. It’s a non sequitur. Why not just say, It strikes us as odd that the same people who drive their cars to work each day also like to sing in the shower and mow their lawns. It’s absurd. There is no equivalency in the argument itself.

For good measure, the editorial gets in another false comparison AND bashes Obamacare. Here it is:

It's ironic that groups like hers [a reproductive rights activist] support the most intrusive health care law ever passed in this country (Obamacare), but want abortion removed from most any regulation or restriction. What's wrong with having high standards in place? For the abortion industry in this country, the answer is “Plenty.”

So, in other words, if you support the Affordable Care Act, then you should be against abortion because what all these draconian bills do is shut down places that perform abortions. See the logic behind that one? It’s incredible. No, even if you think the ACA is "intrusive,” it’s still about giving more people access to medical procedures not stopping more people from getting medical procedures.

Here’s more on McClurkin and the Alabama bill, which is pretty much similar to what was passed recently in Texas. The clear intent of these bills is to shut down medical clinics that perform abortions. To argue that it’s about women’s health is disingenuous, if not an outright lie. If you want to end legal abortion in this country, then just make the argument. Why hide behind rhetorical deception?

McClurkin also made the rather strange claim that abortion is “a major surgery that removes the largest ‘organ’ in a woman's body.” A fetus is not a body organ; it wouldn’t be the largest organ, anyway.

The Oklahoman doesn’t mention that gaffe, of course, in its relentless quest to end safe abortions for women in this state. Here’s the real irony: The editorial implicitly argues for a return to back-alley abortions as it claims to be the defenders of good health standards.

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