Letters for January 10, 2008

Story too soft
Re “He’s the dean” (News, Dec. 27):

Reading Jay Jones’ story, you might assume that Jerry Ceppos, the new dean of UNR’s school of journalism, is to be trusted as a guardian of journalistic ethics, but there’s an object lesson here in the value of doubting.

San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series exposed the CIA’s role in the crack cocaine epidemic beginning in South Central Los Angeles in the ‘70s. Ceppos, Webb’s editor at the time, succumbed to institutional pressure to discredit and marginalize Webb. A revisionist, today Ceppos twists the truth, blaming himself for overlooking “errors” in Webb’s remarkably thorough, gutsy investigation. In fact, the supposed “errors” in Webb’s story were merely “hard questions that had no easy or comforting answers” (Al Giordano). Persons of influence much more powerful and significant than Ceppos were afraid of where Webb was taking the story.

Ceppos’ “name carries great recognition among the country’s leading journalists,” UNR president Milton Glick remarked. Great recognition for what? Caving? Scapegoating Webb? RN&R readers should look to the Narco News website and the Center for Authentic Journalism for incriminating evidence of U.S. involvement with introducing crack to South Central to support the Contras.

Ceppos was instrumental in embargoing one of the most incriminating stories of our time. Read Webb’s thoroughly researched “Dark Alliance” series. Consider the revelations that have followed. Then decide if you believe Ceppos when he discredits Webb.

Doug Meier
Truckee, Calif.

Story too hard
Re “He’s the dean” (News, Dec. 27):

I generally can forgive the leanings of the RN&R in part because I frequently lean the same direction. I’m perplexed, though, by the story on Jerry Ceppos, the new UNR J-school dean, and his implied complicity in the downfall of former SJ Merc reporter Gary Webb. To my eye’s ear, Jay Jones’ RN&R article insinuates that Ceppos has some unpaid ethical debt yet to pay Webb, who authored an investigative piece, later discredited by his peers, and who committed suicide four years ago while a staff member of an RN&R sister paper.

The article appears to find some irony in Ceppos’ plan to emphasize ethical journalism at UNR. While Webb’s fate is certainly sad, I don’t buy the conclusions. Webb wrote a piece. Ceppos defended the reporter and the story until faced with reliable evidence that there were holes in Webb’s story. Ceppos then came clean to the SJ Merc’s readers that mistakes were made. That sounds pretty ethical to me. I don’t know Ceppos, but I lived in the Bay Area and was very familiar with the SJ Merc before, during and after his tenure as editor. The Merc was one of the nation’s better newspapers of the time. Webb’s decline into depression and suicide is sad, but I don’t think it warrants a piece impugning Ceppos’ reputation—especially since the reader is not informed of the sisterly connection between the RN&R and Webb’s employer, the Sacramento News & Review. Oversight or conspiracy?

Doug van Aman

Weight a second
Re “Fat? So?” (Arts & Culture, Dec. 27):

I don’t know if Tim Hauserman is missing the point unintentionally or doing so deliberately because he thinks his point is more dramatic that way. The point is that health and/or attractiveness is not measured by 10 pounds. A healthy lifestyle is great, wanting to be healthier is better, but using weight as the sole, or most important, indicator of health is ignorant. Even leaving out factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and the like, we all know rail-thin individuals with heart attack levels of cholesterol, and fat individuals who can out hike their sleek companions. Don’t bother trying to tell me that, “They’re the exceptions.” Health is more than a weight or clothing size. It’s far more than spending two weeks on a diet.

To say, “Fat is a dumb thing” is not only grammatically incorrect (I’m sure he meant, “stupid thing,") but opens up the possibility that, “Skinny is self-absorbed and shallow.” Oh, wait, you say, that’s stereotyping, otherwise known as prejudice? That’s right.

Human beings have an extraordinary range of healthy sizes. Let’s not forget, too, the influence of modern culture. Marilyn Monroe, one of the unarguable sex sirens of the 20th century, wouldn’t be able to find work in her industry today, at 5 feet 6 inches and 145 pounds. After months of exhaustive testing to screen me as a kidney donor, and a subsequent clean bill of health, the surgeon refused to operate on me based solely on my weight. (Since my size was well known before the testing started, that smacks of insurance fraud and jerking around a terminally ill potential recipient, but that’s another story.)

On the other side of the same coin, my son dropped out of two sports he enjoyed after repeatedly being told that he was too skinny and “scrawny” and would only get hurt. My oldest daughter, away at college, is tired of people asking if she has enough money to buy groceries or is hiding an eating disorder because she is thin. Then there’s the conflicting information we give kids—learn the food pyramid! Grains are at the bottom of the pyramid, by far the largest portion, we tell them. Then, they become adults, and we tell them, carbs are bad! Don’t eat that sandwich!

To recap, fat is not “dumb;” narrow mindedness is bad. Health and attractiveness are not measured in pounds.

Sharon Zenz