MIKE MASTERSON: Millions can’t read

Published 6 December 2017

I realize there are statistics and there are "damn statistics." The ones I discovered about illiteracy in these United States left me beyond surprised.

If these numbers are correct, 14 percent of U.S. adults cannot read above even a basic level. That number has been static for at least five years. And the number of American adults who can't read period stands at 32 million.

That alone was enough to make my eyes cross. Really? A tenth of our population?

Then I read that 70 percent of prison inmates can't read (not quite as shocking) and 19 percent of those graduating from high school cannot read. Wait just a second. So how did all those people even graduate?

There was more: The levels of all U.S. adults showed 13 percent read proficiently, 44 percent are considered intermediate readers and 43 percent were at basic or below-basic levels. That amounts to just 57 percent of our population who can read on at least the intermediate level.

The demographics for below-basic reading skills fell this way: 41 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of blacks and 9 percent of whites. Thirteen percent of those classified as "others" also completed the survey.

Flippin' out in Flippin

Ronald Dustin "Dusty" Smith, the former police chief in Flippin, found himself on the tenant side of a jail cell the other day after being arrested on a charge of theft.

The chief is accused of using the city's credit card to make personal purchases while taking vacation time to work for a private company in Florida. The city's bookkeeper alleged Smith had "misused" $8,147.91 in city funds, also according to news accounts.

Seems Chief Smith could legally use the town's plastic for fuel and police purchases but not for personal expenses. So he was arrested and locked in the Marion County Jail at Yellville until he soon made $5,000 bond.

Flippin's city attorney said Smith had already been fired by a text message on Nov. 2, along with an administrative assistant that same day, the Baxter Bulletin of Mountain Home reported.

The news story said Smith had been demoted in May 2016 because of a wrongful-arrest civil lawsuit filed against Smith and the community in connection with a purported theft. The chief's demotion was reported to be part of the settlement agreement.

Between his working Florida vacation on the city's dollar and settling a wrongful-arrest case, the good folks of Flippin and Marion County were understandably flipping out over the flippin' thousands Dusty Smith's law enforcement services were costing them (sorry).

ABCs of journalism

ABC's veteran and much honored investigative reporter Brian Ross discovered just how critical it is when one does accusatory reporting to triple-check every fact before taking a damaging message to the airwaves.

In this instance last week, Ross' on-air bungle about President Trump is said to have triggered a sudden and temporary 350-point drop in the stock market amounting to many millions of invested dollars.

It only added fuel to viewer observations that ABC and the other networks are going all out in displaying their biases against the president in the drumbeat of daily reports.

Ross' mistake, for which he was suspended for a month without pay, was particularly inexcusable. The entire pretext for his story used only a single confidential informant who'd supposedly told Ross that, as a candidate for president, Trump had directed Michael Flynn to meet with Russians and discuss mutual interests.

In that light, Ross' report was clearly yet another mainstream effort aimed at making Trump appear guilty of colluding with the Russians during the campaign against Hillary Clinton.

The serious problem with reporting this information is that the story was, well, false.

It turns out Trump had asked Flynn to reach out to the Russians in seeking common ground after he'd been elected president. That action seems perfectly acceptable and normal for any new president, right?

After discovering the truth, ABC executives came clean after a few hours and issued a clarification. The next day it offered a correction and apology to America. The network afterwards was criticized for waiting so long to set the record straight. By then, the damage from Ross' report had been done, although the market did rebound Friday afternoon to close down by 40.

Everyone, certainly including me, makes mistakes. They are a bane of our fallible humanity. In this craft that relies on credibility, the key to preserving readers' or viewers' trust lies in the sincerity and speed behind correcting one's blunders. And certainly never to give the impression of bias or political vindictiveness, which runs rampant in the national mainstream today.

My biggest problem in this instance is how Ross' story was based on a falsehood from a confidential source. It's very difficult for me to believe a serious newsman with his lengthy experience would not have ratcheted the fundamental fact behind this story down tightly before broadcasting to the world.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 12/05/2017