Cobb-ed—Has the Isthmus Pushed the Envelope with Journalism Integrity?

by Bob Cobb

Growing up with a stepfather who worked in radio tuned me out from ever considering journalism as a career. He hustled every person he met and gave broadcast a bad name. Integrity is everything in journalism, which is the source for analysis discussion.

Journalism seemed like a low paying do nothing gig based off his example. I never dreamed of writing for any news outlet let alone learn how to write op-eds through the University of Wisconsin. That was until I realized that journalism and recreational blogging were cathartic. I stumbled into journalism to develop my editorial essay voice after taking ethics and realizing I needed to polish up a bit. Integrity has always been the central focus with all professors who mutually agree journalism prides itself on objectivity. The Isthmus has been my favorite feature outlet up to the point where I realized Alan Talaga was not doing his job by fact-checking and doing a thorough background check before writing a cover story.

Rule of Thumb: Bloggers take gifts and write under pen names. Journalists pride themselves on their two-party fact checking system met by “the toothpick rule,” which simply suggests a journalist never accept any gratuity unless it fit on a toothpick.

Alan Talaga talks comedy along with sophistry in his article “The New NORML (2019)” who features a comic in a serious light. Elders of the Madison Capitol Cannabis community have become outraged Talaga’s rhetoric would reach so low risking the integrity of the Isthmus by calling out “grey-haired” and “pony-tailed hippies” who have fought for the cause including doing time for his featured subject. Talaga instead features a serial blaster who assisted Madison Police with the take down of the Lion of Judah Rastafari Church who was on the scene at the time of arrests.

Talaga features a Madison-area serial sophist who has been called out several times on Facebook for sharing misinformation publicly by local Cannabis activists. A simple spot-check through friend request would allow for a critical analysis to decide on whether or not to subject the name of the Isthmus into controversy. Comedians above all are the best at this. None-the-less, Talaga’s editor-in-chief ran the story anyway. Journalists never cut corners who are expected to speak the truth from an objective view—the basic expectation Talaga failed to do. Take a moment to read through Talaga’s Is Ought Fallacy-laden masterpiece below:

Talaga writes, “After high school, Robinson did a stint in the Navy, which he says was a bad fit because he hates taking orders. After leaving the Navy, he trained to become a loan officer.”

Had he done a background check and investigated his source he would have learned the nature of why he left the Navy, which he did not disclose. Background checks reveal discharges and violations that are required by newspaper editors to insure prior to publishing. If at any point there may be any questionable attributes, the editor would typically pull the article or write a column or feature instead. In this case, Talaga’s story was the cover feature, therefore representing all who work at the Isthmus. Why would any medium risk their reputation in a situation such as this?

The Argument

The difference between a blogger and a journalist boils down to merit and credibility. My first conclusion clearly identifies Talaga as a blogger posing as a journalist who seeks to persuade the reader on the Isthmus dime. I find the article Talaga wrote ironic due to the lack of respect to journalism integrity who’s focus feature glorifies a clown who forgets to pay the parking meter when advocating at the Capitol. Talaga takes on a feature story without fact-checking his source, which is no laughing matter when citizen journalism is on the rise putting careers in jeopardy.

So what’s the difference between Talaga and a citizen journalist? Journalists are suppose to protect the reader’s best interest rather than seeking to persuade them when reporting the news, which is the section of the Isthmus “The New NORML (2019)” article is featured under.

Alan Robinson speaks vehemently about systematic racism, yet carries on with an interviewer who drops a racial slur. Talaga’s narrative writes, “He’s an immaculately dressed black man under 40.” This schnazzy rhetoric not only targets race, it targets age as well. Not quite sure how Talaga keeps his job in the journalism industry speaking about a socially unacceptable method of profiling Robinson’s demographic.

Talaga’s colorful rhetoric gleems of gas-lighting gratuity in retrospect to respected elders of Robinson who possess “a notable contrast to the gray-haired, white hippies with ponytails who are typically associated with marjuana activism.” Talaga can’t even spell “marijuana” properly, which wins the argument the editor was off that day instead of taking a minute to scan for integrity. What a distasteful boorish statement to describe those who labor constantly with Robinson’s disrespect as described in his statement:

“I had not realized that Jud had a drug problem,” says Robinson.

Integrity would have sought to paraphrase, not name someone with addictive tendencies. Is Robinson a board doctor capable of making that call? We wrote a letter-to-the-editor this summer asking for a retraction. The editor brushed it off. Allowing a staff writer to go off the rails ultimately falls on the integrity of the editor.

Has Alan Talaga of the Madison, Wis. local news paper “The Isthmus” gone too far with his editorial “The New NORML (2019)” that glorifies someone who’s background and moral code could not pass for a coat check at a local fine dining establishment? We will be continuing to dissect this Exhibit A to investigate further in our next piece whether or not the Isthmus should be considered a tabloid. I have read articles out of the Onion that were never this loose meat soup sandwiched. Please comment below if you would like to include any comments pertaining to this matter.

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