Matt Lauer loses job after sexual harassment accusations

(image courtesy of David Shankbone CC BY 3.0)

TAMPA—“Today” show anchor Matt Lauer joined the constantly-growing list of celebrities ousted from their jobs Nov. 30 after being accused of workplace sexual misconduct.

After NBC fired Lauer, more accusers came forward, just as they did when Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct went public. The online publication Variety published a story about Lauer that reporters said took months to investigate. The article details accounts from multiple women, beyond the first complaint NBC says it received.

Fellow “Today” show anchor Savannah Guthrie and coworker Hoda Kotb reported Lauer’s firing on-air the morning that news first broke.

CNN noted that this is not the first time women have reported news of a colleague being fired after sexual misconduct allegations. People praised Guthrie’s composure and display of raw emotions.

Others criticized Guthrie and Kotb for not focusing on the women who came forward. Some even accused the cohosts of being aware of the alleged misconduct.

In the days following Lauer’s firing, more women have come forward, and videos have emerged showing Lauer acting inappropriate toward women on the “Today” show.

Lauer released a statement Thursday saying he feels “embarrassed and ashamed,” and is committed to “repairing the damage” he inflicted. He did say that some of the allegations and reporting of his misconduct is “untrue,” but offered no further clarification.

According to multiple news sources, Lauer and his wife, Annette Roque, have lived apart for years. In 2006, Roque filed for divorce, but ultimately did not follow through. The couple has three children together.

While people criticized Lauer for the behavior women accused him of, some defended him. Geraldo Rivera, a well-known reporter, tweeted about the scandal on Wednesday.

He also wrote that women should have to report harassment within a certain time period. Rivera apologized later that day after receiving backlash from people who claimed he victim-shamed Lauer’s accusers and victims of sexual harassment.

Some people think that Rivera’s mindset mirrors that of many people across the United States who do not believe sexual harassment is a serious problem.

Another controversy that arose from Lauer’s firing involved President Trump. Trump’s complicated history with sexually inappropriate remarks is no secret, but some believe he is guilty of more than inappropriate statements. An op-ed in the LA Times asked why Trump has not been held accountable for the sexual assault accusations against him.

Twitter users wondered the same.

Trump himself commented on the accusations about Lauer, but did not mention anything about his history of being accused of sexual misconduct. Instead, he continued to attack media, as he has done several times in the past.

Lauer has not made a statement about any of the individual accusations at this time, and his conduct is still under investigation by NBC. The company will reportedly not pay out the rest of his $20 million dollar per year paycheck.

 

Saint Petersburg votes re-election in mayoral race

 Voters elected incumbent Rick Kriseman to be mayor of St. Petersburg by a slim margin on Tuesday.

According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, Kriseman won 51.64 percent of the vote. His opponent, former mayor of St. Petersburg Rick Baker, received 48.36 percent of the vote. Fewer than 2,000 votes separated the two candidates, both of whom have served time as the city’s mayor.

Kriseman campaigned with a platform that supported clean energy and LGBT equality, while openly criticizing President Donald Trump. He also emphasized his commitment to reducing crime and improving infrastructure.

Baker’s campaign also focused on reducing crime and making St. Petersburg more environmentally friendly. His campaign website’s “blueprint” also showed his desire to improve public schools, bring more jobs to the area and revitalize the downtown district.

On paper, both candidates seem to agree on most topics—but they certainly did not act like it. Baker, who was the city’s mayor from 2001 to 2010, repeatedly criticized Kriseman’s administration, blaming it for St. Pete’s “sewage crisis” which was worsened by Hurricane Irma. Kriseman called out Baker for not openly opposing Trump.

While the office is nonpartisan, political parties still play a major role. Kriseman is a Democrat and Baker is a Republican.

A columnist at the Tampa Bay Times advocated for Baker to speak publicly about Trump. For John Romano, the writer of that article, knowing a candidate’s political ideology is crucial when deciding who to vote for, and knowing whether Baker supports one of the most polarizing people in America could have swayed voters.

Kriseman embraced his political affiliation. He received an endorsement from former President Barack Obama, and made national headlines last year with his viral tweet about President Trump.

While people criticized him for the tweet, he ultimately proved that being partisan in an increasingly politically divided nation can be advantageous.

Other Democrats won seats across the United States on Tuesday, leading one Washington Post journalist to label it the “Democratic wave.”

Local politicians congratulated Kriseman after his victory.

Kriseman won despite the fact that the Tampa Bay Times, the most popular local newspaper, endorsed Baker. The Times traditionally recommends Democrats, and some have questioned the newspaper’s motive for recommending Baker.

One local news publication questioned the newspaper’s integrity after discovering that a member of the editorial board wrote the foreword in Baker’s upcoming book.

After Kriseman won the election, he tweeted a thank you to those who supported him, and promised to uphold his campaign promises.

Kriseman is the 53rd mayor of St. Petersburg.

 

Little League children taught to succeed off field

Bianco Berry (left) and his daughter, London. Photo by Katie Ebner

The vice president of Progress Village Little League teaches children more about life than baseball in hopes of inspiring a misunderstood community.

Progress Village was created less than 60 years ago—before the height of the civil rights movement—to give black people an affordable community to call home. Only a railroad track separated it from the Klu Klux Klan, who terrorized members of the new community.

Progress Village changed a lot over the years, but it still fights a bad reputation from its drug problems and murders that seem to be the only reasons the community makes the news.

Little League Vice President Bianco Berry, however, sees Progress Village differently than outsiders. Though he did not grow up there, the tight-knit community enjoys a rich storytelling culture, which is how he learned about its history.

“Just to hear the old stories is really, it’s almost like, you growing up, you wasn’t always here, but you always feel like you was always involved in the community,” said Berry.

Berry started volunteering with the Little League when he moved to Tampa in 2006. His passion for giving back to the community and being a positive influence for his children and the children he coaches earned him a spot on the Little League board, and eventually the title as vice president.

During his stint as vice president he coached both of his children, and even coached his daughter’s softball team when it won the district championship two years ago. His daughter, London, 11, cherishes her relationship with her dad for more than what they have accomplished on the field together.

“Many people don’t have a dad that can just tell them that, ‘oh you’re amazing, you’re worth it in life,’ so I just feel like respected that like I have someone that is there for me that can tell me that,” said London.

She credits the Little League for playing a big role in teaching children like her valuable life lessons.

“I think that kids can develop great leadership because Progress Village, we hold a lot of like activities for the children to do, just to get involved more, and also it gives the kids like new opportunities to learn something new, and to experience things off of others,” said London.

His primary focus is not winning games. It’s helping children learn how to achieve great things beyond Little League Baseball.

“We’re trying to teach you the game, trying to teach you the fundamentals, trying to teach you this is how life is,” said Berry.

As one of the league’s leaders, Berry wants players to recognize the importance of working together.

“We try to give you the tools that’s not necessary to succeed in sport but to succeed in life as well,” said Berry. “This has to be like a team organization. You got to have teamwork when you go to your job, you got to have a team, got to be able to rely on others, you try to teach them it’s not always about ‘me me me.'”

He also emphasizes the importance of giving at-risk children a positive atmosphere to learn and grow, instead of falling into bad habits.

“[We] try to teach them to be respectful of everyone, and just try to provide a safe and fun environment for them to come out and do stuff, and not have to be always in the streets, always doing something negative,” said Berry. “Try to turn something negative, and try to make them keep, keep a positive attitude.”

Bianco and London spoke to WUSF as part of its “Telling Tampa Bay Stories” radio series. Photo by Katie Ebner

Berry teaches his own children these same values. On every family vacation, he and his wife take their children to different universities wherever they visit to show their kids what they can achieve if they continue to work hard and be positive influences on others. These trips gave his daughter a new perspective, and inspired her to make a difference in others’ lives.

” … Until like a few years ago I didn’t really realize that most people don’t exactly get like I have,” said London. “[I’m] able to do stuff in life, [and] not always [be] one of those people who’s always down. I can always stay positive.”

According to Berry, both of his children exemplify the values he tries to teach Little League players, and he could not be more proud of them. His daughter talks about how she stands up for kids who get bullied at school, and how she is involved with Sisters Network—an organization that raises awareness for African-American women impacted by breast cancer. One day, she wants to be a doctor or professional athlete.

“I mean, she’s a pleasure,” said Berry about his daughter. “Both my kids are, so I’m just happy trying to do the right thing by them, make sure they can be productive citizens in life.”

Trump threatens the media on Twitter

President Trump speaking at a rally. Courtesy of Pixabay.

President Donald Trump recently tweeted a threat to revoke broadcast network FCC licenses, which could be a cause for concern for media organizations.

It troubles news sources and defenders of the First Amendment that Trump is attacking a fundamental democratic right even though he does not have the power to revoke FCC licenses, and the FCC does not license individual networks, according to their website.

Trump repeatedly criticized the media while campaigning for president, and his attacks have only increased since taking office.

One of his most affecting comments came in February, when he declared the media an enemy.

How did it come to this?

The media has conducted itself as the fourth estate for centuries. Which means, ethically, it must act as an objective party that keeps checks and balances on the government by always reporting the truth, according to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

According to the Constitution, the president and Congress has to take an oath of office before representing the country. It states they must support and defend everything in the Constitution. Which includes freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Two promises.

Two separate entities, swearing to act on the public’s behalf.

So, who is following through?

A recent Reynolds Journalism Institute poll shows that about two-thirds of the public are either likely, or very likely to trust the mainstream media.

A CNN poll from August found that three-quarters of all Americans do not trust the majority of information that the White House releases.

Since Gallup began polling Americans, the highest rating of confidence  was in 1976 when 72 percent of Americans trusted the media. The public’s trust in the media has steadily declined since 2007, and it dropped heavily in 2015.

However, recent trends indicate that the public has begun to trust the media again, according to the Reynolds Journalism Institute poll.

The Pew Research Center says the highest rating of trust in government (from 1958 until 2017) was in 1964, when 77 percent of Americans reported that they could trust the federal government.

However, trust in government dipped under 20 percent during the Clinton and Obama administrations. Sudden peaks or valleys in these confidence ratings generally occur after a scandal or national event, such as Clinton’s impeachment and 9/11.

The public does not overwhelmingly trust the government or journalists, which should be a concern because the public is the most important audience for each of them.

What does Twitter think?

Both Trump and the media has critics and supporters when it comes to Twitter .

Regardless, the public is consistently going back and forth about whether the president, or the media, is justified.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an end in sight for the war between Trump and the media.

ESPN recently suspended one of its personalities, Jemele Hill, for tweeting about the NFL’s national anthem protest.

Trump targeted Hill. He tweeted about ESPN and the NFL dozens of times in response to the anthem protests and her tweets.

But, Hill has also previously criticized Trump.

The fighting continues, and the low jabs on both sides will probably not help matters.

Trump and the media have gone back and forth several times. Infographic by Katie Ebner.

No one knows how to handle NFL protests

TAMPA – NFL fans are torn between their political and sports allegiances after President Donald Trump called on teams to fire players who kneel during the national anthem.

Unsportsmanlike conduct?

Trump tweeted dozens of times about the NFL and its players over the past few weeks. His comments come after several players from multiple teams decided to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

One of his more controversial comments came when he spoke in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say: “Get that son of a b—- off the field right now,” said Trump.

Same story, new players

Anthem protests in the NFL are not new, however, the movement has grown since last year. It started with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled to protest police brutality. Now, Kaepernick no longer has a job in the NFL, and several other players have decided to take a knee or lock arms during the national anthem.

Travis Bell, an expert in sports media and professor at the University of South Florida, believes that the anthem protests have recently become a bigger deal because of Trump’s involvements.

“I definitely think that the flashpoint for this bringing it into the mainstream conversation is because of the president’s involvement in it,” said Bell.

What did he call us?

Several players took offense to Trump’s comments, and the following Sunday, players continued to protest. Some teams’ owners joined the players on the field to show solidarity.

Even Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who supported Trump during his presidential campaign, disagreed with Trump’s comments.

Any excuse to burn jerseys

When Lebron James left Cleveland, fans burned their James jerseys. When James left Miami, fans burned their James jerseys (again). When the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers, fans burned their Thomas jerseys.

This love for burning jerseys has seemed to spread to the NFL, as many fans have filmed themselves burning jerseys of players who have decided to protest during the anthem. Fans also burned season tickets, hats and other memorabilia. They even went on Twitter and started #BurnTheNFL, which encourages people to no longer support the NFL.

Just play football

People who disagree with the protests often say that sports and politics should remain separate, and that politics are ruining sports. Many others, however, would argue that there is not a clear divide between sports and politics.

“People always want to hold sports as some separate, fun, social entity, and we don’t want to politicize things, and when politics gets involved in the sports arena, it sort of clouds that popular notion that sports is sort of just this untainted space, and clearly it’s not,” said Bell.

Others choose to take a knee

While some fans have been burning their jerseys, others have been applauding the players for taking a stand on what they believe is an important issue. Supporters on Twitter started #TakeAKnee to show solidarity with the players who protest.

NFL short on options

As the NFL remains busy trying to keep its name out of headlines, it has failed to find a solution to either the player’s protests or people’s protest of the NFL. This may be because they do not have many options.

According to Alan Balfour, an expert in employment relations and union-management relations, it is not in the NFL’s best interests to force players to stop protesting, no matter what rights they have or do not have guaranteed in their contracts.

“I doubt that anyone will treat this as a contract issue,” said Balfour.  “It is perceived by everyone–players, owners and fans–as a moral issue. If the contract permits, owners could force players to stand or face discipline.”

Balfour does not believe that will happen.

“Invoking the contract would only polarize matters worse and expand the range of disagreement,” said Balfour.

He does, however, point out that NFL teams are within their rights by not signing Kaepernick, whether those reasons are related to his performance as a football player or not.

“I have always said, back when this was just about Colin Kaepernick that boycotting him as a potential employee was well within the individual rights of every owner and his employability would depend, not on his ability to help a team as a second-string quarterback, but on what he, or anyone, can contribute to attendance, merchandise sales and the TV contract,” said Balfour.” The obvious answer was his contribution is negative.  I can understand why no team or owner wants him–he will hurt the bottom line and, believe me, this is a business.”

Therefore, if any owner refused to sign a player because of his political views, he/she would be well within his/her rights.

Additionally, NFL viewership is down 11 percent from last year, according to Nielsen ratings. Bell points out, however, that this could be for a number of reasons, including the discovery of traumatic brain injuries occurring from playing football. Bell believes it is too early to tell how the protests have affected the NFL’s brand, but that it could negatively impact the NFL’s business in the future.

“I definitely think there’s some potential for fallout, but I don’t think it’s going to be you know, an immediate drop off the cliff,” said Bell.

Americans stand divided

While people have been vocal on social media, what’s trending on Twitter does not always reflect how most Americans feel. CNN and USA Today both conducted polls to find out how the public truly feels about the protests.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This quote is normally attributed to the philosopher Voltaire, but it was actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall. It seems that Americans seem to agree with this sentiment. While players may not have the constitutional right to take a knee, most Americans believe that they should not be fired for their beliefs.

Some veterans have echoed this idea as well, and they argue that the reason soldiers fight is to protect democracy. It is not unexpected that people living in a country that touts freedom of speech in its First Amendment disagree with Trump’s comments. Most people would not want to be fired for their political beliefs, though it is not against the law for employers to do so.

Even if the majority cannot agree on kneeling during the anthem, perhaps it is a small victory for Americans to agree on the principle in the Constitution. Or, perhaps this agreement is not a reason to celebrate. Balfour believes that Americans may not be equipped to handle these discussions.

“Thomas Jefferson’s fear of the tyranny of the majority is, I believe, well-founded,” said Balfour. “I don’t observe the current public being very good at thoughtful consideration of disagreement.”

Polls show US divided over Trump’s policies

TAMPA –Donald Trump. For some, this name sparks pride in the United States of America. For others, it sparks shame.

To examine why his name is so divisive, we can look at the dozens of polls taken each week about a variety of important political topics. These topics include health care, taxes, immigration, military and climate change. There is not only a divide between political parties in the U.S., but also between the American people and the president.

Polls can help people understand the nation’s consensus, and they are an important feedback tool for politicians. Additionally, they can help dispel preconceived notions of what different groups of people believe in. The following poll results demonstrate how people’s thoughts about what certain groups believe in may differ from what they truly think.

The only thing that seems certain is that there is a gap between President Trump’s policies and what Americans want.

Trump’s approval rating has consistently slipped since being sworn in, and he has the lowest approval rating of any president in his first year. However, his reactions to the recent hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida have improved his approval rating.

A president usually enjoys a honeymoon period for a few months after he is elected, which boosts his approval rating. This has not been the case for President Trump. This could mean that his approval ratings will only continue to drop.

Even when the American people do agree on a topic, the president is the one who disagrees.

Trump recently moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is a program that allows undocumented immigrants under a certain age to stay in America for an extended period of time. This decision, if Congress does not pass a bill to replace DACA, could lead to the deportation of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in America. Most Americans, across political parties, believe that DACA recipients should be allowed to stay.

Graphic created by Katie Ebner

This may seem surprising, considering Trump’s winning platform that boasted he would be tough on illegal immigration. While people do want stricter border control, only 37 percent of Republicans believe that undocumented immigrants should be deported.

Earlier this year, Trump reinstated the ban on transgender people serving in the military. While Trump received support for this ban from military officials, polls suggest that the public disagree with him. An overwhelming 68 percent believe that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military.

Over the summer, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord. He believes that doing so will help the American people and save jobs. Climate change is another topic of discussion that divides Americans. Twenty-nine percent of Americans supported withdrawing from the agreement, while 46 percent opposed withdrawing.

While Americans have historically disagreed on these hot-button topics, it is odd that even Republicans disagree with some of Trump’s policies. Of course, his approval rating among Republicans right now is 85 percent, demonstrating that although some members of his party disagree with Trump on certain issues, they still believe he is doing a good job overall.

It can be discouraging for Americans, who may already feel alienated, to see that there is so much division among political parties. Even before political parties, people disagreed, but this election left people feeling more divided than ever. Perhaps this is what George Washington warned us about.

 

USF students rally in support of DACA

TAMPA – Dozens of students showed up at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Thursday in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, commonly known as DACA.

Jose Flores (left), Stephanie Garza (center) and Michelle Joseph (right) hold signs made for the DACA rally at USF while attendees talk in the background.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order that prevented deportation of children under the age of 16 who immigrated to the United States illegally. While DACA is not a permanent solution for those who are eligible to apply, it gives them more time to work or receive an education in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, an estimated 790,000 unauthorized immigrants have been protected under DACA.

Last week, President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that the administration will end the program in six months. As of now, no new DACA applications will be considered.

Trump’s presidential campaign focused on decreasing the number of immigrants to the United States, along with deporting those who are not here legally. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Trump began to follow through on his promise to be tough on undocumented immigrants.

Since the DACA announcement, congressional Democrats have been scrambling to make a deal in order to protect DACA immigrants from deportation.

Sign made for the DACA rally at USF.

Many DACA recipients are now in college, and they fear that they may be deported before being able to finish their education. Stephanie Garza, one of the organizers for the on campus DACA rally, explains why Session’s announcement is personal for some USF students.

“We know that here at USF, the estimate is between 70-100 DACA students are part of the USF community,” said Garza.

Several organizations helped plan and support the event, including College Democrats, Mi Familia Vota, For Our Future and UndocUnited. Students like Jose Flores who participated in the event wanted to show the Trump administration that college campuses support DACA students.

For Our Future was one of the many organizations that supported the DACA rally at USF.

“We wanted to show that the community will organize and protect their own, and you know, just basically show that USF opposes the decision,” said Flores. “We hope that if other people follow in our footsteps, or, you know, we all come together, if other universities have their rallies too, together we’ll, you know, amplify our voices and we’ll be heard.”

The issue of immigration hits close to home with many people who attended the event.

“Personally, I know a lot of people who are immigrants, documented, undocumented, and you know, I see how their lives could change if something was passed, and how their lives are different than other people’s because sometimes they don’t have the same opportunities as those people,” said Michelle Joseph, who is with the organization Mi Familia Vota. “So, we’re here to support the passing of the DREAM Act, and that would mean that people would get to live normal lives kind of thing, not worry about whether they’re going to be kicked out of the country kind of thing.”

Different people spoke during the event, some of whom will be directly affected by the elimination of DACA.

“My favorite part was that some people felt empowered enough to go up and speak, even though they were not listed to speak, you know, they were motivated enough to come out and say a few words,” said Flores. “Each person that comes up and speaks up only adds to the slew of voices that are coming up, that are speaking out against this kind of you know, behavior, actions from the administration.”

Students were not afraid to show their disdain for President Trump with their rally signs.

DACA recipients will be in limbo until Congress decides if it is going to instate a new program to help young unauthorized immigrants. Some are trying to renew their DACA before the Oct 5. deadline set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Applying for a renewal, however, does not ensure that they will be able to stay in the United States for the remainder of their DACA eligibility if Congress fails to create a new program.

For many, this is frustrating and alarming.

“If you’re not upset, if you’re not enraged, then you’re not paying attention,” said Flores.