Mike Fitts helped us make up our minds

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
A few days back, I shared unwelcome news with colleagues here at The State. You, our readers, ought to know as well.
    It is with the deepest regret that I hereby announce that Associate Editor Mike Fitts has left theChamber_066_0005
newspaper. His last day on the job was Friday, July 18. This page was likely the last of ours that he saw through the composing room.
    Mike, a graduate of the University of Missouri — the gold standard among J-schools — joined the paper in February 1990 after a brief stint at the Anderson Independent Mail.
    I first had the honor of working with him early the next year, when I was asked to drop what I was doing (a year-long project on fundamental problems in South Carolina government called “Power Failure”) to help out on the national desk during the Gulf War. I was immediately impressed with his quick comprehension of the importance and context of national and international events. Not many journalists his age (or mine) took the kind of interest he did in military affairs. He wasChamber_066_0004 no more a veteran than I was, but you didn’t have to tell him the difference between a rifle and a gun. He was fully ready to explain this war to our readers.
    I soon learned that Mike knew something about everything, from current events to national and world
history to the most esoteric bits of popular culture. You didn’t want to play Trivial Pursuit with this guy — at least, not for money. Throw a line from an old movie at him, and he’d answer with embellishment. Make a literary allusion or refer to something that happened in politics before he was born, and he’d tell you something about it you didn’t know.
    (After I helped him with something on his last day, he replied by instant message: “Which it’s a kindness, Captain.” He was channeling a character from Patrick O’Brian’s novels about the British Navy in the Napoleonic Wars. I first heard of these wonderful books from Mike, and they are a shared passion.Chamber_066_0003 I will miss such exchanges.)
    Most of all, he not only knew things, he knew which ones were important — and why.
    Mike’s abilities in this regard were recognized when he became the newspaper’s national editor, and have been invaluable to the editorial board since he moved to the third floor in 2000.

    Mike has been our expert on national and international issues from Day One. Closer to home, he has taken on the challenging subjects of the environment, energy policy, economic development and higher education. In recent years, as our staff shrank, Mike put his desk experience to work designing our pages.
    But his greatest contribution has not been obvious to the reading public, or indeed to anyone outside of the editorial board. That is his ability to help the group frame difficult decisions, breaking them down into their component parts and setting them out in a logical sequence that does much to lead us to our eventual conclusions. I’ve made passing reference to this in past columns. Of our discussion of whom toChamber_066_0002 endorse in the GOP presidential primary this year, I mentioned that “As our lead editor on national affairs, Mike framed the discussion, speaking at length about each of the Republicans. As others joined in, it quickly became apparent that each of us had reached very similar conclusions….
    Later that month, I would write that “As he did before the Republican primary, Associate Editor Mike Fitts framed the discussion of our Democratic endorsement, and did a sufficiently thorough job that the rest of us merely elaborated on his observations….
    It would be an exaggeration to say we endorsed Sens. McCain and Barack Obama because of Mike — we all had our reasons — but he certainly helped us reach consensus more quick
ly and smoothly. Arriving at an answer quickly — if you remain convinced later it’s the right one — is a particular virtue in our profession.
    It’s called “leadership.” Mike has it, and it’s of that rare sort that works unobtrusively, in a collegial setting. This editorial board has benefited greatly, which is why his name’s been on our masthead the last few years.Chamber_066_0001
    Mike is leaving us to work at a new, business-to-business publication that will soon begin here in the Midlands. As far as we are concerned here in editorial, the only good news in his plans is that he will still be around, and we might get to see him and his family from time to time.
    When I asked whether he wanted to write a farewell column, Mike said he’d let his last one stand for
that purpose. In that vein I invite you go to our Web site and read it. It appeared in the last weeks of the nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, under the headline, “The necessary ingredient for success: hope.”
    I’ll close with an excerpt:

    In 2008, America needs a strong dose of hope from its politics, which have been a source of gloom for years. Cynicism, partisanship and big-bucks lobbying have led to a government that does too little, as big issues go unaddressed. That’s no fun to cover as a journalist, and brings no satisfaction to suffer through as a citizen, either. In this election year, I hope for better.

For the link to Mike’s last column and more, visit my blog at thestate.com/bradsblog/.

21 thoughts on “Mike Fitts helped us make up our minds

  1. Bob Coble

    I agree with you column on Mike. His editorials on Innovista in 2004 were critical in building support for the research campus.

    Reply
  2. John

    From everything I’ve been hearing and reading the last few weeks, pretty soon it’ll be only you left at The State, Brad. I wonder when your publisher will get the message. Maybe it’s not everyone else. Maybe YOU are the problem. Next to our state government, your newspaper is the worst run business around.

    Reply
  3. Bud Ferillo

    Mike is a first rate journalist and his loss is another blow to our hometown paper already beleagured by staff reductions, early retirements and diminished expectations for staffing turnarounds.
    Mike, I wish you well wherever you land. Thank you for a job consistently well done over the years.
    Bud/

    Reply
  4. John

    Uhhh, Mayor Bob-
    I mean this as no slight to Mr. Fitts, but that whole Innovista thing, well it’s not going to well. About as good as your empty Convention Center. Thanks for all the “progress,” Mr. Mayor.

    Reply
  5. David

    “beleagured by staff reductions…”
    This makes it sound as if what is happening to print media in general and The State newspaper in particular is the result of abnormal weather, UFO’s or sunspots. The people in Missouri recently were “beleagured” by floods and rain. The people in New Orleans were “beleagured” by the effects of a hurricane.
    The State newspaper isn’t “beleagured” by anything…it is suffering from self-inflicted wounds caused mainly by being completely out of touch with its’ customers.
    If Mike Fitts is as smart as everyone says he is, he’ll seek employment either in another field (one with a future would be my guess) or at least employment in a sector of journalism that isn’t perishing.
    David

    Reply
  6. Karen McLeod

    If you cater totally to your customers, you become no more than a social venue (like a small bar). The call to newpapers is to dare to challenge the local mileau. I can only hope that The State will continue to publish what is, rather than what any of us think ‘should be’. (I am personally aware that things from time to time lean toward sensationalism).

    Reply
  7. Lee Muller

    The State doesn’t see its subscribers and readers as its customers.
    It sees its advertisers and the big-spending, think-alike clique in government as its customers.

    Reply
  8. David

    While true, the things I said above don’t tell the whole story concerning the slow motion car wreck that newspapers have become in the last decade.
    Apart from and in addition to being grossly out of touch with customers, newspapers are also chained to a medium that is quickly going the way of the dinosaur, the vinyl record and the buggy whip. They print one paper edition a day which is “old news” as soon as it hits the streets…in an era when most people can get up-to-the-second world, national and local news right at their desktop at home or at work, or even on their phone or other hand-held. Talk about a dying business model. Sheesh.
    And THEN, on top of that, they are for the most part horribly biased (New York Times anyone?), agendized and ~ again ~ out of touch.
    Mike Fitts might want to try car sales. Even as bad as that industry has gotten recently, its’ future appears brighter to me than that of print journalism. David

    Reply
  9. Doug Ross

    Mike Fitts writes:
    “Cynicism, partisanship and big-bucks lobbying have led to a government that does too little, as big issues go unaddressed”
    I believe it is actually the other way around. It’s a do-nothing government that leads to the cynicism and big-bucks lobbying. Take the money out of government and you’ll restore it to its proper role.

    Reply
  10. Lee Muller

    Take the power out of unlimited government and the politicians won’t have any carrots or sticks with which to shake down businesses and special welfare interest groups for bribes.
    Term limites would also destroy the seniority system on the committees.

    Reply
  11. David

    Money (in politics) is equivalent to speech, according (as I understand it) to the Supreme Court.
    Now, I don’t agree with much that the Supreme Court says and does lately, but I think they are essentially correct about money in politics. The ability to support my favorite candidate or lobbying groups with donations of my money is an outstanding way to make my voice heard.
    I don’t think we need to get money out of politics. I think the flows of money in politics should be unlimited and that there should be perfect and instant transparency about who is giving, how much they are giving, and to whom. In other words, this data should immediately be made a matter of public record.
    The way it stands right now, people like John McCain and Russ Feingold are deciding essentially who can say what in politics and when they can say it.
    And that ain’t right. It is NOT simply coincidence that these two doddering old farts happen to be INCUMBENTS. How “convenient” that the draconian campaign finance laws they’ve crafted just happen to cut severely in favor of incumbent politicians.
    Free speech is a great thing. It is one of the foundational freedoms that have made this country the greatest in the world. Attempts to curtail it and eliminate it invariably strengthen government and make it more threatening while stripping citizens of power.
    Dave

    Reply
  12. Doug Ross

    Dave,
    I was speaking about the size of government when talking about money in politics. If you shrink the role of government down to what it was constitutionally designed to do, there wouldn’t be as much lobbyists spending vast sums of money to influence government to redistribute tax revenues in their direction. Obviously, the lobbysits believe there is significant return on “investment” in throwing money at politicians. If we take away the ability of politicians to tweak the tax code, the ROI drops to zero.

    Reply
  13. Lee Muller

    Just look at how Bill and Hillary, who couldn’t afford a house or decent car in 1992, are now worth $28,000,000 within a year of leaving office. Some of those pardons didn’t come cheap. And Hillary’s sitting on the committee which controls media mergers didn’t hurt her getting $8,000,000 from Viacom for a ghost written book that would never recoup that amount.

    Reply
  14. Doug Ross

    Simple solutions:
    Term limits
    Flat tax
    Privatize social security
    Kill of Dept of Ed, Dept of HUD, IRS to start..
    Take away the money, take away the corruption

    Reply
  15. David

    Lee, I get the sense from what you wrote that you support “getting money out of politics.”
    Unfortunately for your arguement, the Clintons are NOT a typical case. They are criminals. They obeyed NO rules when it came either to money or to the accumulation of money through the prostitution of their offices and sacred trusts. So I don’t think we can very well write laws concerning money and politics based on anything the Clintons ever did.
    They were evil. We got screwed. Period. We don’t need to make things worse now by using them as justification to further limit freedoms enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.
    -Of course the pardons were sold: Since we can’t very well limit presidential pardon authority without molesting the constitution, we sort of have to rely on the people we elect as president to be honorable. Clinton wasn’t. No new laws needed. Better class of people needed.
    -Of course Hillary had a conflict of interest with Viacom mergers and other issues her committee oversaw. And of course she profited. Again, laws already exist to prevent this sort of nastiness. And laws didn’t apply to the Clintons. Again, we don’t need better laws, we need to elect better people.
    I say again, total freedom, and total transparency (which was NEVER applied to anything the Clintons ever did) are what we need. Not further limits on law abiding citizens.
    My 2 cents. Dave

    Reply
  16. David

    By the way, the dirty little secret is that it is absolutley impossible to “get the money out of politics.”
    John F’ing McCain has admitted as much…and every incumbent senator and congressman in Washington right now has figured out ways to skirt, avoid and disregard the provisions of McCain Feingold. Just as they did the last round of laws designed to get the money “out of politics,” and just as they will the next round of such laws. As soon as it suited his purposes, Barak Hussein Obama dropped his promise to accept federal matching funds and thereby subject himself to campaign finance laws like a used condom.
    Hope we can believe in, indeed.
    I am telling you as soberly and seriously as I know how:
    The ONLY PEOPLE HURT by campaign finance laws are average citizens. Their freedoms are truncated, and their trust is betrayed.
    The ONLY thing which will work is to allow unlimited political giving and to make it absolutely and immediately transparent.
    David

    Reply
  17. David

    For Lees’ sake:
    Had it been enforced, such transparency as I describe above might have curtailed the shenanigans of Bill and Hillary in the 1990’s.
    If only.
    Dave

    Reply
  18. Lee Muller

    David, I am right with you and Doug.
    There is no way to have honest government when government is big. There is too much regulation, and too many taxes and loopholes, to be bought and sold. There are too many meetings and hearings for the elected officials to attend, much less the working taxpayers.
    That’s where we are now – government too large to be honest or serve the people. It is just a money-transfer scam, manned by drones who are content to have a 35-hour-a-week job and don’t care what goes on to get them that paycheck.

    Reply
  19. Doug Ross

    Lindsey Graham has a campaign war chest exceeding $3 million when he will be basically unopposed in the fall.
    He should take that money and donate it to charity.

    Reply

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