Category Archives: Media

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…


I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.

Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.

Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:

Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.

And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:

“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”

There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.

But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:


… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…

Glad to see The State endorsing in city council runoff

I was really glad this morning to see The State endorsing in the District 2 race. That causes me to expect an endorsement Sunday in the at-large runoff.

These are the first endorsements I’ve seen since the editorial department was reduced to one, which I was worried would mean no more endorsements. While the editorial board has always consisted of more than the editorial department (the publisher in my day, the publisher and the executive editor and I think at least one other today), the actual legwork necessary to an endorsement was always done by those of us in the department.

So I was glad to see such a thoughtful, in-depth analysis of the District 2 race, ending in an endorsement of Aaron Bishop. Personally, I had no idea which of those guys I would have endorsed. I haven’t done the legwork. So I got a lot of food for thought out of what The State said — which, after all, is the purpose of an endorsement. As I’ve said so many times over the years, an endorsement is less about the who than about the why.

I look forward to the Sunday piece. I have a pretty good idea which way they’ll go, but I’m not at all convinced I would go that way — so I look forward to the seeing the arguments advanced.

Did Lindsey Graham steal the JV show last night?

That seems to be the consensus of what I’ve read about the undercard debate.

I wouldn’t know, of course, because CNBC wanted to charge me to watch, and the World Series was free, so guess what I watched? (This blog would have to pay a lot more than it does for me to buy cable just for blogging purposes.)

As for the big-table debate, from what I’ve gathered from various sources, the main points were:

  • Big night for Rubio and Cruz.
  • Bad night for Jeb Bush.
  • The candidates and other GOP types went on a Spiro Agnew media-bashing spree.
  • Trump and Carson were relatively quiet, except for Trump bashing Kasich.

Here’s a transcript if you want it. I don’t have time to read it right now.

Among those of you who saw it: Thoughts?

This is why readers see media as negative

I couldn’t help reacting this way this morning:

Yeah, I know: The first American soldier killed in Iraq in four years is definitely news. But, of course, the reason no Americans have been killed is that we haven’t had Americans engaged in combat on the ground for four years. I can see how, if we had been conducting successful commando raids in Iraq every week, and this was the first time we’d lost a man, then yeah, that casualty would be the one fact you would choose for your headline if you could only fit in one.

To me, looking at the big picture here, it seems that the main news is that we sent men into ground combat in Iraq for the first time in four years. See it as good news or bad news, that’s the news. That, and the fact that the action was successful. The loss of a man is important, and terrible, but it is a result of the first thing, which is the big news…

And hey, you couldn’t work in that the raid succeeded in saving 70 people who were about to be killed and dumped into mass graves? No, they weren’t exactly the peshmerga fighters we went in to save, but apparently we still saved 70 people from the bad guys.

I honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler. He was a great soldier, as I know from the fact that he was with Delta Force. We — and those people he helped save — owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. I am in awe of what he did, and his sacrifice.

But I would not have mentioned his death as the only thing worth noting about that raid.

Let’s take ourselves out of our immediate, narrow, 2015 frame of reference and consider another example, from another time…

Lt. Den Brotheridge was the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day. He is known for that, and honored for it. He was charging a German position across the bridge now known as Pegasus Bridge just minutes after midnight, leading his glider-borne platoon that had just crash-landed a few yards away.

But what we remember is that his British unit, part of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, took that bridge, which was critically important to protecting the landings that would begin on the nearby beaches a few hours later.

We remember Lt. Brotheridge for the way he died. He is not forgotten. But we remember the deed, the feat of arms, and why it mattered, more. Stephen Ambrose’s book about that remarkable coup de main operation is named “Pegasus Bridge,” not “The Death of Den Brotheridge.”

But we don’t look at things that way any more, do we?

The disaffected vs. the professionals

I was amused by the way The Slatest described a contretemps between their guy Josh Voorhees and angry Bernie Sanders supporters:

On Tuesday night, Josh Voorhees wrote that Hillary Clinton won the first Democratic presidential debate. A number of Bernie Sanders supporters subsequently wrote to Josh to inform him that he was a stupid man with a stupid face and that Bernie, as confirmed by a number of online polls, was the obvious winner. Last night, the Voorhees struck back, informing those Sanders supporters that it was in fact their faces that were the stupid ones, that online polls are a bad way of deciding who did the best in a debate, and that by the way, HILLARY WON* (*from his subjective perspective).

After that, Voorhees’ actual piece was a disappointment as entertainment — low-key, professional. He didn’t call anybody’s face stupid. Although he well might have, given the emotional nonsense that he was up against:

Several were nuanced and well reasoned; others … less so. “Hey dumbass,” began the first, “You should be ashamed of yourself you hack!!!” The next was only slightly more measured with its criticism: “How much money were you paid … you either got big bucks to do this article or you have an intellectual issue,” it read. “Are you blind or just bought? Grow a pair and admit the truth,” read another. One industrious reader, meanwhile, sent eight different emails, most of which included graphic photos and all of which came with the prose that matched the tenor of the distinctly un-PC subject line they shared. I could go on, but you get the point.

Folks, if you’re a dispassionate observer (a creature the people who wrote to Voorhees probably find it difficult to imagine) who understands politics in general and the current situation in particular, Hillary Clinton won that debate, on so many levels. And no, you don’t have to be in the bag for Hillary to see that. I’m certainly not. I’m very concerned that her performance will keep Joe Biden out of the race, and I really wanted to see him run.

Charles Krauthammer is no shill for Hillary, and he went farther than anyone else I’ve seen, saying she essentially sewed up the nomination Tuesday night. His column saying so was headlined, “Game over.”

That’s the sort of conclusion one reaches when one is an informed, professional observer who does not have a dog in the Democratic fight.

But if one is an emotional participant who adores Bernie Sanders (who clearly came in second, but largely because the other three candidates were so awful) and doesn’t really fully understand the way polls and other such things of the political world work, you think you have absolute proof that the professionals are lying or crazy or corrupt:

You want to blame the media professionals for something unprofessional, even self-interested? Then blast them for posting those instant surveys on their websites without making it absolutely clear that such reader-participation games are most assuredly NOT polls, and should not be seen by anyone at any time as indicative of opinions of the general population.

News outlets provide those things because they are marvelous clickbait. To put it more politely, they drive reader engagement. They make people feel like they are participating in the story, and they don’t cost anybody anything. But they do not provide useful information. As Voorhees puts it, “they’re mostly for entertainment (for the reader) and traffic (for the outlet).” A low-key version of bread and circuses, you might say.

All of this said, the argument can be made quite strongly that we are at a point in time when professionalism — whether on the part of journalists, pollsters or for that matter political consultants — doesn’t count for much, because there are so many of the disaffected, emotional people who don’t understand what they’re looking at that they constitute a sufficient plurality to swing elections.

We saw it with the Tea Party uprising in 2010, we’ve seen it in the dysfunction of Congress exacerbated by that election. We saw South Carolina go for Newt Gingrich in 2012. We’re seeing Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders.

Now, some of you will get indignant and say Bernie Sanders, for one, is tapping into genuine yearning for a society more like Denmark, and that his supporters know just what they are enthusiastic about.

I’m sure that’s quite true. (His dedicated followers are probably more like those of Ron Paul than of Donald Trump.) But I’m reacting to the subset that unloaded on Josh Voorhees, who are exemplars of the kind of proud, indignant ignorance that marks too much of political interaction these days.

And yes, my liberal friends — we see much more of this in the dysfunction of the Republican Party. Sanders’ supporters love his policies; Trump’s love his anger and contempt. In a column I’m grateful to Norm Ivey for bringing to my attention this week, David Brooks brilliantly described the sickness that pervades what was once the conservative party, but which is now overrun by clueless agents of destruction.

But foolishness is no respecter of political parties, and this surge of emotionalism against the professional consensus regarding Tuesday’s debate is but one small example of the tantrums one can find among the disaffected of the left.

But we’ll all keep reading ‘Playboy’ for the ‘interesting articles,’ right, guys?

And we’ll mean it — if we bother. Which I doubt. Seriously, those of you who are no longer adolescent boys — when was the last edition you bothered to pick up?

The shocking news:

Last month, Cory Jones, a top editor at Playboy, went to see its founder, Hugh Hefner, at the Playboy Mansion.

In a wood-paneled dining room, with Picasso and de Kooning prints on the walls, Jones nervously presented a radical suggestion: THE magazine, a pioneer of the revolution that helped take sex in America from furtive to ubiquitous, should stop publishing images of naked women.

Hefner, 89, but still listed as editor-in-chief, agreed. As part of a redesign that will be unveiled in March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance….

In other developments:

  • Apple will no longer produce cool gadgets for the consumer market.
  • Coca-Cola will drop its line of sugary soda.
  • Carter will no longer produce its little liver pills.

OK, that last one might have actually happened. At least they don’t call them that any more. But you get the idea.

Frankly, I’d call this a desperate plea for attention. I mean, seriously — if nudity has become passé, why remove it? Why not have your models nude sometimes and not nude other times, as the photographer chooses? Since it’s so last century and all to care about it.

Also, you know, there’s nothing particularly new about this. In the past, the centerfold models were often partly clad. Partly because that was sexy, and partly to distinguish “Playboy” from “Penthouse” and “Hustler.”

I’m thinking the plan is to get people to run out and buy the first edition under the new policy just to see what the clothed centerfold looks like, then everybody will say “uh-huh,” and go back to not buying the magazine, ever.

Because, as everyone knows (hence the joke), the articles around the nekkid women weren’t really that “in-ter-esting.”

The last “Playboy” I bought for the “interesting articles,” and I suppose the last one I bought, period, was the November 1976 edition — the one with the Jimmy Carter “lust in my heart” interview.

And you know, I haven’t missed it. I don’t think I will in the future, either.

After this, a headline writer would have nothing left to strive for


Bryan Caskey brought the above headline to my attention last night. I don’t know where he found it.

It prompts three thoughts:

  • The journalistic pedant in me protests that this is not a headline. It’s a lede and a good bit of the next graf. But hey, kudos to whoever had the sand to decide to hell with the rules; we’re gonna get all of this into the headline! But then, what choice did the editor have? What were they going to do, leave out the part about the guy she waved at being dressed as a Snickers bar?
  • As I Tweeted to Bryan in reply, “After that, the headline writer died happy….” I mean, seriously, what does he have to look forward to after that? He’s never going to top it.
  • If the copy editor did decide to cling to life — as we humans are wont to do — he should retire from his job at the tabloid, turn this headline into a country song and head to Nashville. Fame awaits.

Fascinating piece on Dylann Roof’s last ‘home’ before shootings

roof story

I initially saw this in The State this morning, although I’m linking you to the original piece in The Washington Post.

It’s a fascinating portrait of the Red Bank household in which Dylann Roof lived the last couple of months before the Emanuel AME murders.

An excerpt:

Now, a month after the June 17 shooting, the blinds are drawn at noon and the family that hosted Roof is inside, where the boom of gunfire and explosions is so loud the trailer vibrates.

“Ha ha. I just killed all them mothers,” says Justin Meek, 18, playing a video game in which blood and body parts fly across a 42-inch TV screen….

On a lopsided couch is Lindsey Fry, 19, flicking her tongue ring, eyes locked on a cracked cellphone for news about the shooting, which has lately included her boyfriend Joey, 21, the third Meek brother who lives in the trailer, which is in a town called Red Bank that the Meeks call Dead Bank….

They are the people with whom Roof was associating in the weeks before the shooting, and this is the place he drifted into with little resistance, an American void where little is sacred and little is profane and the dominant reaction to life is what Joey does now, looking at Lindsey. He shrugs.

For several weeks, Dylann Roof slept on the floor here. He played video games. According to the Meeks, he showed off his new Glock .45-caliber handgun, drank heavily and retreated to his car to listen to opera. And sometimes he confided in his childhood friend Joey, who wasn’t the type to ask questions….

Of course, as a journalist, I want to know how reporter Stephanie McCrummen and photographer Michael Williamson gained and maintained this sort of relationship with the subjects. What did they tell Kim Konzny, her three sons and the others in the trailer to explain why they were there and what they wanted? How, for instance, were they able to report from inside Ms. Konzny’s room where she goes and closes the door to shut out the chaos in her trailer? Seems like that would have been the very toughest line of all to cross.

What sort of relationship do you form with people to get this kind of access when your eventual product will be something headlined “An American Void?” Did the subjects ask on the front end for any assurances as to how they’d be portrayed, or did they just shrug? And if they did ask, how frank were the journalists about the impressions they were forming?

There’s something almost Faulknerian about this story, only without the long sentences. And Faulkner didn’t actually have to get to know the Snopeses. Nor, I’m guessing, did Erskine Caldwell have to hang out with Ty Ty Walden et al. to write God’s Little Acre. Real people are tougher to deal with…

Does high-resolution digital photography call for a new journalistic ethic?

Hillary detail

This is a tough topic for a couple of reasons. First, it ventures into the sensitive area that Donald Trump stomped all over with his gross comments about Carly Fiorina — the area in which women are unfairly judged by their appearance.

Second, I can’t really show you what I’m talking about on a standard-resolution PC. You sort of need the Retina display of a late-model iPad. Since I can’t see what I’m talking about at my end on this machine, I doubt that you can, either. (You can sort of, but not quite, see what I mean if you click on the above image, then click again to enlarge it. But it’s not the same.)

But I thought I’d try to raise it anyway.

Over the weekend, I was scrolling through the stories in the Washington Post app on my iPad, and paused on this story (at least, that’s what includes this photo when I look back — I think originally it was something else) about Hillary Clinton, which featured the above photo full-screen. And my first thought was, “That’s not fair.”

The resolution in this moderate close-up was just ridiculously good. It’s not just that it showed every line in the face of a 67-year-old woman in an unguarded moment, unlit by a smile or any other sort of expression. It’s that I could practically see the grains in her makeup. It was just way, way too up close and personal.

And it occurred to me that, had I been the editor in charge of preparing that story for tablet publication, I would have paused, and thought, “Don’t we have something a little less intrusive?” Not something flattering, necessarily, just something neutral.

Something else occurred to me this morning when I was looking around for a photo of a male candidate where you could see the TV makeup on him with this kind of detail — and it occurred to me that I have not seen a photo like that anywhere. There are closeups, such as the one below of a sweaty Bernie Sanders — but none with obvious makeup, which we all know they sometimes wear. (And I was looking for that because I think it was the fact that I could see all of her makeup in such detail that made it seem so invasive.)

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that photography as detailed as what we have today with high-end digital cameras — and sometimes just with iPhones — raises new questions of editorial propriety.

The last couple of weekends, I’ve been digitizing some old slides from back in the ’70s, and I’ve been scanning them at a rather ridiculous resolution — 4800 dpi — in order not to lose any detail. And I’ve learned something — there just wasn’t that much detail in 35mm photography, at least not like what I’ve grown accustomed to with even garden-variety digital images.

And occasionally, this extreme increase in detail raises questions about how much is enough, and whether there is such a thing as too much…

Bernie at Benedict

Once again, photographic proof that Mike Miller and I are two completely different people

Mike and me

That’s me on the left. Not my left, YOUR left…

Here we go again, y’all.

Last night, I stopped by the First Thursday event on Main Street, partly because I wanted to drop by Kyle Michel‘s law office and rummage through the discs he was prepared to part with. Kyle, the son-in-law of my old boss Tom McLean, is the Rob Fleming of Columbia, and much of the space in his office is taken up by his amazingly extensive record collection. Each First Thursday, he puts a couple of tables out on the sidewalk in front of his office, laden with boxes full of LPs he’s prepared to sell. (Last night, I came away with a mono LP of Trini Lopez’ greatest hits.)Trini-Lopez-Greatest-Hits---S-504697

Crossing the courtyard of the art museum on my way toward Main Street, I heard my name called, and it was Mike Miller, standing chatting with Tim Conroy — yes, he’s one of those Conroys, brother of Pat — and Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig (and one of my elder son’s best friends).

Mike immediately reported that it had happened again. Just minutes before in a shop on Main Street, a woman had mistaken him for me. He did his best to persuade her that he was this whole other guy who had also worked at the newspaper, and she allowed as how yes, she recalls there was a Mike Miller who wrote about the music scene for the paper, but she had felt certain that the man in front of her was Brad Warthen.

This is ridiculous, people.

This happened to me — being mistaken for Mike, I mean — three times in one week back in 2012, in the wake of Mike’s run for city council. I have since posted photographic evidence that we are not the same person. That should have settled it, right?

Evidently, that photo wasn’t persuasive enough. So I asked Tim Conroy to take a picture of us together, right then and there, to put an end to the persistent rumors that Clark Kent — I mean, Mike Miller — and I are the same person. He obliged.

Please share this with your friends and neighbors, so we can clear up this misunderstanding. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Are national media losing their respect for SC Republican voters’ ability to pick winners?

NBC's Ali Weinberg at the SC State House, August 2011.

NBC’s Ali Weinberg at the SC State House, August 2011.

I alluded to this in my last post, but decided this point was worth a separate headline…

By this time four years ago, NBC’s Ali Weinberg (daughter of the famous Max) was already a fixture in the local media scene. She was here for the duration to cover the SC primary.

Week before last, I got an email from Alexandra Jaffe of NBC that began: “I cover politics for NBC News here in Washington and I’m emailing because I’ll be heading down to South Carolina in December or January to cover the primary there, and was hoping to connect with you because I’m a fan of your blog…”

Alex Jaffe

Alex Jaffe

In December or January

When we spoke later on the phone, she confirmed that her bosses figured that, since SC blew the call in 2012, it wasn’t worth the resources expended on it last time around.

Four years ago, SC Republicans were still known nationally for their habit of always (at least, for a generation) picking the eventual nominee in their presidential preference primaries. That’s why we’ve grown accustomed to seeing so many national candidates — and so much media — trooping through here every four years. South Carolina picks winners. Or at least, it did.

But after SC Republicans had a fit and picked Newt Gingrich in 2012, some of the gloss went off the reputation.

And now, at least one major news organization is making real, dollars-and-cents decisions based on that one primary. Of course, with Trump leading a poll with 30 percent of the vote here, the Gingrich victory is looking less like a one-off…

Cindi’s good idea for Greenwood monument could be applied in a lot of areas

Cindi Scoppe had a good column about the absurd problem that the town of Greenwood faces. The town decided some time back that it wanted to revise the lists of dead from the world wars on local monuments so that they were no longer separated into “white” and “colored.”

But the Legislature’s execrable Heritage Act, which was passed years ago for the now-irrelevant purpose of protecting the unlamented Confederate flag on the State House grounds, forbids the town from doing so. Which is absurd and wrong on several levels.

And unfortunately, Speaker Jay Lucas’ Shermanesque statement that while he is speaker, no more exceptions will be made to the Act, period, means there’s no hope for what the town wants to do. (I can appreciate Lucas’ pragmatic desire, once the good work of lowering the flag was done, to get onto other issues without distractions, but this is a particularly unfortunate effect of his declaration.)

Anyway, I like Cindi’s solution:

We should all hope that once cooler heads prevail, the speaker will walk back his Shermanesque statement, and the Legislature will give the American Legion and the city of Greenwood control over their own property — and give all local governments and private entities control over their property as well, for that matter.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s a better solution than a lawsuit: The folks in Greenwood should take up a collection for a new sign, to erect next to the monument, that says: “These lists of Americans who gave their lives for our nation remain segregated in the 21st century because the S.C. General Assembly either opposes integration or refuses to let local governments make their own decisions or both.”

That idea could be applied in a lot of situations where the Legislative State ties the hands of local governments. For instance, signs could be posted at Richland County polling places saying, “You are waiting in such long lines because the Legislature, in its ‘wisdom,’ gives control of the voting process to the local legislative delegation.”

Given the many ways the Legislature reaches down to meddle in local affairs, the possibilities for applying this idea are practically endless…


Thoughts on the GOP debate(s) last night?


Y’all are likely better situated to comment than I am.

First, I missed the early, junior-varsity debate. I was still at work, on a deadline. Then, at 9, I tried to tune in, and found Fox didn’t want to let me do that, even streaming on my laptop. I fumed about that for half an hour or so before Tweeting this:

I mean, seriously: I don’t DO cable these days. Who needs it, with Netflix, Amazon and HBO NOW? And in the 21st century, what major content organization doesn’t want the whole world buzzing about it when it has an exclusive such as this? Dumb. Fox should be looking for viable ways to move away from old-school cable, the way HBO has.

But the nice thing about griping on Twitter is that people go out of their way to offer you solutions. Soon, I was watching it on the SkyNews app on Apple TV. (And apparently Fox even tried to shut that down, but missed the Apple TV avenue.)

So I saw more than an hour of it, and you know what? I was pretty impressed. It could have been SO much worse with that many people on the stage, especially when one of them is Donald Trump. But even The Donald, while bombastic and so red-faced I thought he was about to bust a blood vessel, actually seemed to be trying to be a serious candidate, after his fashion.

The Fox people were really putting their best foot forward, and the moderators — Mike Wallace’s boy, the hot blonde with the late-’60s eyelashes, and the earnest, round-headed kid — were taking their jobs seriously. Fox REALLY should have been paying people to watch this, rather than trying to limit the audience, because it would have made a good impression on people who haven’t seen them lately.

The three were asking serious, tough questions, and following up very professionally, as former Greenville News editorialist Paul Hyde noted on Facebook:

Much to their credit, the Fox News journalists are acting like journalists, challenging the individual candidates on economic policy, abortion, and their own divisive, sexist and strident statements.

You know they were doing a decent job, because a lot of the so-called “conservatives” watching were really ticked off at them. They were all like, “Et tu, Fox?” Only not in Latin, of course.

As for the candidates, I actually felt like I was getting some useful impressions of them, despite the fact that there were far too many of them. Not that I changed my mind or anything — I had previously had the most positive impressions of (in no particular order) Bush, Rubio, Christie and Huckabee, and I came away feeling about the same.

My biggest regret, aside from missing most of the first hour, was that I would have liked Lindsey Graham to be there. I think he would have held his own pretty well. I didn’t really care to see him with the second-tier, although I would have watched if not for the work conflict. That said, I think the criteria for choosing who made the varsity game was fair.

It was interesting. There was plenty of foolishness to put me off, but there was food for thought. And I didn’t expect that from such a crowd scene…


The moderators — Mike Wallace’s boy, the hot blonde with the late-’60s eyelashes, and the earnest, round-headed kid — did a good job.

Charlie Hebdo grows up, just a little bit — maybe

Bryan brings this to my attention:

The top editor and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that suffered a deadly terrorist attack in January, said the publication would no longer draw the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have garnered it worldwide notoriety.

“We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever one wants,” said Laurent Sourisseau, in an interview this week with Stern, a German magazine.

But Sourisseau, who goes by the cartoonist nickname “Riss,” said that it was not Charlie Hebdo’s intent to be “possessed” by its critique of Islam. “The mistakes you could blame Islam for can be found in other religions,” he said….

Interesting. I’d like to say that Charlie Hebdo has grown up, and is no longer interested in offending just for the sake of offending. But that crack about “other religions” suggests we’ll still see trashy scribbles about the Pope, et al.

Or maybe not. Or maybe — and this would be wonderful — Charlie will satirize Islam and Christianity only when they have a point to make, rather than just being offensive for the hell of it.

As you know, I have never been Charlie. I would be happy to say that now Charlie is trying to be me, but that remains to be seen. I see no particular indication that they’re making this move for the right reasons.

It WILL take more than goodwill, Will. But goodwill is a prerequisite

There are those who refuse to participate in celebrating the spirit of unity over bringing down the Confederate flag. One of those, unfortunately, is my former colleague Will Moredock:

It will take more than goodwill to heal this state

After the Flag


“To use Gov. Nikki Haley’s words, it truly is a great day in South Carolina” — that was the text message that awakened me at 7:15 Thursday morning from my cell phone by the bedside. It was followed immediately by other messages from friends near and far who wanted to check in and see what I had to say about the end of the Confederate flag debate and — let us hope — the end of an era.

In the days after the lowering of the Confederate flag in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, much will be written and said about the courage of Gov. Haley and the Republican General Assembly in taking that measure, to which I say, “Bullshit!”

Why did it take the killing of nine good people by a Confederate flag-waving bigot at Emanuel AME Church to open the eyes of these GOPers to what millions of South Carolinians and Americans have known for generations?…

Yes, it will take more than goodwill for our state to progress.

But the thing is, goodwill is a necessary ingredient.

And celebrating when people who have long disagreed with you decide to agree — rather than kicking them — is kind of an obvious first step.

To see ourselves as others see us can be… disconcerting

I was kind of puzzled by a piece in The Washington Post over the weekend describing the ceremony Friday taking down the flag. An excerpt:

The elaborate ceremony Friday to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse threatened to overshadow the very act of removing a symbol that had caused so much tension and testimony over the state of race relations in recent weeks.

The color guard, the phalanx of elected officials, and the cheering — and sometimes jeering — crowd of spectators all made the event feel at turns like both a state funeral and a pep rally. Neither seemed an entirely appropriate tone for the occasion, given the horrifying circumstances that led South Carolina lawmakers to finally retire the banner that, in spite of controversy, had defiantly held an official place of honor for more than 50 years.

Huh? The nature of the event felt perfect to me: A combination of the pomp that is sort of reflexive to Southerners and the bubbling, giddy joy at something many of us thought would never, ever happen.

Since I’m a South Carolinian, and I knew how I felt on the issue, and how lots of my fellow citizens felt, the event felt just right to me.

So I decided, as I read, that the problem was that Vanessa Williams must not be from around here. That seemed confirmed by this passage:

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has been widely praised for leading the charge to take down the flag, even after she balked at doing so last year…

Say what? “Even after she balked last year?” Even after? That’s inside-out thinking. She was widely and happily congratulated because she hadn’t been for it before. And I’m not picking on Nikki in saying that; I am currently running for president of her fan club! No, she was never for it (as opposed to merely “balking” on one occasion) because she was a South Carolina Republican.

Which made her normal. The only South Carolina Republican I had ever heard express an interest, even halfheartedly, in getting the flag moved was Ted Pitts, years before he was the governor’s chief of staff, and he walked it back really, really quickly once the backlash hit him.

Not having been for bringing the flag down before doesn’t say anything about Nikki Haley as an individual, but the fact that she got out front on it this time very much counts to her credit — and to the credit of the great majority of Republicans who rose up and decided to do the right thing, without amendments, qualifications, ifs, ands or buts.

That’s the news here, folks. Republicans not being interested in getting the flag down has always been a dog-bites-man thing. This astounding conversion is man-bites-dog. It’s an amazing thing. And Jenny Horne’s raging speech was an amazing thing, and wonderful. This is not the kind of thing that happens to us every week.

So you bet the governor is being widely praised, and she deserves it. As do all of those Republicans who responded to her call to get this done. And if you don’t think they’re going to pay a price for it back home, and therefore don’t realize that they can use all the encouragement we can give them, then you haven’t read the comments on this Meet the Press item yesterday.

It worries me when people write about stuff, and they don’t get what’s going on, on a fundamental level…

Back in the day, when we were all quite young


Cynthia Hardy isn’t the only one remembering when.

Susan Ardis at The State posted some pages from an old newsroom directory from the late 1980s on Facebook. I got tagged because mine is one of the mugs featured.

On this page, you can find all sorts of familiar names and faces. There’s Cindi Ross, before she was Scoppe. She was such a baby (only 23 when I became her editor). There’s Clark Surratt, who comments here frequently. There’s Neil White, who left in the most recent buyout. And there’s Bill Robinson, who opted to go in the first buyout round, several months before Robert and I were laid off.

Even though this page just covers from Priddy to Wiggins, there are almost as many people as there are in the whole newsroom today. Today, there are two people listed as covering government and politics, total (although some others sometimes do). On this one page, I count six of us — aside from me, there’s Bill, Cindi, Maureen Shurr, Steve Smith and Clark. There were about five others, in those halcyon days right after the Record had closed and we had combined the staffs — Lee Bandy, Charlie Pope, Jeff Miller, Scott Johnson and Bobby Bryant. And Clif Leblanc at one point. I don’t think I had all of those people at the same time, but all were on the gov staff at some point in that period. And once, at the height, I did have 10 people.

We could flat cover some gummint in those days.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Mike Miller, back before we were doubles.

The employee directory was a handy thing to have in a newsroom with 150 or so people.

Later, this sort of thing disappeared. When I was editorial page editor, I was frustrated that while I knew most of the news people, in other departments of the paper were hundreds of people who knew who I was (not because I was so popular, but because my picture was in the paper all the time), and I didn’t know them. Which can be socially awkward:

“Hey, Brad!”

Hey… you!”

So I nagged and begged and harangued our HR person for a picture directory. I knew pictures existed of all employees — for their IDs — so how hard would that be? An electronic one on the intranet would do. But she kept saying no dice, because of some kind of fear in the HR world that having such directories around would lead to sexual harassment or something. Which seemed odd to me — wouldn’t a harasser be more likely to harass in person, instead of via a picture? But never mind, this concern was all the rage in the HR universe, and we were not going to publish such a directory.

But finally, she got fed up with my griping about it, and had someone compile a looseleaf directory just for me. Just that one copy, eyes only to me. I felt like C, the head of MI6, and the only one allowed to see the NOC list.

I consulted it frequently, and it came in quite handy. And ne’er did I harass a single fair maid.

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.