Category Archives: Media

My speech to the Naval Academy alumni

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here's a picture of a ship -- one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here’s a picture of a ship — one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

Today at noon at the Palmetto Club, I spoke to the Midlands Chapter of the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association.

It’s a good group, consisting of a bunch of former naval officers (including one admiral), and they let me speak about whatever I wanted, although I understand that what most groups want me to talk about is politics and/or the media.

I like to keep my remarks short because I prefer to devote as much time as possible to questions — not because I’m generous about answering questions, because I simply feel more comfortable doing that. When I’m answering questions, I know I’m talking about something that interests my audience, and I can do it all day it you let me. So I relax.

But I have to prepare some remarks, and this time I went a bit overboard, leaving time for only about four questions (each of which I answered at length, of course). I really need to time myself on these things going forward, to increase Q&A time.

Here’s what I had written down, and — after some off-the-cuff remarks about today’s news about The State‘s new publisher — I read most of it, with a few tangents. So, since I don’t like to spend time writing anything without publishing it, here are my notes:

US Naval Academy Alumni Assoc of the Midlands
Thursday 19 April at noon

We are living in a strange time.

It’s a time when everyone is more closely connected than ever, at least on a superficial level, but we are being blown apart by the very factors that allow us to connect.

Distrust of institutions, distrust of the ideas that have animated our country and given it meaning from the beginning. Distrust of expertise. Distrust of facts, distrust of reality.

There’s a quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most thoughtful people to grace our politics in the second half of the 20th century. He said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

At the time when he said it, it was just an assertion of common sense. People repeated the quote because it so succinctly stated a basic truth. We congratulated ourselves on understanding this. We knew what a fact was, and we knew what an opinion was, and we had a general agreement on where the dividing line was between the two.

No more.

Growing up when I did, in the postwar world, I was fortunate to live in a time when we all had a shared daily source of facts – the newspaper.

Newspapers in America started life as disreputable things, at least by the standards in place by the time I came along. They existed to push partisan points of view. In the first years of our republic, the papers run by Hamilton’s Federalists existed to tear down Jefferson and Madison’s Democratic-Republicans, and vice-versa. And there were no boundaries.

Journalism continued to be wild and wooly throughout the 19th century, and in many places, well into the 20th. But then they started to get “respectable.” They started trying to treat Democrats and Republicans fairly and impartially and at arm’s length on the news pages, and keep opinion strictly confined to the editorial page. And increasingly, to be nonpartisan on the editorial page as well.

I’d like to say that this happened out of nobility, but there was also a selfish factor at work: Publishers figured out they could make more money if everybody – Democrats, Republicans and independents – read their papers. So objectivity became the order of the day.

And it had a good effect, to the extent that people’s understanding of public life was formed by newspapers, and to a great extent it was: Everyone, regardless of their political views, had a shared set of facts to work from. Everyone was entitled to his opinion as to what to DO in light of the facts, but the facts belonged to everybody, and were no respecters of persons.

We all tacitly accepted what my favorite Founding Father, John Adams, had said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

However fiercely we might have held and expressed our opinions, they rested on a shared belief in the same facts, the same reality. And however wrong we believed them to be, we were able to respect other people’s rights to THEIR opinions.

And while our debates, and our elections, were lively, they were civil.

Facts were things presented to us by experts, by people trained to understand what was important, to investigate it, and to present it in an easily understood format. (talk about what editors went through in deciding how to present the news [this turned into a lengthy digression, talking about stuff like this]). Their ability to make these decisions and follow through on them in a hurry was honed in a hard school, daily, over years of pressure.

And they tended to come up with the same facts, and presented them very similarly. (My experience comparing on a daily basis in the 80s.)

Now, nobody needs an editor. Let me correct that. Actually, one of the old truisms of journalism is that everybody needs an editor, all the time. But we have technology today that fools people into thinking they don’t need an editor. Now, everyone is his own editor, and publisher.

This is very democratic – small d. It’s also the way madness lies, because nowadays, everyone is persuaded that he is indeed entitled to his own facts, and everyone else’s facts are “fake news.”

The “news,” as many people experience it, is no longer curated by people who have an understanding of what is important. Worse, there is no skeptical editor telling the reporter, “You don’t have that story nailed down, so I’m not running it.” Not on many of the “news” platforms of today. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. (And I can say that even though I love Twitter, which I can elaborate on later if you care.) And not on the plethora of websites out there that exist to cater to your preferred version of reality.

This has driven our national politics, the level most susceptible to these forces, mad. From the left to the right, although the rightward version currently holds power. And the madness is seeping down to the state level.

I could give a lot of examples of this, but I’ll give one: sanctuary cities. The number-one legislative priority of the governor of our state these days is to pass a law against “sanctuary cities” in South Carolina. Never mind that there ARE no sanctuary cities in South Carolina; the governor wants to force cities to actively PROVE that they are not sanctuary cities – in other words, he would accomplish nothing but increase the amount of stupid, pointless, bureaucratic red tape in government.

Reality doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter, in a new world in which people choose their own facts.

Before I open up to questions, I want to point out that our problem with personal-preference facts isn’t entirely a creation of the Internet. There are a lot of other unfortunate trends of recent decades that have brought us to this divided state.

To pick on another medium, before the Web there was 24-7 cable TV “news,” and now there’s more of it than ever.

This had two very bad effects on the country.

First, it elevated local news into national news. Once, news directors only needed to fill half an hour. Now, they have to fill 24 hours, and they’ll use any “news” they can get their hands on. So it is that stories of weird, disturbing crimes and small-time public corruption – things that would never have been reported beyond a local news market — became national news stories. Accordingly, people think the world is much more menacing and corrupt than they used to think, because they’re exposed to much more of it.

This makes people distrustful of everyone and everything – the streets aren’t safe! they’re all crooks! – and they no longer perceive the most important thing that should be understood about news: News is the unusual, the weird, the departure from the norm. Increasingly, people think what they see on sensationalized TV news IS the norm. Because it’s on ALL THE TIME!

Secondly, no matter how hard they try, these stations can’t come up with 24 hours of NEWS news. So they fill the rest with opinion. It might be an interview with an “expert,” or a panel of highly opinionated talking heads yelling at each other. In any case, increasingly the viewer ceases to distinguish between this yacking and NEWS. Worse, increasingly, people who watch this stuff begin to tar real journalists with the same brush. They think everybody’s pushing an angle, even when they’re reporting the news straight.

I could keep on, but I won’t. I’d like to hear your questions, so we can talk about what interests YOU….

My initial inspiration for my topic was this column from earlier in the week by David Brooks, about how in this age of hyperconnectivity, loneliness is at an all-time high in our society. But as you can see, I digressed from that almost immediately. To correct that, I threw in an elaboration on his theme. Brooks’ column is better, of course, because it’s a column, rather than rambling notes…

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

Senator, how about giving the #FakeNews thing a rest?

Certainly Lindsey Graham didn’t start this, but this Tweet of his was a sort of straw, with my patience being the camel:

I had to respond to him thusly:

Senator, it would be great if you wouldn’t add to overuse of that term, which seems to mean whatever Trumpistas want it to mean. It is not “fake news” that the Russian military made that absurd claim. They did. And the AP is truthfully and accurately reporting that they did….

Yeah, I know what he meant: That the Russians were saying something untrue. Which of course should be obvious even to a child.

A responsible news source...

A responsible news source…

But things that should be obvious to children are not always obvious to Trump supporters, and when you attach that #FakeNews label to a link to an actual story from a responsible news outlet, you are adding to their delusion that actual news, from trustworthy sources, is what is “fake.”

And I think the senator was willing for them to take it that way, because he was in his “try to look like a friend of Trump” mode when he sent that out.

And that is unhelpful.

More than ever, responsible people should be helping their neighbors, and themselves, distinguish fact from fiction. And Lindsey Graham knows better…

Great to be ‘working with’ Robert Ariail again

SCMcMasterSanctuaryCitiesAriailW

Back during the years when I worked with Robert Ariail, he would occasionally pay me the great compliment of saying I was the one editor he’d worked with who “thought like a cartoonist.” He had respect for my cartoon ideas, which is not always the way it goes between a word guy and an artist. (He also knew when to ignore my ideas, which was important.)

He never really needed my ideas, but it was fun for me to brainstorm with him — maybe some of the best fun I ever had as a journalist.

Well, I ran into him today at Lizard’s Thicket — he had just had a solitary lunch before heading back up to Camden — and he paid me another compliment, telling me two of his recent cartoons were inspired, at least in part, by things he’d read on this blog.

The one above came from this post, and the one below from my making fun repeatedly of the monotonously pandering intro to Catherine Templeton’s name in all her press releases.

It’s great to be “working with” Robert again, even it it’s for free…

SCTempletonAriailW

Look what I found: My old press cards

press cards

I was digging around in the closet in my home office, trying to find a staple-plucker to use on some multi-page documents I was digitizing, when I ran across these.

They are:

  1. My Tennessee Press Association press card from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
  2. My Secret Service press card from the 1980 presidential campaign (the one with the beard). I probably got this before going up to Iowa to cover Howard Baker’s unsuccessful bid in the caucuses.
  3. My Secret Service press card from 1984. I was an editor by this time, but I was the sort of editor who didn’t believe in letting my reporters have all the fun. Also, I had a weekly column to write, so I couldn’t stay tied to my desk. I liked to go check out interesting events — such as when presidential candidates came to town — myself. The schedule of a p.m. newspaper allowed this, especially if the event happened in the afternoon or evening. Morning newspaper editors can’t get away from the office as easily.

Halcyon days…

Good to have SOME adult supervision for Richland County

Here’s what I don’t like about ideologues is that they don’t know when to make an exception to their rules.

Folks on the left and right dismiss those of us in the middle because they think we don’t believe in anything. I believe in quite a few things — but I know when to make an exception from the principles I espouse.

Cindi Scoppe’s the same way. She and I hold quite a few principles in common. One of them — which you can describe as subsidiarity, or devolution or decentralization or federalism or some other word that’s not coming to mind because I had a beer at lunch — is the idea that, generally speaking, governing decisions should be made as locally as possible.

But there are exceptions. And personally, I prefer the term “subsidiarity” because it assumes exceptions, since the rule is that “matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.” The key word being “competent.” When the smaller entity can’t do the job, the larger one needs to step in. Which came into play in Cindi’s column today about the state Supreme Court jumping on Richland County for misspending penny tax money:

But honestly, even as someone who believes passionately that local governments should have broad authority to act without state interference, I can’t help being relieved to know that there are going to be some grownups looking over the county’s spending.

Not all of it, of course. The County Council still has control over property taxes and restaurant taxes and all sorts of other revenue the county collects.richland-county

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to sell prime real estate at a ridiculously low price without marketing it, or even announcing that it was on the market, as it did with the former sheriff’s department site on Huger Street.

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to hire a new transportation director with absolutely no experience in … wait for it … transportation.

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to spend $1.2 million to renovate its own meeting and office space, and then announce less than four months later that it’s relocating its chambers and the whole complex, bulldozing the adjacent building (to build a new courthouse) and turning the just-renovated space into a ceremonial courthouse.

And to secretly concoct a plan to move some of its offices to a nearly abandoned mall — which might be a good idea, but for the “secretly” part, which applies not just to the specific property being purchased but also to the whole plan. And to wrap it all up with a gaudy “Richland Renaissance” bow that also covers such dubious projects as a business incubator, a critical care medical facility (don’t doctors usually build those?) and, my personal favorite, a competitive aquatics center.

For which the cost is at best speculative. And no funding source has been identified. And about which it agreed to hold a legally required public hearing only after one of my colleagues in the news department kept hounding the county.

But I digress….

Maybe she got that from me. The digressing thing. (In her defense, she’s far more disciplined about it than I am.)

But back to her original point: Yes, it’s good to see the county get some adult supervision. And it could probably stand with a little more. Vote Grownup Party!

OK, now THIS is gun ignorance

Pay attention: a "shotgun" is a GUN that fires SHOT...

Pay attention: a “shotgun” is a GUN that fires SHOT…

This was in The Washington Post this morning:

On an icy Monday morning in February 2004, Jon Romano was hunched in a bathroom stall on the third floor of his high school outside of Albany, N.Y., tapping out a text message to his few friends.

“I’m in school with shot gun,” he wrote, the New York Times would later report. “Get out.”

Clad in a long black leather coat, the 16-year-old then washed his hands, picked up a brand-new Winchester 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, and stepped into a hallway at Columbia High School. He fired two blasts before Assistant Principal John Sawchuk tackled the 6-foot-2, 230-pound teenager. As the two struggled, a third shot ripped from the gun, hitting the legs of a special-education teacher named Michael Bennett. Although bullets came close enough to graze a student’s baseball cap, no one else was hit. There were no fatalities….

Whoa! Where did “bullets” come from? I can save you the trouble — nowhere in the story is there a mention of any weapon that fires them. He just had a shotgun.

Some of my gun-hip friends like to complain about gun-control advocates not knowing the difference between a “clip” and a “magazine.” But when they get that pedantic, they lose me. My whole life, I’ve heard magazines — particularly the little ones used with semiautomatic pistols — referred to as “clips.” And what do most people call the thing you use with an AK-47? I don’t recall hearing it referred to as a “banana magazine.” So you should give people some wiggle-room on that one. “Clip” may usually be wrong, but it’s not that embarrassingly wrong. So lighten up, Francis.

Kyle Swenson

Kyle Swenson

But this? This seems to be willful ignorance. It’s painful. It’s the ultimate. It shows a complete lack of a clue as to what a shotgun is (hint for those who actually don’t know: It’s a gun that fires shot, in most, but not all, circumstances). I had to look up the reporter who wrote that, Kyle Swenson. His bio says that before joining the Post just last year, “he covered South Florida for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.”

South Florida must have gotten a lot more peaceful since the “Miami Vice” days, for someone to cover it without learning anything about firearms.

And where was his editor?

It was great to see Valerie and the gang at USC tonight

DXKqNm8XkAEKh2R

Valerie Bauerlein was back in town this evening, which became the occasion for the biggest gathering of former denizens of The State I’ve attended since we lost Lee Bandy.

Valerie, now of The Wall Street Journal, was here to deliver the Baldwin Lecture at the J-school at USC.

Her topic was “Retail Meltdown: How Online Shopping is Changing our Communities.” She did a  great job, as she does with everything she undertakes. To give you a sense of the lecture, here’s part of a Q&A with her from the USC website:

Last year I went to Elmira, New York, and Wausau, Wisconsin, to report on the ripple effects of the collapse of retail. What I saw there is not so different than what is happening at shopping centers in Columbia and in lots of other places.

Elmira used to make everything from typewriters to TV tubes. As manufacturing went away, the mall out by the interstate became a bigger and bigger driver of the local economy, drawing people from miles away and employing hundreds of people. The local governments became dependent on sales tax to offset property tax and other revenue as manufacturing declined. So when the mall started to fail, people lost their jobs and became more dependent on public aid. And the city had become so reliant on sales tax to make its budget, it had to make deep cuts, even in its police force. There are lots of communities like this, who are dealing with the death of a big mall or outlet center that has been an anchor for the economy.

Wausau, on the other hand, is a prosperous place, by some measures the most middle-class community in America. The mall is failing there, too, in spite of being the only one in a 70-mile radius. In Wausau, the city didn’t need sales tax to make its budget and the local governments could absorb the decline in property taxes from the mall and other shopping centers. The big worry there was the death of what had been a community gathering place, and how to get new life into a building that was in the center of town. The other issue was how to support small shops in the downtown, so the people would want to live and work there.

So there are fiscal and civic ripple effects to our communities from the collapse in retail that are fascinating and often overlooked….

I was a bit late for her talk, but she let me know that I was quoted in her introduction, delivered by Tom Reichert, the new dean of the College of Information and Communications. He used this from a 2009 post on this blog:

She’s one of the nicest, most pleasant, kindest, most considerate people I ever worked with, to the extent that you wonder how she ended up in the trade. Not that news people are universally unpleasant or anything; it’s just that she was SO nice. And very good at her job, to boot.

Yep, that sounds like something I’d say about Valerie — and mean it. Here’s how nice Valerie is — she gave a plug to my recent blog post related to her topic (the one on deserted malls).

Afterward, we went to Hunter-Gatherer for a pint. Which is where the picture above is from. That’s Valerie with the big smile in the foreground at right. You can also see Sammy Fretwell, Megan Sexton, Bob Gillespie, Paul Osmundson, Carolyn Click, Grant Jackson and various other present and former denizens of The State — plus such fellow travelers as ex-dean Charles Bierbauer, media lawyer Jay Bender, former Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer and other friends.

It was good to see all the folks again…

See, society HAS made progress, lest you despair

My wife’s cousin posted this on Facebook moments ago, and it cracked me up.

Dig these hepcats delivering the message, “It’s not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long!” And no, I’m not trying to switch the subject back to pornography. They really said that. On TV. And yeah, in a way, it kind of was pornography.

Yes, boys and girls, before 1972, there were cigarette ads on TV. And while all TV advertising tended to be pretty insipid, almost nothing else exceeded cigarette ads on that score.

Can’t you just see Don Draper thinking this one up between naps on the couch in his office?

What’s a TV commercial, you ask? You know, those irritating things that come on when you watch a sporting event on TV. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to see them. At least, that’s the only time I see them, which means I don’t see them much. (I’ve watched a little of the Winter Olympics, but I can’t bring myself to stick with it past maybe one commercial break. Then it’s back to “Britannia” or “Detectorists” or old episodes of “The West Wing” on Netflix or Prime.)

Worse, back in the day they were often a whole minute long, even though this one is closer to the modern length. Thank merciful heaven.

I look back at this, and take heart: Yes, some things about our society and culture have gotten better in my lifetime…

winston

The ‘Jihadist Beatles?’

jihadi beatles

 

Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
Didn’t get to bed last night
Stayed up putting Semtex in my BVDs
Man I had a dreadful flight!

I’m back in the I.S.I.L.
You prob’ly won’t live to tell, boy
Back in the I.S.I.L.!

Sorry. I suppose that’s in poor taste. But I didn’t start it. It’s the British press that’s calling these four terrorists “the Beatles:”

Exhausted and strikingly different in appearance from the other captives, the two new prisoners were believed by Kurdish militia leaders to be among Islamic State’s cadre of foreign fighters.

But it was not until mid-January, around one week after their capture in eastern Syria, that the Kurds – and their CIA colleagues at the interrogation centre where they were holding the prisoners – knew exactly who they had: Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, Britain’s two most wanted terror suspects. They had finally been caught – and they were ready to talk.

Kotey and Elsheikh are the final two of an infamous quartet of Britons who acted as jailers, torturers and executioners of foreign aid workers and journalists for more than two years from mid-2013. They were dubbed “the Beatles” by their victims, in reference to their British accents – though they were from London, rather than Merseyside…

I used to have pleasant, light-hearted associations with the Fab Four. Now this…

It seems the chief wasn’t talking about Meg at all…

OK, here’s a surprise twist:

Whoa. So… the chief wasn’t talking about her at all?

I reached out to the mayor, and she said she was just about to call me, because she had just found out that the chief wasn’t talking about Meg, and that she — the mayor — had jumped to the wrong conclusion when she reached out to me before.

“I looked at it too quickly,” she admits. Having learned that, she wanted to let me know.

So, I guess, never mind. And I hereby apologize to readers for having posted something that wasn’t true.

And to Meg, too. Fortunately, she’s in a (mostly) forgiving mood:

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

Cayce chief’s Facebook post

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m not going to take this down for now, because if I did, the post correcting it would make no sense. But for the record: The chief wasn’t talking about Meg Kinnard at all. Mayor Elise Partin thought he was, and reached out to me to tell me about it, which led to this erroneous report….

Earlier today, I got a Facebook message from Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, asking the following: “Brad, have you seen the FB post by our chief? I just saw your post about the reporter. Wanted to make sure you had both sides.”

I had not seen it, and at first I had some trouble finding it. But the mayor, on her way into a council meeting, called me back and told me where to find it — on the city’s public safety Facebook page (I had looked on hers, and the city’s, and the public safety chief’s personal page).

Here’s his essay, which I urge you to go read in its entirety. Here are the sections that caused the mayor to reach out to me:

These types of incidents are very dangerous and must be controlled quickly and effectively. The goal is to “Control the Chaos” by stabilizing the scene and caring for the victims. In order to do this, certain procedures and rules must be put into place. This includes procedures for the media to be able to have access to the information they need for their stories….

Cayce Chief Byron Snellgrove

Cayce police chief Byron Snellgrove

Again I feel that this incident ran very smoothly with so many entities involved and cooperating with each other. There are, however, a couple of tweets going out by a reporter about one of my staff making them leave the shelter and school district property. Let me make this very clear. The story is true! They were asked to leave because they were not abiding by the procedures that were put in place and were clearly explained to them and all the other media personnel that were at that location. By not staying within the boundaries that were outlined by my staff they were obstructing the flow of the operations at the shelter. They even attempted to get on a bus and do interviews with victims as they were leaving the shelter which slowed the process of the victims and their families getting where they needed to go. We received complaints on them from District 2 staff, victim’s families and even the bus driver of the bus that they attempted to gain access to. The procedures were made clear to them and they did not follow those procedures and when asked to stop they became aggressive with a school district official. They were, therefore, asked to leave.

I stated before that incidents like these are handled by “Controlling the Chaos”. Any disruption to this “Controlled Chaos” jeopardizes the operation and the care that the victims receive. I feel that cooperation between all agencies and emergency personnel in South Carolina is better than it has ever been and the way this accident was handled is proof of that. I feel the same way about our cooperation with the media. I respect the job they do and the fact that the media must sometimes be aggressive in getting the information they need for their story, however, ambush reporting and working outside of the boundaries and procedures that are put in place for an incident of this magnitude is simply unacceptable. So yes, they were asked to leave and I take full responsibility for the actions of my staff and, in this case, completely agree with them.

It may seem to some that the media outlets and Public Safety Agencies are often at odds with each other when it comes to information flow, however, it has been my experience that this is not the case and difficulties like these are rare. I would actually like to thank the media for the great coverage that they gave this major incident and for the needed information access that they provided to the public….

So there you have it. Frankly, I don’t think of this (or many things) in terms of “both sides.” There are lots of “sides,” multiple perspectives, on any event. I certainly didn’t see my earlier post featuring Meg’s video as one-sided, even though it was from her POV. I thought a fair-minded person could look at that video and feels sorry for Mr. Hinton trying to do his job while being chewed out by an angry reporter, just as much as a person who’s been there and done that (which I have, which of course colors my perspective) could identify with Meg’s frustration in trying to do her job. I think both of those things were true.

And I value the POV of the chief as well, and appreciate his presentation of his difference with Meg’s version within the context of an appreciation that the media folks there had a hard job to do, too.

Photo from Meg Kinnard's Twitter page.

Photo from Meg Kinnard’s Twitter page.

Meg Kinnard’s confrontation while covering train wreck

One of Meg's photos from the scene.

One of Meg’s photos from the scene.

Yesterday morning I was sleeping late. I was awakened by an editor at The New York Post, telling me there had been a train wreck a few miles from me and asking whether I would cover it for them. (They’ve had my name and number on file ever since I covered the infamous Mark Sanford presser for them in 2009.)

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

I declined. There was a time, about 40 years ago, when I’d have been excited to run out in the rain and cover such a thing. But not yesterday. If they’d had a good political story to chase, maybe. But I left this one to the large crowd of reporters that I was sure was already out there.

One of them was Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press. This video she posted on Twitter reminds me of the thousand little hassles reporters run into in the course of doing their jobs:

This partial clip sort of makes it hard to tell what was really happening. The argument started before she started shooting. Obviously, Meg was a bit upset already by that point. Some will probably watch this and think she’s the aggressor and feel sorry for the school employee, who is clearly out of his depth. Especially the kind of people who despise White House press for getting aggressive when they get their rare shot at getting an answer.

I remember how stuff like this felt. You’re trying to do a job under tough circumstances, and somebody erects a barrier “because he can.” It’s pretty infuriating. You’re like Really? Like this wasn’t already difficult enough for all concerned? Kind of made me glad I left this story to Meg, et al. They seem to have done a fine job without me.

I just have one little complaint, Meg: Turn the phone sideways!

See that? I’m not the only one who confuses the blonde Catherines who ran DHEC

That's Catherine Templeton, not Catherine Heigel.

That’s Catherine Templeton, not Catherine Heigel.

I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

And then there's THIS one.

And then there’s THIS one.

Because if it were just me confusing the two young blonde women with the same given name who ran DHEC back-to-back, I’m sure I’d be accused of sexism or ageism blondeism or just being an all-around idiot. I’d be immediately ordered to show my papers and ‘check my privilege.’

But I’m not alone!

Today, The State ran a picture of Catherine Templeton and said it was Catherine Heigel.

That’s OK, folks. Perfectly understandable.

And let’s not even get into the fact that there’s a third one, Katherine Heigl, who is way more famous than either of these….

The actual Catherine Heigel.

The actual Catherine Heigel.

How many Nikki Haleys ARE there?

multiple nikki

Aaarrrggghhh!

I’m reacting to this:

Not everyone was a fan of the Grammy Awards segment where celebrities read passages of the controversial best seller “Fire and Fury.”

One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

No, it wasn’t President Donald Trump.

It was his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Shortly after the segment, which included an appearance by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Haley shared her disdain with the segment on social media

Their?” To voice their displeasure?

Yeah, got it — you were trying to avoid a gender-specific pronoun to generate brief suspense as to who it was. But since you assumed that readers would assume it was Trump, you sort of called extra attention to the question of gender with that jarring “their.” You might as well have added parenthetically, “It’s not a he!”

You could just as easily have written, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration and took to Twitter to voice displeasure,” period. Or better yet, to fix another problem, “One person especially critical on Sunday night was a member of the Trump Administration who took to Twitter to voice displeasure.”

See how easy that was — and how much better than creating a universe in which there are multiple Nikki Haleys?

SOME numbers are interesting, and significant

sigdig-1monday

We have a lot of arguments here based on the fact that some of y’all are numbers people and I’m a word guy.

But sometimes I appreciate numbers, too.

I don’t like them when they don’t mean much. For instance, back when I was still at the paper, there was a period in which the newsroom would post a “By the numbers” graphic with some stories. The numbers were usually not very pertinent to understanding the story. It was obvious that some senior editor (I suspect a managing editor who was at the paper in those days, but I don’t know because our interactions with the newsroom were minimal) had decreed that there would be at least one such feature a day, whether the story lent itself to that treatment or not.

But fivethirtyeight has a feature called “Significant Digits,” or “SigDig,” which identify stories with numbers that mean something. A sampling from today’s installment:

4 congressmen

Rep. Patrick Meehan, Republican of Pennsylvania, will likely face an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Meehan reportedly used taxpayer money to settle a complaint by an aide that he made repeated romantic overtures towards her, and grew hostile when she did not reciprocate. Meehan was, until these accusations came out, on the House Ethics Committee that’s investigated the sexual misconduct cases of at least four male members. [The New York TimesThe Boston Globe]


86 patients

China is testing cutting-edge gene therapy technology on human beings, with at least 86 Chinese patients having had their genes edited so far. China’s regulations on experimenting with humans are considerably more lax than many other countries’. [The Wall Street Journal]


1,062 Twitter accounts

Twitter has discovered another 1,062 accounts linked to a Russian agency that tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and will email 677,775 users who followed the accounts, or retweeted or liked one of their tweets. [Bloomberg]…

And so forth. That’s more like it! Every one of those numbers is a grabber, encouraging us to read further.

I mean, really: 86 Chinese people have had their genes “edited”? How many does it take before they can assemble a Chinese version of the X Men?

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Samuelson will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear

Robert J. Samuelson — whom I don’t read as often as I should because of his tendency to write about money and other things one can measure with numbers — is not a guy to read at all if you want him to tell you things you want to hear.

Robert J. Samuelson

Robert J. Samuelson

Well, let me amend that: I think the things he has to say are fine, when I can cut through the numbers and read him. But based on voting patterns I’ve seen in recent years, he’s likely to give a lot of other folks apoplexy.

For instance… not satisfied merely to slice and dice the Republicans’ contemptible tax “reform” plan last month, he strode right past the nonsense to speak a home truth: “Americans aren’t taxed enough.

He didn’t mean it in absolute terms, of course. There is no perfect amount of taxation, and saying “this isn’t enough taxation” in a vacuum would be as idiotic as say, also in a vacuum, that “Americans are taxed too much.” And Samuelson is not an idiot.

No, he means that as long as America means to spend X amount — and there has been no credible effort to reduce the lion’s share of spending — it must have the common sense and maturity to pay X amount in taxes. And it’s been a very long time since we’ve done that.

As he put it:

The truth is that we can’t afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes (my choice: a carbon tax), how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven’t yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven’t covered our spending with revenue from taxes…

We resist the discipline of balancing the budget, which is inherently unpopular. It’s what Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute calls “take-away politics.” Some programs would be cut; some taxes would be raised. Americans like big government. They just don’t like paying for it….

But if you think that’ll make some people mad, consider his column today. But first, someone bring the smelling salts for Bud and Doug. The headline is, “Why we must raise defense spending.” An excerpt:

Politically, the vaunted military-industrial complex has been no match for the welfare state’s personal handouts. There has been a historic transformation. In the 1950s and 1960s, defense spending often accounted for half of the federal budget and equaled 8 to 10 percent of gross domestic product (the economy). In 2016, defense spending was 3 percent of GDP and 15 percent of the federal budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, welfare programs — called “human resources” by the OMB — accounted for 15 percent of GDP and 73 percent of federal spending….

The result is this:

Here is the assessment of Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute:

“The United States now fields a military that could not meet even the requirements of a benign Clinton-era world. The services have watched their relative overmatch and capacity decline in almost every domain of warfare . . . for nearly two decades. As rival nation-states have accelerated their force development, the Department of Defense has stalled out, creating a dangerous window of relative military advantage for potential foes. . . . While the United States continues to field the best military personnel in the world, policy makers have asked them to do too much with too little for too long.”…

So, to summarize, we’re not taxing enough for the spending we’re doing, and we’re not spending enough to adequately perform what was originally the government’s chief responsibility.

And before I get the cliche response — citing numbers showing how much more we spend than other nations is pretty pointless. We emerged from 1945 as the chief guarantor of a security order designed to stave off World War III. And the only nations that have shown any interest in taking that mantle of dominant military power off our hands have been the very last big countries a believer in liberal democracy would want to see do so.

Samuelson may write too much about numbers, but I have to hand it to him: He goes right where the number lead him, regardless of whose ox gets gored, on both the left and the right…

‘Fake news’ proliferates (even — gasp! — here on this blog!)

Douglas

There’s “fake news,” and then there’s fake news. I’ve seen a number of widely different varieties in recent days.

First, a digression: I’ve always had mixed feelings about the value of competition.

Yeah, I suppose it keeps you on your toes, makes you try harder and reach new heights, etc. But in the news business, I’ve always worried about it, because the pressure to get it first can cause you to go with something too soon, and get it wrong.

I worried about that even back when there were only two news cycles in each day — a.m. and p.m. You had all those hours to work on something and get it right before you had to go to press, or, in case of broadcast, go on the air. But knowing that if you didn’t go with it today you had to wait another 24 hours created its own kind of pressure to go with what you had.

The best way to avoid letting that pressure get you into trouble was the old nostrum, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Better to leave a hole in a story, an unanswered question, than give an answer you weren’t completely sure about.

Now, with the Web and social media, there is no “cycle.” Deadline is always right now, and if you delay a minute, you take the risk of getting beat by 59 seconds.

And that produces screw-ups like CBS reporting that Tom Petty was dead early on Monday afternoon, when he didn’t actually die until 8:30 that evening — and it wasn’t officially released until midnight.

(This was particularly problematic for old media that still follow cycles. The State had a piece in Tuesday morning’s paper all about how CBS had messed up by reporting that Petty was dead when he wasn’t — and not a word about the fact that Petty actually was dead. That’s because his death was announced after press time, but hours before readers would have the chance to read the story. Very confusing.)

As “fake news” goes, that was of the honest-mistake variety. We saw an example of the more malevolent kind within that same 24-hour period. It’s the sort that arises from the modern phenomenon of everybody being a publisher — meaning that there are no rules, and no fussy editors saying “When in doubt, leave it out.” And everyone believes what they want to believe, however unlikely, according to their political prejudices.

I’m talking about the way right-wing trolls eagerly identified an innocent man as the Las Vegas shooter, simply because he was someone who fit a narrative that was appealing to them, and he had apparently been married to a woman with the same name as the actual shooter’s girlfriend:

Geary Danley was not the gunman in Las Vegas who killed at least 50 people late Sunday. But for hours on the far-right Internet, would-be sleuths scoured Danley’s Facebook likes, family photographs and marital history to try to “prove” that he was.

Danley, according to an archived version of a Facebook page bearing that name, might have been married to a Marilou Danley. Police were looking for a woman by that name in the hours after the shooting, but later saidthey did not think she was involved. To name someone as a mass murderer based on that evidence would be irresponsible and dangerous. But that’s exactly what a portion of the far-right Internet did overnight.

The briefest look at the viral threads and tweets falsely naming Geary Danley as the attacker makes it easy to guess why a bunch of right-wing trolls latched on to him: His Facebook profile indicated that he might be a liberal….

But even that, as filled with bad faith and malevolence as it was, seems less deliberate than another kind of shameless spreading of “fake news” that is all around us these days, feeding systematically on reader gullibility.

A couple of weeks back, I was watching TV and my wife was in the room looking at her iPad when she told me that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, was killed doing a stunt on a movie set. (I’m thinking she saw this on a Facebook ad.) I said something like “Wow, I wonder why they let him do something so dangerous.” Then I made an observation about Vic Morrow and the way he died, and forgot about it.

Then, at some point the next day, it occurred to me that I’d seen nothing about the star’s death in any of the papers I had read on my iPad that morning. So I went looking, and saw that it was a hoax.

Then, this week, the same hoax started showing up in the Google Ads right here on my own blog. Click here for the screenshot.

Oh, and have you read about the passing of Michael Douglas? I have, many times. To make the weirdness even richer, when I looked up “Michael Douglas death hoax,” I found a site that fed me… you guessed it… an ad with the misspelled news of “The Rock’s” alleged death (see above).

By the way, you want to be careful Googling Michael Douglas — you might get true stories that tell you way more than you want to know.

Where does this leave us? In a situation in which we could use some old-school, skeptical editors standing between you and the lies. But that’s not going to happen. The technology exists, and it can’t be put back in the tube. Anybody can instantly publish anything for the whole planet to see, without any professional standards being involved whatsoever.

So what we need is more intelligent, skeptical readers. But let’s not hold our breath for that new species to evolve. As last year’s election showed us, and every day since confirms, there are a thousand suckers born every minute…

By the time I read this story in The State telling me reports of Petty's death were false, he was actually dead.

By the time I read this story in The State telling me the report of Petty’s death was erroneous, he was actually dead.

 

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

I’m a day behind here, but I want to have a post about each episode, so I’m posting this a day late, after I’ve already seen Episode 5. But here goes…

First, if there was an episode, of all those thus far, that was going to turn me into the Vietnam war protester that Bud would like me to be, it was this one. From start to finish, practically every point made, every interview, every video clip, added up to a powerful message that whether we should have been in Vietnam or not, what we were doing was not working. The Johnson administration was fooling itself as well as the American people, and each escalation added to the sense of desperation that the episode conveyed. These points were made again and again, eloquently.

A person watching that episode would naturally wonder, why did we continue to fight? Why didn’t the American people demand that we withdraw immediately? And my answer, as I expressed earlier in a comment, is that the concentrated way that these arguments are presented in the episode was NOT the way life was experienced at the time. First, if you were a stateside civilian, little of your average day was spent thinking about the war. And when it was, the antiwar message was a much smaller chunk of what we were taking in about the war — and no, that was NOT because the POTUS was a big, fat liar.

Most of the journalism we saw was NOT by David Halberstam or Morley Safer. We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned. (So far, every single young man we learn of in

I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.

In fact, if you were alive at the time, most of what you saw of the growing antiwar movement was people chanting such things as “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” I know that such “arguments” are persuasive to many people, but they turn me right off. Such approaches aim to engage the emotion and shut down rational faculties, and I’ve always held them in contempt.

Anyway, I was impressed by what Kennan had to say, because of who he was — or who the series told me he was. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that he was sort of the father of Cold War strategy of containment. I had heard his name, and I was familiar with the strategy, and I was eager to hear more.

As y’all know, I have frequently written here about Vietnam as an application of that policy of containment. So hearing that Kennan said Vietnam was a wrong-headed misapplication of the strategy really made an impression on me.

Bud thinks I should “just admit the hippies and draft dodgers were right,” which ain’t gonna happen. Nor is Muhammad Ali or Dr. Spock going to knock me over. Nor John Kerry. In fact, definitely not John Kerry. But if a guy like Kennan says something, I’m thinking as I watch this, I’m paying attention.

The next morning, seeking to know more, I googled Kennan. Wikipedia’s not the same as reading a serious book about him, and I stand ready to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge, but it’s what I had time for so far. And I read this:

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan’s influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his previous assessments….

In other words, Kennan wasn’t exactly what the series suggested. He had disowned the way the U.S. government applied his containment idea to the entire Cold War, starting LONG before we got involved in Vietnam.

Which puts his testimony in a very different light from what I heard Wednesday night. It’s not like he was a guy wedded to the overall strategy who had a specific problem with Vietnam; he was a guy who disowned the whole policy.

The way it was presented on the show was that here was Mr. Containment himself, and he was against our involvement in Vietnam. But apparently, that description was off.

Maybe that was acknowledged at some point when I got up to get a glass of water or something. But if it wasn’t, the omission bothers me. It’s one of the few flaws I’ve spotted in the series thus far, though, which testifies to the excellence we’ve come to associate with Burns and Novak.

One other small thing that speaks to something huge…

The episode told of how in the last year of his life, Martin Luther King struggled with whether he should take a stand against the war. And as we know, he eventually decided to do so.

I deeply respect his prayerful process of discernment, and was as always impressed by the rolling power of his eloquence in the speech the program showed a clip from.

But something jumped out at me. Like so many other opponents of our involvement, he called upon our leaders to “end the war.”

Well, y’all know how I tend to react to that phrase. It is spoken by so many good, decent, kind, caring people who just want all the bloodshed to stop. It was spoken during that war, and later with regard to Iraq, and to this day about Afghanistan.

But it was not in our power to “end the war.” It was only in our power to get out of the way and let it proceed without us. This is not some small linguistic quibble. The difference between ending a war and pulling out to let the other combatants fight it out is a big as between night and day.

As we would see in 1975…

Kennan