Category Archives: Media

The editorial consensus for Kasich

Real Clear Politics

I’ve mentioned a number of times, approvingly, the way the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal keeps trying to wake up Republicans and make them see that their only hope out of their current mess is John Kasich.

They’re not alone in this. The New York Times — while it cares far less about the fate of the GOP — is equally bemused at the way Republicans seem determined to charge off a cliff:

At a televised Republican town hall on Tuesday, it was painful to watch farmers, students and a man whose son died of a drug overdose pose earnest questions to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, who were more interested in attacking each other. Only John Kasich connected with these voters.

Despite its noble aim and big budget, “Never Trump” has become a panicky reaction in search of a strategy. In Wisconsin, “Never Trump” means “How About Cruz?” as self-interested leaders like Gov. Scott Walker try to sell Republicans on a dangerously reactionary senator as an improvement over a dangerously ignorant businessman. But for the state’s — and the nation’s — moderate conservatives, “Never Trump” should more logically mean “Maybe Kasich.”…

That’s less significant, of course. Republicans historically run from advice from that quarter, while some of them — the kinds of people who used to run the GOP — at least still care somewhat about what the Journal says.

But I find the NYT‘s chiming in interesting, because it points to something common to editorial board members, regardless of whether they lean left or right or neither: If you make your living studying current events and issues and thinking carefully about them — very carefully, because you know the words you write about them will be picked apart by thousands of people — you tend to see certain things, whether they are what you want to see or not. And you tend to marvel at people who are swept along by half-thoughts and emotions and seem to willfully refuse to see those things.

(Even if you’re an editorial writer at the NYT who actively wants to see Republicans lose, you’ve got to wonder, What are those guys thinking?)

You really don’t have to think all that hard to see that Kasich is the only rational choice at this point for Republicans. You really don’t have to go beyond all those poll numbers at the Real Clear Politics site. (Although if you do go beyond that, you can make other arguments.)

See, Republicans? If you go with Trump, you lose. If you go with Cruz, you lose. If you go with Kasich, you win. See? Was that so hard?

Not that there’s a guarantee that you win — there are too many variables for that. But at least you go into the fall with a chance to win, instead of having everything stacked against you.

Why doesn’t everyone see that? Oh, I don’t expect Trump supporters to see it — they’re too invested in their guy, and they seem to be allergic to facts and such. But the Grahams and Romneys of the world certain should see it. And you know what is really puzzling? I think they do see it; they’ve just made a very cynical calculation that they can’t make their fellow Republicans see it, too…

Scoppe: The law tends to support AG Wilson’s position

Wilson presser

I was glad to see Cindi Scoppe’s column Sunday, in which she spelled out more clearly what I thought I knew about the Wilson/Pascoe contretemps: That as hard as it might be for the casual observer to see (particularly given Wilson’s emotional presser), the attorney general seems to be on the right side of the law in this.

As Cindi wrote:

Cindi croppedThere are three major issues here: Did Mr. Pascoe have the legal authority to initiate a State Grand Jury investigation, or did he need Mr. Wilson’s authorization? Did Mr. Wilson have the legal authority to remove Mr. Pascoe from the case? And was Mr. Wilson justified in removing Mr. Pascoe? That last question is entirely different from whether it was legal…

And as you find from reading the rest of her piece, her answers are:

  1. No, Pascoe did not have that authority; Wilson has to sign off on a State Grand Jury initiation. The law doesn’t allow the AG to delegate that, however he may recuse himself from any other involvement in a case.
  2. Yes, of course Wilson has the authority to remove Pascoe and assign someone else. The attorney general is the boss of the solicitors. As Cindi notes, “recusal is a voluntary thing, left entirely to the discretion of the prosecutor. In fact, when judges recuse themselves, it’s not uncommon for them to later unrecuse themselves.” When it comes to appointing and firing special prosecutors, recusal is neither here nor there; it does not vacate the AG’s constitutional authority.
  3. Finally, on the judgment call of removing Pascoe, Cindi is less certain — but she doesn’t doubt the purity of Wilson’s intentions: “In his mind, he had to remove Mr. Pascoe — not to stymie the investigation but to salvage it. I’m not certain that was necessary, but I believe that he believed it was.”

Personally, on that last point, it seems that Pascoe’s insubordination demanded his removal — if Wilson’s account is accurate. That is, if Pascoe did indeed refuse to meet with the AG’s office to get proper authorization for a State Grand Jury investigation, choosing instead to launch an attack on the attorney general.

But then, we’ve yet to hear Pascoe’s defense of his actions on Good Friday…

Shocking news about Charlie Nutt of Free Times

Sorry not to post all day. I was in an all-morning meeting and have been rushing to catch up since then.

In the midst of it, I received a phone call with shocking news:

The 67-year-old owner and publisher of the Free Times alternative weekly newspaper in Columbia was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in an Augusta, Ga., hotel Wednesday afternoon.Charlie Nutt

Charles Nutt, of Elgin, was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen confirmed. Nutt was found in the bathroom of a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Augusta.

Richmond County sheriff’s deputies went to the hotel after the department received a call from Columbia police saying that Nutt had taken a gun from his residence and had suicidal thoughts, according to an incident report.

Nutt’s Resort Media company purchased Free Times, an alternative weekly, from Portico Media of Charlottesville, Va., in 2012…..

I just can’t believe it. You see that picture above? There’s something missing. Charlie usually had a modest, friendly smile when saw him.

I had coffee with Charlie Nutt at Drip on Main exactly two weeks ago.

He. Was. Fine.

I mean, as well as one man can tell about another.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Charlie Nutt. He was a fellow member of the Capital City Club, and we had breakfast there together once or twice. I’d see him around town, and I’d always ask him how his business was going.

The answer, always, was that it was going great. The paper was healthy, and developing a fine journalistic reputation extending beyond its traditional base of covering entertainment and nightlife. He had people coming up to him all the time and saying, “Now I get my news from Free Times,” rather than, you know, certain other papers.

He mentioned that when we met on March 3, and I told him I heard similar things. His folks were doing a good job.

And he was comparing himself to the competition. Every time we met, he’d share with me just how low The State‘s circulation figures had fallen — something I don’t really keep up with. He said it with a certain satisfaction, like a guy keeping score, but without any malice. Of course, his own paper is distributed free so it’s like apples to oranges, but it was being widely picked up and the return rate was gratifying.

He also had a growing number of specialty pubs adding to his bottom line — the kinds of things that might be distributed in hotels, about local places to eat and such.

Things were going well. As he expected.

Charlie was a thoroughgoing newspaper man. He started his career a little before me, but we were both part of that last generation before the crash — inspired by Woodward and Bernstein (their book came out when I was a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal), and enjoying the very last decades when owning a printing press was like a license to spend money.

He was editor at several papers, and then publisher of some others. He managed to sock away enough money to achieve his dream of buying his own paper. He didn’t leap into it carelessly. From his New Jersey base, he did his research, and he decided that Free Times would be just right.

So he bought it, and never looked back. He just really seemed like a guy who had it together and whose plan was working out.

As compared, you know, to me — a guy who had the job he’d always wanted until the day the job ceased to exist, and did not have the funds to go out and buy his own paper.

Charlie knew exactly what he was doing, and it was working out so well.

When a friend from The State called to tell me — he had run into Charlie and me having coffee at Drip, and thought I might like to know — my first reaction was to say they needed to do a deeper investigation. Charlie wouldn’t shoot himself.

My next reaction was to remember Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s musical adaptation. You never know, even with the guy you admire and respect, the guy who has all that you don’t, who you think has it all together.

All I can do now is ask God for mercy upon him, and upon his family and friends.

Six newspapers run the same editorial calling for Christie to resign, which is kind of creepy in its own right

While researching that last post about Chris Christie’s stare, I ran across the fact that “six newspapers” in New Jersey called on the governor to resign after his Trump endorsement.

And then, I saw that all six apparently ran the same editorial. And I thought, “Huh. How does that happen?”

And then, I saw that all six papers are owned by Gannett. And I got a sort of creepy feeling down my spine.

Once, six separate editorial boards all deciding to call for their governor to resign would have been a very remarkable thing. Traditionally, getting one editorial board to a consensus on such a thing would have taken some heavy lifting by a very determined editorial page editor. But I have to wonder, to what extent were six separate decisions made? To what extent do these papers even have editorial boards as I think of them? To what extent are they, editorially speaking, even separate newspapers in 2016?

For instance, I go to the contacts page of the Asbury Park Press, and see that the opinion staff consists of one person called the “community content editor” — which sounds like someone who shovels input from readers into the paper, rather than expressing opinions himself — and a “news assistant” to handle letters.

I’m curious about the mechanics: Who was involved in the decision to run this in six papers? Who wrote it? Who signed off on it? If one of the papers said, “No, we can’t run that,” would its editors have been heeded? When an editorial says “we” at those papers, to whom does the pronoun refer?

It’s just… weird. And more than a little creepy…

All through my career in editorial, I had to deal with people who thought editorial decisions were made by corporate. They refused to believe me when I said they were not. I couldn’t even imagine by what sort of mechanism such a thing would be brought about — because such mechanisms did not exist.

The closest I ever came to experiencing something dictated by corporate was when corporate president Tony Ridder, speaking at a conference of EPEs, urged us all to stop endorsing in presidential elections. (To him, it did no good. It royally ticked off about half of readers and was a distraction from our true calling, which was local opinion.) I don’t think anyone took his advice, although I didn’t bother to check. I certainly didn’t.

But now, I see this, which flies in the face of everything I ever experienced as an editor….

The man who was once Chris Christie stares out from the heart of darkness. The horror… the horror…

Christie 3

On the day after Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton moved huge strides toward victory, those who beheld the scene seem transfixed by the eloquence of Chris Christie’s eyes as he contemplated what had come to pass.Christie 1

In various forms, the image of Christie standing, horror-struck, behind Trump in his moment of victory appeared with no fewer than five separate stories about Super Tuesday in my Washington Post app this morning. Two Post writers — Janell Ross and Alexandra Petri — devoted entire columns to the sight.

The Ross piece, actually, was less a column and more a recitation of ways that Twitter reacted to Christie’s silent performance.Christie 5

Ms. Petri, as is her wont, got more creative, employing a battalion of pop-culture references to explain the look on the New Jersey governor’s face. I definitely recommend you go read it:

Chris Christie spent the entire speech screaming wordlessly. I have never seen someone scream so loudly without using his mouth before. It would have been remarkable if it had not been so terrifying.Christie 2

Sometimes, at night, do you still hear them, Clarice? The screaming of the Christies?

His were the eyes of a man who has gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed back, and then he endorsed the abyss.

It was not a thousand-yard stare. That would understate the vast and impenetrable distance it encompassed.

He looked as if he had seen a ghost and the ghost had made him watch Mufasa die again….

“When are they coming to airlift me out?” Chris Christie’s eyes are pleading. “Please tell me that they are coming and that it is soon.” But then his expression hardens. Chris Christie knows that they are not coming back for him.

This is his life now.

Soon he must return to the plane onto which Trump humiliatingly sent him before. Soon he must return to the small cupboard under the stairs where he is kept and occasionally thrown small slivers of metaphorical raw meat. When he asked to be part of Trump’s cabinet he never thought to specify “presidential cabinet, of course, not a literal cabinet underground where the ventilation is poor and there is no light.” It just did not occur to him. Why would it?…

And so forth. As I said, go read the whole thing — I’ve probably exceeded the fuzzy bounds of Fair Use already. And I hope I’ll be forgiven for the image screengrabs. I just wanted to illustrate my point about how many times the image was repeated — all five came from the WashPost app this morning.

Somehow, she managed to avoid Heart of Darkness. Perhaps that’s because she wasn’t born yet when “Apocalypse Now” came out — in fact, it preceded her by about nine years. I had to look up “watch Mufasa die” to realize it was from “The Lion King,” whereas it came out when she was about 6, and therefore made a big impression.Christie 4

Looking at him, I was reminded of something I learned from my spotty career as an amateur actor — that the hardest thing for an actor is figuring out what to do on stage when someone else is speaking lines. What do you do with your hands? What should your face be doing? You need to keep acting, but not upstage the person speaking. It’s hard.

But you know what? It was worse than that. In the video below, you see and hear what Christie said to the crowd before Trump came out. And it’s incredible. Here he is speaking the lines, but doing so like a man with a gun to his head, like a POW blinking Morse code in the video, imploring the folks on the homefront to realize he doesn’t mean a word of what he’s saying.

He doesn’t even try to look happy. Which, of course, he isn’t…

Newspaper admits how wrong it was to endorse Christie

You may or may not recall that I Tweeted this Friday, when the N.J. governor abased himself before The Donald:

Well, I was not alone with the mea culpas. Of course, others had more to atone for:

Newspaper that endorsed Christie: ‘Boy, were we wrong’

The New Hampshire Union Leader backed the wrong presidential candidate, the paper said in an editorial posted online Monday evening.

The influential newspaper endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last November, but his endorsement of Donald Trump is apparently a bridge too far.

“Despite his baggage, we thought that as a Republican governor in a Democratic-leading state he had the skills and experience the presidency needs (and hasn’t had of late),” publisher Joseph McQuaid wrote. “We also thought he had the best chance to take on and face down Donald Trump.”

“Boy, were we wrong,” McQuaid added….

I mean, at least I never endorsed the guy, unlike those pathetic losers in New Hampshire…

Marco’s ‘media maestro,’ our own Wesley Donehue

Meet Marco’s digital media maestro: Wesley Donehue

You may have thought Wesley Donehue had already had his one and only brush with fame when he had yours truly on his show, Pub Politics, nine times.

You could be forgiven for thinking so.

But these days, he’s going great guns acting as Marco Rubio’s digital maestro, as CNN puts it. This is evidently a wild ride, and Wesley seems to be thoroughly enjoying it — as would I, in his place.

Watch the video above…

Wesley

‘The Nation’ on politics and race in South Carolina

My headline might make you cringe a bit, but the piece isn’t bad. It doesn’t really say anything about us that I haven’t said, or that you don’t already know.

After all, we are the state that seceded first, and some of us would do it again with just a modest amount of encouragement.

It’s tone-deaf in a couple of spots, though. For instance, it equates Strom Thurmond, the segregationist, with Ben Tillman, the advocate of lynching. Most of us can see the gradations of wrongness there rather clearly. And speaking of Thurmond — the writer either doesn’t know or has forgotten that the senator cleaned up his act in the last few decades of his career. In other words, he spent far more years in the Senate NOT being a segregationist than most people spend in the Senate.

That leads to confusion. After noting approvingly that Paul Thurmond says a lot of enlightened things — which he does; he’s a fine young man — the writer observes,

I leave Thurmond’s office wondering whether what I’ve just heard can be real. He seemed like a sincere man, but he, too, was eager to get beyond race. “My generation has not been taught to hate people based on the color of their skin,” the son of South Carolina’s most notorious segregationist told me.

Yet someone taught Dylann Roof and Michael Slager, the cop who shot Walter Scott in the back. The Confederate flag may finally be on its way to a museum, but the attitude of racial arrogance that the flag represented is very far from being a mere artifact. That’s a fundamental truth of our national life—though not one that’s easy to see from Iowa or New Hampshire. Perhaps South Carolina’s role in our politics is to remind us of all those parallel universes—not just Republican and Democratic, or rich and poor, but yes, still black and white—we work so hard to ignore. We always have a choice. We can carry on pretending that it’s still morning in America, that we’re all in this together. Or we can take a good hard look in the mirror.

Yep, Strom was a notorious segregationist, before he wasn’t. (Oh, and do I think it’s because he had some road-to-Damascus transformation, like Tom Turnipseed, the opponent of integration who did a 180 to become possibly the most ardent, sincerest progressive in South Carolina? No. The world changed, and Thurmond adapted. Early in his career, it was helpful to be a segregationist, so he was one. Later it was not, so he wasn’t. But it’s still true that he wasn’t.)

And the fact that Dylann Roof is a racist does in no way demonstrates that Paul Thurmond is lying when he says he wasn’t brought up that way. Possibly, Dylann Roof wasn’t brought up that way, either. I have my doubts about the old saw that children have to be taught to hate. I strongly suspect that people are capable of getting there on their own. Anyway, almost no one Paul Thurmond’s age was brought up that way, although his father certainly was. We live in subtler, politer times.

But there is no doubt that, decades after the Southern Strategy transferred the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans, race is always, always on the table. The article gets that right. It just misses some of the nuances…

Kristof posts his Tweets on HIS blog, too. So there.

Admittedly, his are often more thoughtful and substantial, such as:

I had that very same thought when Cruz said that, but didn’t think to Tweet it. I don’t know why. Instead, I Tweeted this within one minute of what Kristof said:

Which is OK, but not as pointed, not as helpful, as what Kristof posted. Dang. And in retrospect, it was too soft on Cruz. What Rubio said a moment later, that not only had Cruz not helped the Navy; he was part of the problem, was way better. As were Kristof’s Tweets.

But even if they were better, he WAS using up a blog post to call attention to his Tweets — something I’ve been criticized for doing.

Of course, he wasn’t doing it instead of his thoughtful, well-crafted columns. It was in addition to. And yeah, I sometimes post Tweets as a substitute for extended commentary, when I don’t have time to write a real post. Under the theory that something is better than nothing.

But in my defense, I’ll say this: Kristof still gets paid to write those thoughtful columns. I do not. He doesn’t have to find time around his job to write them; they are his job.

And though I’m envious of that, I do appreciate his commentary on all levels, from Tweet to blog post to column.

Of course, there are people who won’t pay attention to what he says because he’s a liberal, and they think they are conservatives, and they’re thick enough to think that means they should not be exposed to his views. Such as the Trump supporter and member of Congress who wrote, “We could have written them for you before you started, my friend. The bias is simply that intense and unchangeable.” (At least he said “my friend.”)

Yep, Kristof is a pretty consistent liberal, which means I disagree with him frequently. But he’s the kind of liberal who posts such things as this:

… which means he is not only a talented observer, but an intellectually honest man who doesn’t reflexively dismiss what those on the “other side” have to contribute. And we should all listen to such people more.

“Bloggers are we, born to be free…”

Did you see Rep. Mike Pitts’ proposal that journalists be registered?

To his credit, Mr. Pitts apparently did this ironically. The intention, apparently, is to mount a facetious attack on the First Amendment to make a point about the Second, which doesn’t really make sense, but don’t stop him; he’s on a roll.

Anyway, last night Bryan asked, via Twitter, whether this would also apply to bloggers.

No way, I responded defiantly:

In the studio with Todd and Joel on Cynthia Hardy’s show

Studio

Just sharing this shot of Rep. Todd Atwater, Sen. Joel Lourie and me in the studio during Cynthia Hardy’s On Point radio show on the Big DM this evening.

Note that Todd is alert and looking around, Joel is playing the nerd studying the notes he had brought with him about the SOTU and Gov. Haley’s response, and I’m staring at my phone, probably writing this Tweet:

Which prompted Rob Godfrey from the governor’s office to respond:

Yes, this is a very self-referential blog post. But then, blogs tend to be that way as a medium — they are to journalism what selfies are to photography.

We had a good discussion, with everyone on board with agreeing with both the president and the governor in their calls for greater civility and less negativity. In fact, if our Legislature consisted entirely of Joel Louries and Todd Atwaters, we’d get a lot more done at the State House.

Not that there wasn’t sincere disagreement. Todd and Joel had a pretty good back-and-forth about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. At one point I almost jumped in on Joel’s side, when Todd said it was a shame the president didn’t meet Republicans halfway on the issue.

Hey, I was about to say, the president and the Democrats did meet Republicans halfway and more from the get-go — before the debate on the Act was joined, before the president was even elected.

That happened when Obama didn’t run advocating for single-payer, which is the one really rational approach to healthcare. And he backed away from that in deference to the wall of Republican resistance that already existed against it. So he and the other Dems started out with a compromise position.

But then the subject changed, and we didn’t return to it. Just as well. I was being presented to listeners as the guy in the middle between Joel the Democrat and Todd the Republican, and it would have just confused everybody if I had jumped out on the one issue where I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders. That is, that’s where my position has been cast popularly — mostly by Republican resistance that has made Democrats afraid to embrace it. I don’t consider it to be to the left of anything. To me, it’s the commonsense, nonideological, pragmatic option. And a lot simpler than the ACA.

Speaking of Bernie… He and the author of Hillarycare will be on the tube in awhile, so I think I’ll stop and rest up to get ready to Tweet during that. Join me @BradWarthen if you’re so inclined.

 

Lindsey Graham, back from the campaign trail

Graham availability

You may already have read Andy Shain’s piece on Lindsey Graham’s press availability in Columbia yesterday. It began:

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday that he quit the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination last month because he saw no clear path to the upper tier of candidates, some of whom — Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — he sees as toxic to the GOP.

The Seneca Republican regularly was named the winner of the GOP race’s “undercard” debates, which featured lower-polling candidates. But not getting on the main debate stage killed his chances to win greater support, Graham said.

Graham thought that if he could make the top three in the New Hampshire primary polls, he could have won the next GOP contest, in his home state of South Carolina….

And so forth. I won’t repeat anything Andy already said. But here are a few points Graham made that Andy didn’t touch on:

  • Asked whether he was interested in serving in the Cabinet of the eventual winner, he said he didn’t think so. He sees it as too important to stay in the Senate. He’s one of the few who can work across the aisle, and he’s convinced that none of the actual challenges that face the country — dealing with entitlement reform, dealing comprehensively with immigration — can be dealt with by one party or the other. It’s going to take coalition-building. It’s going to take people who can “get to ‘yes’.”
  • “This is a religious war” that the West is engaged in, and winning will require working with Muslims — the 99 percent who “are non-radical Islamists.” That’s why the approach of a Trump will never work.
  • Is Christianity under attack in this country — with laws forcing employers to provide birth control, or a court ruling creating the institution of same-sex marriage? No, he says. Not in this country. Democracy has outlets for people to express their views, and sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. There is a war against Christianity, though, and everything else about Western culture — but it’s happening in the Mideast.
  • Did he like running for president enough to do it again? As Andy wrote, he’d consider it. And the reason why is that he thinks there’s a market for what he offers. “I think people are looking around for somebody like me,” if not actually him. Somebody who will be “tough on our enemies,” but who believes in pluralism, in the principles of a liberal democracy and land of opportunity.
  • On the campaign trail, John McCain “worked harder for me than he did for himself,” and Graham deeply appreciates it. Noting that politicians are a little too quick to call everyone their friend, but in this case, it applies: “John McCain is my friend.”
  • Reminiscing about the campaign trail, he asked whether anyone had heard the story of his encounter with an out-and-out racist in a pool hall. No one said yes, so he told the story, which recognized before he was done. The voter in question muttered some ethnic slurs, including the “N-word.” Graham said “I totally dissociate myself from this guy,” and answered a few more questions before taking the bigot on in a game of pool — and winning. “It was fun to beat his ass,” Graham said Friday.
  • Speaking of pool halls, Graham said anyone who grew up in a bar — as Graham did, the one his parents owned — is very familiar with people like Donald Trump, and knows how to deal with them.
  • Touching on fellow South Carolina Republicans, he said Nikki Haley being chosen to deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union is “a big honor” for our state, Tim Scott is “a rock star,” and Trey Gowdy has done well with the tough hand he was dealt. “South Carolina is hitting above her weight” on the national political scene.

Earlier, I had asked him another SC question. I wondered whether, with Newt Gingrich having won here in 2012 and Trump and Cruz doing so well here this time, South Carolina’s losing its touch on picking eventual nominees, and presidents. In other words, is South Carolina becoming irrelevant?

He didn’t think so. His answer is on the video clip that follows…

Did you read my comments in the NYT?

Over the weekend, the NYT finally ran that piece by Richard Fausset, in which he quoted me on the subject of the Confederate flag.

Some people are nationally recognized experts on quantum physics. Others are sought after for what they have to say about macroeconomics. Me, I’m seen as a boffin on South Carolina’s cheesy, nylon, fake Confederate flag.

Hey, it’s something. And if anybody’s got an idea on how to monetize this, my super-power, I’m listening.

Anyway, here’s my bit in the story:

The museum is also full of Confederate battle flags that were used by South Carolinians during the war — unlike the flag that was removed from the State House. That makes the whole issue of honoring the State House flag in the museum particularly absurd to critics like Brad Warthen, a former editorial page editor at The State in Columbia, who now blogs about South Carolina politics.

Mr. Warthen has noted that legislators, years ago, mandated that the flag be made of nylon, rather than cotton, to keep the colors from fading. He ridiculed this as ahistorical and “cheesy.” (One of his old columns began with altered lyrics to the song “Dixie”: “Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon.”)

Like many here, Mr. Warthen believes that spending millions to display the flag makes little sense in a state that is struggling to find funds for road and infrastructure repairs (much needed after catastrophic flooding in October), educational initiatives and changes to a scandal-plagued Department of Social Services.

“Our state’s spending needs are legion,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how you feel about the flag. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources.”…

I tweeted about this Sunday morning, and Phillip Bush responded:

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. This may be my first time in that august publication. I’ve been in the WSJ once or twice, but not, as I recall, in the Gray Lady. It’s nice to be quoted in a paper where they call you “mister.”

But think about it: Donald Trump is in there every day. So, you know…

Personally, I’ve never seen a Telnaes cartoon I liked

cruz23n-2-web

Last night, Bryan Caskey brought the above cartoon to my attention. Apparently, it was presented in a context that indicated that the monkeys represented Ted Cruz’ young daughters.

My only reaction was this:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Ann Telnaes cartoon that I liked. Don’t like her style, and I can’t recall when she’s ever had a good idea. I never used her in the paper…

In other words, I think the cartoon stinks. But then, that’s my standard reaction to her work. With actually good cartoonists losing their jobs to cost-cutting in recent years, it rather surprises me that she has kept hers.

Today, it seems, that cartoon is a huge deal in social media. And Telnaes’ editor has withdrawn it from the Post‘s website, with this explanation:

Editor’s note from Fred Hiatt: It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.

So, it seems that even an editor who does normally run her cartoons won’t run this one.

Cruz has used this as a way of damning all journalists, because, you know, we’re all responsible. Just one, big, colonial animal. It plays well with his base.

But hey, a guy gets to rant a bit when defending his kids…

‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ makes list of biggest canards

As you probably know, The Washington Post has a fact checker feature which involves regularly checking the veracity of various claims that make news, and awards “Pinocchios” to indicate the relative level of falsehood. The biggest lies get four Pinocchios.

The Post has now published a year-end list of “The biggest Pinocchios of 2015,” and as you might expect, the list is dominated by the 2016 presidential candidates. In just six months, Donald Trump has earned 11 Four-Pinocchio ratings — far more than any other candidate.

Politicians, of course, are easy targets. Their statements are regularly subjected to great skepticism and close scrutiny.

What struck me as most intriguing (and not just because it was more of a 2014 thing than 2015) is that the Post chose to include, on this list of biggest lies, the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme out of Ferguson. In other words, the Post is highlighting that thousands of morally outraged people who thought they were speaking truth to power were in fact perpetuating a falsehood.

The belief that Michael Brown raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot!” was embraced without question by protesters across the country, and helped to launch the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The thing is, though, that to the best of our knowledge, it did not happen. As the Post states, “But various investigations concluded this did not happen — and that Wilson acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown.”

The irony here, of course, is that there are other incidents across the country more deserving of protesters’ indignation — Walter Scott being shot multiple times in the back, the shocking killing of Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner suffocating in a police chokehold.

But unfortunately the Michael Brown killing — which was never as clear-cut a case of police brutality as other incidents — was the one that got the ball rolling. And it’s appropriate, in the interest of historical accuracy, to take note of the fact that the protesters didn’t know what had happened.

Reminds me of the Boston “Massacre.” The British soldiers involved were later acquitted, and rightly so (John Adams was their defense attorney, which took a lot of guts and a profound faith in the rule of law).

That didn’t mean the Revolution that followed was without merit. On the whole, I’d call our independence an excellent thing. But sometimes people are initially radicalized by the wrong things…

I need to pay more attention to Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat has been out there at the edge of my consciousness for a while, but I haven’t actually focused on him. He joined the NYT‘s op-ed page in April 2009, a month after I was laid off from the paper, so he was never in the mix of columnists that I pored through and compared in choosing content for The State.

A few times, he’s come to my attention with a column or an idea that briefly intrigued me, but I just haven’t read him enough to form an impression. I should probably make more of an effort, after what I read today. His next-to-most-recent column ran in The State, and it included this passage:

I do not own guns, and the last time I discharged a firearm was on “Second Amendment Day” at a conservative journalism program many years ago. (Yes, dear reader, that’s how conservative journalism programs roll.) My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian, I don’t think the Constitution guarantees a right to bear every kind of gun or magazine, and I think of myself as modestly persuadable in the gun control debate….

No, not the part about his attending a “conservative journalism program,” which to me sounds every bit as appalling as “liberal journalism program,” but the good bit. This bit:

My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian…

I forget the last time a major national pundit said something like that, if one of them ever did. (It’s the sort of thing David Brooks might well say, but I don’t know that he’s ever put it that plainly.)

So I just went back and read his last few columns, before running up against the NYT‘s paywall (sorry, but I’m subscribing to three newspapers and one magazine currently, and just can’t afford to add another). I particularly liked the one examining whether Donald Trump is, strictly speaking, a fascist (spoiler: he is), but all were thought-provoking.

So, while I can’t say yet that I’m a fan, to the extent that the Times will let me, I’m going to start paying more attention…

 

Cindi Scoppe’s 8th annual cake party

cake

She surveys her handiwork with satisfaction just before allowing her guests to plunge in.

What does Cindi Scoppe do when she’s not producing the best print commentary — nay, the best political journalism — in South Carolina?

She bakes cakes.

Cindi shared this shot taken by a priest who observed, "She laughs uproariously at things that aren't even funny."

Cindi shared this shot, which reflects what Tucker Eskew once said about her: “She laughs uproariously at things that aren’t even funny.”

Not just a cake here or there. She bakes a lot of cakes. And not your yellow cake out of the Duncan Hines box. She bakes, from scratch, such things as “Cookie Dough Brownie Cake” and “Caramel Almond Torte” and “Orange Cheesecake” and “Apple Sharlotka” and “Pistachio Baklava Cake” and on and on.

And she does it all at once.

Several score of her closest friends were reminded of this over the weekend at her 8th annual Advent cake party. She served 25 cakes in all.

She took off all of last week to complete the task, even though that meant doing the whole week’s editorial pages ahead of time. What of that? Those cakes weren’t going to bake themselves.

Cindi… needs this outlet. What’s more, she deserves it. She works long hours at the paper doing the work of eight people. Then she takes home mind-numbing documents such as legislative bills and academic studies and reads every word of them on nights and weekends.

Someone out there who knows this about her may object, “But she’s diabetic.” True, and I think that may have something to do with the… intensity… of her cake fixation. But there was never a diabetic who more assiduously kept track of her condition or addressed it more readily. More than once, I’ve seen her hike up her skirt and give herself a shot of insulin in the thigh because there was a slice of cake before her that needed eating. (Once, she did this in the governor’s office over lunch. I thought Mark Sanford was going to fall out of his chair.) Cindi’s just a very matter-of-fact person who deals with things, eats her cake and moves on.

I asked her for some stats — how much sugar, for instance. She said she had no idea, but she did offer, “I want to say around 25 pounds of butter.”

She sent me all the recipes. I count, let’s see, 99 eggs, plus the yolks of two others. One recipe, chocolate mousse cake plus chocolate buttercream frosting, called for eight eggs.

Needless to say, I wasn’t eating any of this, or even coming into contact with it. Nothing is more deadly to me than dairy products and eggs. But I took a plateful home, since my wife couldn’t make it to the party. She appreciated it.

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes?

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes? Not to mention that very sharp pink knife she’s wielding.

The NYT’s front-page editorial about guns

CVehHIBWcAERqKB

We knew that the New York Daily News was conducting a rather lurid campaign against guns on its tabloid front, but things have taken a significant new turn in a more respectable direction.

The Gray Lady, The New York Times itself, has published its first front-page editorial since 1920, headlined, “End the Gun Epidemic in America.”

This is a profound development, folks. The editors of the Times have resorted to a step that they did not see as necessitated by anything going on during the Great Recession, World War II, the turmoil of the 1960s, Watergate, 9/11 or anything else that happened during the past 95 years.

I suppose that’s because, while those other things were huge news events, none involved such difficult questions about what sort of nation we want to be as does this. More to the point, none of those things were likely to run into such adamant opposition as this initiative. If we’re really, truly, after all these years, about to have a serious national discussion about guns, it may be our toughest disagreement since slavery.

An excerpt from the editorial:

All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected to international terrorism. That is right and proper.

But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.

It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism….

Bryan and I have already been having a discussion about this today, via Twitter. This post is intended to broaden the discussion:

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.