Category Archives: Media

The missing word in Cindi Scoppe’s column today

I refer you to the ending of Cindi Scoppe’s column today, which explains that while we do need to spend more to upgrade our roads, their condition is not the greatest contributor to traffic fatalities in our state. She lists some of the other factors:

… The biggest problem: The Legislature refuses to treat drunk driving the way it treats other highway safety laws and the way all the other states treat it. Rather than making it illegal per se to drive with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, it practically begs jurors to conclude that a driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent, or higher, didn’t really look that drunk.

To understand how absurd our law is, imagine being clocked at 90 mph in a 55 zone but being found not guilty because you convinced a jury that you were in complete control of the vehicle the entire time. Our laws don’t even give you a chance to try that sort of defense — unless you’re charged with drunk driving.

Of course, drunk driving isn’t our only problem.

Distracted driving is a huge problem, but we don’t restrict cell-phone use — even among drivers who are so inexperienced that we don’t let them drive at night or with friends in the car.

Our death rates are high for motorcyclists, but we don’t require adults to wear helmets.

Elderly drivers are more dangerous than all but the youngest drivers, but we don’t require road tests or more frequent license renewals for older drivers. (We do require a vision test every five years, rather than the normal 10 years, but the 10-year standard is just asking for trouble for everyone.)

We prohibit the use of traffic and red-light cameras.

We don’t have particularly tough penalties for speeding in work zones.

And the list goes on.

It’s all an outgrowth of our resistance to anyone telling us what to do. And it all contributes, a lot more than the condition of our roads, to our deadly highways.

She left a word out of that penultimate sentence. She should have said, “It’s all an outgrowth of our childish resistance to anyone telling us what to do.”

Maybe she thought it would be redundant. Or maybe she didn’t want to unfairly malign children by using that modifier to explain the hard-headed, self-destructive, don’t-care-what-harm-I-do-to-others attitude that infects our politics, and keeps us from having sane, sensible laws that would help us be healthier, wealthier and wiser.

Why do I say “childish?” Because of my extensive experience with 2-year-olds, and then later with teenagers, whose insistence upon doing what they want to do, and doing it their way, without adult interference, is such a danger to them and others.

My grandson is 2, and up until know he has been a compliant child, receptive to adults’ caring influence. Now, he’s a sweet as ever, but his favorite word is “Me!” As in, he wants to fasten the straps on his car seat himself, which is worrisome. Fortunately, it hasn’t yet occurred to him to go without such a restraint — which makes him more mature than the sort of adult voter who keeps us from having reasonable laws in South Carolina.

George W. Bush and the Trivago Guy: Separated at birth?

trivago guy

Can’t you see it? It’s right there — the patented “W” smirk…

Troy Patterson says it well in Slate:

Trivago, the Düsseldorf-based travel search engine, has a most peculiar on-air pitchman—a sallow avatar of middle-aged masculinity, a found object and a cult item, an accidental enigma.

Just look at this guy. The voice is deep with command, round with Shatnerian ham gravity, rich with a Peter Graves graininess. The eyes are beseeching but confidently steady. The clothes have been woken up in. The man is seedily creased, grayly stubbled, distractingly beltless. He may be looking for a hotel after coming home at 3 a.m. to find that his wife changed the locks. These unusual ads have been attracting baffled notice for a while, but now is the season for big travel-industry ad buys, and the Trivago pitchman is, unlike the blades of his rotary shaver, in heavy rotation.

Some viewers find his ubiquity annoying, while others fail to succumb to annoyance because they are entranced by his skeevy vibe. Who is he? Why should I trust his judgment? What is his profession? Record producer? Is his travel-planning wisdom born of bitter experience? Has he got any drugs? How did this oddity come to pass?…

Shatner, yes. Peter Graves, maybe — although neither of them ever displayed this level of seediness. He looks like a bank executive who’s been on a three-day bender.

What were the ad wizards at Trivago thinking when they picked this guy to be their official face?

But there was something that Troy Patterson didn’t pick up on, something that nagged at me through most of this ad. I sensed a presence, once I had not felt since…

Aha! Right at the end, I saw it. This guy stole that smirky half-smile from George W. Bush. This actor could not have tested well among Democrats, whose teeth are always set on edge by that smile…

Remembering Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee

Lamar Hand Shaking_Display

I got this email yesterday…

Hi Brad,

I am a staff writer for Governing Magazine and came across your blog while doing some Googling about Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee. (Governing covers state and local governments across the country and our audience is largely elected officials/public employees.) I’m working on a fun piece for one of our upcoming issues about the political stunt of walking and was wondering if you were available this week to chat about the topic as you covered Alexander’s campaign in ‘78. The piece will take an overall look at some of the more famous “walks” by pols – from Missouri’s Walkin’ Joe Teasdale to Illinois’ (aptly named) Dan Walker, the public stroll has been a popular political tool. More recently, Adam O’Neal, mayor of the small town of Belhaven, N.C., took a 273-mile trek to Washington, D.C. to protest the closing of his local hospital. President Obama this spring took an impromptu stroll to the Dept. of the Interior for a meeting.

I’d love to hear your take on the effectiveness of Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk and how it resonated with people. And I’m also curious about your broader thoughts on the gimmick as a whole. How effective has this type of stunt been? Who’s done it right and are there pitfalls?

Are you available Wednesday or Thursday for a phone call? Or you can always reach me directly at the number below.

Thanks,

Liz

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Liz Farmer | Staff Writer
Governing Magazine

… and I talked with Liz for about 20 minutes this morning.

I didn’t have anything really profound to say. Here are some of the points I hit on:

  • First, I wasn’t on the actual, full walk across Tennessee (which, if you follow I-40, is about 450 miles). I was covering him during the last weeks of the general election campaign, and he had completed the walk (if I remember correctly) well before the primary. His walk was a campaign trope in the past tense: “On my walk across the state, I found yadda-yadda…” BUT I got the general flavor of it, because everywhere he went, he’d get out and walk a mile or so along the side of the road in his trademark red-and-black checked flannel shirt, khakis and hiking boots, waving at the cars. I got some photos of him doing that along a busy thoroughfare in Nashville. The brand was working for him, so he kept it going through to the end.
  • Lamar was trying to set himself apart at a time when politicians-as-usual had a particularly seedy reputation. The state had endured four years of astoundingly bold corruption under Democrat Ray Blanton. And Lamar himself had worked in the Nixon White House, a fact that might have figured in his failure to get elected four years earlier. Nixon was the master of limited access and staged availabilities, since he was so socially awkward. This walk was the opposite, and allowed him to project as an outdoorsy, clean-cut kind of guy — he looked and sounded like Pat Boone (Boone did some PSAs that were airing on the radio at about that time, and whenever he came on, I thought it was Alexander).
  • Since she was looking for examples of politicians talking long walks for political purposes, I urged her to look into Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000 to demand that the Confederate flag come off the dome. That had an impact at the time — and was mentioned recently in a nationally syndicated column, so it should be easy to look up.
  • Even though we’re far more cynical and suspicious these days, I think Tennesseans who remember Alexander’s walk still have positive connotations connected to it, largely because he wasn’t a disappointment to them. He was open and aboveboard in his dealings as governor. He worked VERY well across the aisle, persuading Speaker Ned Ray McWherter and the other Democratic leaders to go for the kinds of education reform that were usually anathema to Dems. He harks back to a better time, when Republicans like him and his mentor Howard Baker disagreed with Democrats, but didn’t see them as the enemy, but as people to work with for the betterment of the state and country.
  • That, of course, is why Alexander has Tea-Party opposition in this Thursday’s primary (Tennessee has primaries at a much more rational and voter-friendly time than we do; our June primaries mean there’s plenty of time for mischief in the Legislature after filing deadlines). Here’s hoping his opponent does no better than his counterpart in Kansas, the president’s distant cousin. Lamar Alexander is exactly the kind of senator this country needs in Washington, and there too few like him left. (See “In Tennessee, consensus politics makes a last stand” by Dan Balz in the WashPost.)

I wished I could have put my hands on one story I wrote, right after Alexander won the 1978 election, which ran on the front page of The Jackson Sun. It was an exclusive, and one of the best stories I wrote during my brief time as a reporter. It was Alexander’s own account of how he had come back after defeat four years earlier. A week or two before Election Day, at the end of a long day of campaigning, Alexander and a reporter from the Tennessean were relaxing over a drink on the campaign plane on the way back from an event at one of the far ends of the state. (We had access to candidates in those days that reporters only dream of now, and our papers thought nothing about paying a pro-rata share of the plane rides.) Alexander just started talking about how he come to that point, and the Tennessean guy just listened and enjoyed his drink, and I took notes like mad. Even John Parish, the gruff dean of Tennessee political writers, praised the piece I got from that eavesdropping.

That probably would have provided Liz with some insights, but this was years before electronic archiving. That clip is probably moldering in a box in my attic somewhere…

Our governor’s mature, calm, professional op-ed piece

During my vacation last week, I saw Nikki Haley’s op-ed piece taking issue with an editorial that took issue with her, shall we say, lack of precision with facts and figures. An excerpt from the Haley piece:

The State newspaper’s editorial board recently reminded its readers that they should verify the things I say (“There she goes again,” July 22). I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good reminder, and I encourage the editorial board to verify the statements of all public officials. The people of our state deserve an honest, open and accountable government that serves them, not the other way around. It’s something I’ve fought for every day of my administration….

If The State editorial board believes that I meant to imply that all 3,000 regulations the task force reviewed were recommended for extinction, then either I misspoke or the members of the board misinterpreted what I said. Either one could be the case — I am not always perfect in the words I choose, and I’d guess that The State editorial writers are not perfect either….

Here’s what struck me about the piece: It was lucid, mature, and to the point.

While it verged on sarcasm in one or two spots, it was considerably less defensive than I expected it to be, based on the topic and the author and her usual tone when complaining about being mistreated by the press.

She made effective use of her opportunity to get her own message out, rather than wasting a lot of her words and energy whining about the newspaper being mean to her.

I considered it to be a very grown-up, professional response. And it made me wonder who is behind this shift in style of communication.

And yeah, I know that sounds really, really condescending. But I don’t mean it to be. This governor has shown a tendency to be thin-skinned, and has lavished little love on the MSM, but based on my experience with op-eds from thin-skinned politicos in the past — not just her — this was a departure.

I’ve been in this situation enough to know when someone departs from the pattern, which goes like this: A politician or other public figure who doesn’t have the greatest relationship with the paper asks for space to rebut something said about him or her or something he or she is involved in. You indicate openness to running such a piece. It comes in, and it’s nothing but an extended whine about how mean the paper is, and the writer’s defense gets lost amid the moaning.

At that point, I would delicately suggest that the writer was doing himself or herself an injustice, and wasting an opportunity. I would suggest bumping up the parts that actually rebut what we had published, and leaving out all the unsupported complaining that was beside the point and bound to make the writer look petty and turn off a disinterested observer.

The writer’s hackles would rise, and I’d be accused of suppressing legitimate opinion and just wanting to leave out the stuff that made the paper look bad. When what I was honestly trying to do was help the writer avoid looking bad, and help him or her make the most of the space. To help the reader focus on the actual difference of opinion, rather than the acrimony.

Anyway, I started reading this piece expecting one of those experiences. But it wasn’t like that at all. The governor did a good job of fighting her corner, and looking cool and above the fray — and managed to spend some paragraphs getting her own message out beyond the immediate point of contention.

It was a very smart, professional job, and I was impressed.

Our own Burl wrote ‘The Greatest Movie Review Ever Written’

Saw this via social media (and in an email from Burl) while I was at the beach last week…

It’s apparently from a 2011 blog post by Adam Green, who describes himself thusly:

I am Vogue’s theater critic. I also write for The New Yorker, and I’m writing a book, too. So there you have it.   

Green wrote,

I first read this, xeroxed, in George Meyer’s legendary Army Man magazine, and it has stayed with me ever since. Its author, Burl Burlingame, still writes and reviews movies for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Whatever else he has done, or will do, he will always be remembered for the phrase “gassy, recently embalmed appearance.”

And then he quoted the review in its entirety. It was of the otherwise forgettable “Cannonball Run II.”

A sample of Burl’s immortal prose:

A minimum effort from all concerned, “Cannonball Run II” is this summer’s effort by Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham to get the public to subsidize a month-long party for Burt and his pals. The home movies taken during the party are edited into something resembling a feature film, at least in length.tumblr_lu52uhRKBN1qz9lb6
     They’re asking $4 for admission, and that doesn’t include even one canape.
     Burt’s friends are musty, dusty attractions at the Hollywood Wax Museum. They include Dean Martin, whose skin has the texture and unhealthy pallor of a cantaloupe rind and who says things like “When I make a dry martini, I make a dry martini,”—a sure-fire Rat Pack knee-slapper—and Sammy Davis Jr., who looks like a cockroach. Director Needham also never bothered to make sure Davis’ glass eye was pointing in the proper direction. It rolls wildly, independent of the other orb.
     Other couch potatoes direct from “The Tonight Show” are the insufferable Charles Nelson Reilly; wheeze-monger Foster Brooks; Jim Nabors, who has swell-looking artificial teeth; and Don Knotts, who looks like a chimp recently released from Dachau….

I urge you to go read the whole thing, just to make sure you’re never tempted to call up this chestnut on Netflix or something. Oh, I’ll just go ahead and give you Burl’s ending:

     The movie is a genuine cultural artifact, a relic given to us by a band of entertainers from long ago, who live in self-imposed exile in the dusty, neon hellhole of Las Vegas.
     They seem to have no trouble amusing each other.
     It’s not contagious.

Images of Bob Coble welcoming the Somali Bantu

CobleBantuJack

This morning, I ran into a friend while waiting for an elevator, and he, trying to raise his small-talk game above the talking-about-the-weather level, asked me one of my least-favorite polite questions:

Do you miss working at the newspaper?

He meant well. So, I believe, have most of the people who have asked me that question over the past five years. But I do have to wonder sometimes at the thought process that leads them to think that’s a polite question.

Think about it. It could elicit a response of:

  1. No, not at all. Which seems highly unlikely after having spent 35 years in the game. I could say it, but I would have to forgive anyone who heard it as false bravado. Or,
  2. Yes, with all my being, every minute of the day. Which would sound pretty pathetic, and just embarrass everyone within earshot.

So I generally just say something in-between. Such as, “I’ll tell you one thing I miss about it,” etc. I then mention some routine thing that is different about life on the outside, something that’s not particularly overburdened with emotional freight.

For instance, the other day, when I was reminded of former Mayor Bob Coble literally embracing the head of the first Bantu family to arrive in Columbia, was a day when I missed one thing in particular: Having access to The State‘s photo archives. As I mentioned here, I searched the web and came up dry. That wouldn’t have happened when I was at the paper.

So that’s one thing I miss.

Fortunately, a couple of folks came to my rescue on that one point. WIS veteran Jack Kuenzie sent me the image above, with the message:

Resolution is not great because I had to snag it off a computer screen. I seem to recall that photo being on the front page. Bob had it framed in his office.

Then, Bob’s son Daniel Coble sent me an image of the very picture I had been thinking of, which you see below. Daniel wrote:

Brad, I saw you posted about the immigrant children the other day and mentioned the Bantus. Here’s the picture of them together. Sorry I don’t have the article to go with it

So thanks, Jack Daniel! I mean, thanks Jack, and thanks, Daniel!

CobleBantuDaniel

Today’s evidence that everybody needs an editor

climate change

Bryan Caskey brought this headline to my attention, confessing that “I had no idea there were people out there who supported climate-change.”

Well, yeah. And believe me, you really do have to “spend big” if you want to effect change in an entire planet’s climate, so give that copy editor a break…

Weigh in and say WHAT, Eva?

Regarding all the things said about Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin in the recent Pinson trial, Eva Moore has this to say in Free Times:

Yet there seems to be some discomfort in Columbia about either condemning the mayor or letting him off the hook. The usual mainstream pontificators — The State’s editorial board, blogger Brad Warthen, WIS General Manager Donita Todd — have yet to weigh in on the mayor’s role in the Pinson trial.

This was brought to my attention by my daughter, who said it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m employed by the MSM or not; the Free Times will always label me that way.

I guess.

As for the rest of it — weigh in? Weigh in and say WHAT, Eva?

As she points out, we’ve been treated to the unusual spectacle of a lot of loose talk ABOUT the mayor in open court, but no charges brought. Makes you wonder if there’s another shoe, and if so, when it will drop.

Improper financial dealings. A sex-tinged anecdote. Some back-and-forth about whether the mayor should have reported the trip or not — one of those “ethics” issues we natter about when we don’t know how to get at the actual scandal, if there is one.

And frankly, I don’t have any opinions about that. At least, none that are busting to get out of me. If you ask me, I’ll say that I prefer that the mayor of Columbia not have this cloud hanging over him. The city needs a good mayor with good ideas who is in a position to lead. And a clouded mayor can’t lead much. So the city sort of drifts. Or it can. We’ll see.

But folks, I don’t know enough either to call for his head or to defend him against all comers. I just don’t. Do you? If so, have at it…

Plagiarism flap in the Lowcountry

Tyler Jones, spokesman for SC House Democrats, brings this to my attention:

BREAKING NEWS!
GOP Legislator Busted for Plagiarism
On Monday, Berkeley County GOP Rep. Samuel Rivers, a Tea Party activist and pastor, published an op-ed in the Post and Courier that discussed new EPA proposals in Congress.
The only problem?
He didn’t write it. 

According to Hutchins’ story, Rep. Rivers published an op-ed in the Charleston Post & Courier on Monday, July 21st under the byline of Samuel Rivers Jr.
Hutchins quickly found this exact same editorial was recently published out west by a cattleman’s association group.
———————————–
Compare Op-Eds:
 —————————–——
How similar are the op-eds? Have a look for yourself:
Excerpts from the Cattlemen’s Association Op-Ed:
“In 1972, the CWA created a regulatory permitting system to control discharges (discharge includes dirt, manure, fertilizer, litter, pesticides, etc.) into “navigable waters.” The term “navigable waters” is defined in the CWA as “waters of the United States” and nothing more. This absurdly vague definition has provided the implementing federal agencies – namely EPA and the Corps – with the loophole they needed to systematically gain more and more regulatory authority over smaller and less significant “bodies of water” – a term used loosely – over the past 40 years.”
“How did they do it? Through vague terms such as “neighboring,” ill-defined terms like “floodplain,” and expansive definitions such as “tributary.” Not to mention the agencies extremely broad definition of what is considered a “significant nexus” between isolated waters and downstream waters. The agencies also leave most of these important key terms up to the “best professional judgment” of the federal regulator. These legal terms give the regulatory agencies the loopholes they need to find your pond, puddle or ditch to be a “water of the U.S.” and leave landowners with more confusion than ever before.”
Excerpts from Rep. River’s Op-Ed:
“When passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act created a regulatory permitting system to control discharges (including dirt, manure, fertilizer, litter, pesticides, etc.) into “navigable waters.” The term “navigable waters” is defined in the CWA as “waters of the United States,” and nothing more. This vague definition has provided the implementing federal agencies (namely EPA and the Corps) with the loophole they needed to systematically gain more regulatory authority over smaller and less significant “bodies of water” over the past 40 years.”

“This is done through vague terms such as “neighboring,” ill-defined terms like “floodplain,” and expansive definitions such as “tributary,” not to mention the agencies’ extremely broad definition of what is considered a “significant nexus” between isolated waters and downstream waters. The agencies also leave most of these important key terms up to the “best professional judgment” of the federal regulator. These legal terms give the regulatory agencies the loopholes they need to find your pond, puddle or ditch to be a “water of the U.S.,” leaving landowners with more confusion than ever before.”

As you can see, almost all of Rep. Rivers’ op-ed was lifted verbatim from the Cattlemen’s Association op-ed.

Confronted with the facts, Rep. Rivers doubled down telling Hutchins, “Those are my words with the information that was provided to me, let me put it like that.”
It’s bad enough to plagiarize someone else’s work – present it as your own – and publish it in the state’s largest newspaper. But it’s even worse to lie about it after you’ve been caught.
The voters of District 15 deserve a representative who will be open and honest with them about the issues confronting our state. Not someone who will copy and paste someone else’s work and claim it as their own. The voters deserve an apology and an explanation from Rep. Samuel Rivers.
Sincerely,
Tyler Jones
Political Director
SC House Democrats
P.S. Don’t forget Rep. Rivers has a Democratic opponent, Marian Redish, in the November elections. You can make a contribution to her campaign by visiting her website - www.MarianForHouse.com.

Tyler had asked me for my thoughts on this earlier, and so had Corey Hutchins. Both wanted to know what I would have done had such a piece run in The State when I was EPE. Corey just wanted to know what I thought off-the-record, but you know me, I don’t mind sharing what I told him…

The truth is that first, I don’t know exactly what I would have done. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s the opposite of a cop-out — it’s me taking the question seriously.

And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll do in a given situation until you’re in it, and dealing with the very specific facts and dynamics of the situation, and consulting with your colleagues about it. (While I have never been shy about making unilateral decisions, I learned to my greater humility that as smart as I may have thought I was, I was always smarter after a serious discussion with my fellow members of the editorial board. And sometimes I made a different decision as a result.)

If you hold a gun to my head, I’ll speculate that under such circumstances I MIGHT write a column about it, as it’s an interesting situation that sheds light on the piece that we ran, and also into the editorial process, which I always liked to do….

If I didn’t want to spend a column (a decidedly finite resource) on it, I might do a blog post about it. But then I would feel some obligation to let print-only readers know the controversy existed. Maybe a brief blurb leading people to the blog post.

But that’s first-blush. As I say, in the actual situation I might do something different…

So I don’t like to second-guess what another editor did or didn’t do. Speaking of which, it appears that what Charleston did do was take the piece off their website. An update from Corey:

UPDATE, 7/25: Rivers’ op-ed appears to have been pulled by The Post and Courier. The link to the commentary now goes to a page that reads, “Error 404 – This page is either no longer available or has been relocated.” A search for phrases from the op-ed on the paper’s site yielded no results.

Charles Rowe, the editorial page editor, didn’t have much to say when asked earlier today if the paper had any update on the situation. Rowe did not immediately respond to another inquiry this afternoon, after the op-ed disappeared.

Rivers, however, hasn’t been quiet. He has repeatedly posted to his Twitter account a letter that indicates he had permission—from a lobbyist—to use industry-written material in his op-ed. …

Obamacare ruling: WOW, talk about a lack of perspective!

There’s some big news out of a federal appeals court in D.C., and I am just stunned by the lack of perspective in the way The Washington Post is reporting it:

federal appeals court panel in the District struck down a major part of the 2010 health-care law Tuesday, ruling that the tax subsidies that are central to the program may not be provided in at least half of the states.

The ruling, if upheld, could potentially be more damaging to the law than last month’s Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. [emphasis mine]

The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs who argued that the language of the law barred the government from giving subsidies to people in states that chose not to set up their own insurance marketplaces. Twenty-seven states, most with Republican leaders who oppose the law, decided against setting up marketplaces, and another nine states partially opted out…..

Wow. Do ya think?

This ruling, “if upheld,” would mean Obamacare would cease to exist for those of us in South Carolina and in 26 other states. There would be nothing left of it. We don’t have the Medicaid expansion, and we don’t have a state exchange, so this would be it — no one — South Carolina would be getting health insurance through the ACA.

Which, of course, is precisely what Nikki Haley and all those other SC Republicans who hate Barack Obama and all he stands for far, FAR more than they care about the people of SC want. Their dream, our nightmare, would be achieved — South Carolina would have “opted out” of health care reform.

Compare that to a ruling that closely-held corporations with religious objections would not have to cover some contraceptives — while covering EVERYTHING ELSE that a person would go to a doctor for.

So, uh, yeah, it could “potentially” (that hedge word is just the cherry on top of this monument to lack of perspective) be more damaging to the law.

Wow. Wow…

I’ll get mad at Nikki Haley and her fellow ideologues who put South Carolina in a position to be denied any benefit (any benefit at all, people, not just your preferred contraceptives, or your favorite antihistamines, or your chosen brand of bandages) from the ACA later. Right now, my mind is too boggled by that observation from the WashPost

I don’t know anything about this Sandhya Somashekhar person who wrote the piece, but does she not have an editor?!?!?

The importance of understanding politicians (and media types) as people

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks...

There I am after the show, second from left, followed by Eva Moore, Cynthia Hardy and Will Folks…

Having heard my limit of cynical statements bordering on paranoia, I resolved, on live radio over the weekend, to do The Most Daring Thing a Journalist Can Ever Do.

I decided to stick up for politicians. And for the media, for that matter.

I learned long ago, well before I started blogging, that the surest way to be the target of derision and contempt — from the public, and even one’s peers — is to praise someone in politics. It’s way more damaging to your reputation than criticizing people. We’re expected to do that. And those of you who know me know that I do my share of that. (In fact, some of you claim, hyperbolically, that it’s all I do, when the subject is Mark Sanford or Nikki Haley.)

But just let me say something laudatory about a politician — say, Lindsey Graham, who I believe is more deserving of such defense than anyone in high office in our state — and here comes the tsunami of cynicism. (Try to say “tsunami of cynicism” several times really fast.)

Journalists tend to relish the criticism that comes from being critical. It means we’re tough, and hard-hitting. Nobody pulls the wool over our eyes! We’re no saps. Cutting remarks make us sound like John Lennon. Saying nice things makes us sound like Paul McCartney. And everybody knows which one was the cool one, right?

Anyway, as Sunday’s show wore on, I endured a number of cynical remarks about media, politics and politicians, letting them pass by because of my long experience of knowing how hard it is to change people’s minds when they say things like, “They just stress all that negative stuff to sell papers,” or, “You can’t trust the MSM because they take advertising and are in the grip of corporate America,” or “He’s no different from all politicians; they’re all crooks.” (These are reconstructions; I wasn’t taking notes. But I’ve heard these kinds of comments SO many times.)

But finally, I couldn’t sit still, and I explained:

  • People who think advertisers control content in a newspaper have probably never worked at one. In my 35 years in newspapers, most of it as an editor, I never once was involved in a decision that was in any way influenced by money considerations, either involving advertising or circulation. (The only way money affected what we did was that the lack of it prevented us from having the people we needed, or to pay for travel, to do everything we wanted.) I DID find myself making decisions that I knew made life miserable for the ad people, and even lost the paper money. I mentioned a situation in which we took, and maintained (and the newspaper maintains to this day) an editorial position that cost the paper hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years. That didn’t make me happy or anything, but it had no impact on our position.
  • As for Will Folks’ assertion that we were supportive of lawmakers he despises because of the newspaper industry’s sales tax exemptions, I had to ask how he explained our ongoing repeated calls, year in and year out, for comprehensive tax reform that would put all exemptions on the table? (Doug likes to talk about that one, saying we should have called specifically for eliminating the newspaper exemption. But the truth was, I’ve never seen that one as in any way more egregious than the rest, and I would have been lying, and grandstanding, to say otherwise.)
  • Those who say this or that gets published because “it sells newspapers” don’t understand what makes journalists tick. There CAN be the temptation to be sensational, and we’re always trying to grab your attention, but not for anything so normal and sensible (the way most people see the world) as selling papers. What we wanted, what we want, is to be read. In terms of indulging my deep-seated need, no one had to buy the paper. They could steal it, just as long as they read it. Bryan loved that. After he wrote about it on his blog, I felt compelled to explain a bit. It’s not that I was advocating stealing the newspaper, mind you…
  • People talk about there being too much “bad news.” Well, I’m sorry, but to a great extent, the definition of news is something that has gone wrong. You don’t report on the 10,000 cars that pass a certain intersection safely in the course of a day; you report on the fatal wreck that occurred there. You don’t write about the thousands of buildings that didn’t catch fire; you report on the one that burned down. And you don’t write about the vast majority of politicians who are honest and doing their best; you write about the ones who are derelict and/or have their hands in the till — because that’s what people, as voters, need a heads-up about.
  • On that last point… I blame my profession, and particularly my generation of Watergate-influenced journalists, for the cynicism about government and politics that infects so many in our society today, from Will Folks and many other bloggers to the Tea Party to some of our best friends here on the blog. Maybe that’s one case where we DID overemphasize the “bad news.” We were so adversarial toward public officials and public institutions, so aggressive in chasing after scandal — and (seemingly sometimes) nothing but scandal — that we created an indelible impression among the reading and viewing public that government is a bad thing full of bad people. When it isn’t. We’re just trying to let you know about the bad parts that need addressing.

When I stated that probably 90-something percent of politicians were good people trying to do the best by their lights for their communities (even though they might, in my opinion, be really wrong about what’s best), Will erupted in derision, both on the air and on Twitter:

But I insisted it was true. I might think most of the things lawmakers try to do is stupid sometimes, but I don’t doubt their sincerity or honest intentions. As for the idea that people go into public life to enrich themselves monetarily — well, they’re really have to be stupid to do that, because the greater potential is definitely in the private sector, and the chance of getting caught is a lot lower than in public office.

Not that there aren’t some politicians for whom the pathetic renumeration that legislators receive is the best job they ever had. We had some people like that in the Legislature in the late 80s and early 90s. Lost Trust caught people selling their votes for pathetically small things, such as a new suit or some such.

Lost Trust was the low point in South Carolina, leading to indictments of 10 percent of the Legislature. But I turned that around to say that, when an aggressive federal prosecutor did his best to catch every lawmaker open to bribery or some other form of corruption… he could only get 10 percent. Which fits my 90ish-percent thesis.

Bottom line, people in politics are people, like any other. Oh, they may be more extroverted and given to exhibitionism of a sort, but they are not worse than other people. They might not be the wise solons that they should be — and I, for one, would prefer that they were a good deal wiser than average — but they’re just people.

So are journalists, for that matter, just to come full circle…

Hear me Sunday evening on the Big DM

 

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This Tweet from Will reminds me:

I’m going to be on Cynthia’s show tomorrow evening, at FM 101.3. As I recall, we’re going to be talking about social media vis-à-vis traditional media.

That classic Ariail cartoon I couldn’t find the other day

Bent but not broken_cmyk

On Wednesday, I had wanted to use the above cartoon with my post about remembering The State‘s coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

It’s one of Robert Ariail’s most popular ever, and it served a good cause — it was turned into a poster, copies of which were sold, and the proceeds donated to disaster relief.

Unfortunately, it’s from the pre-digital days, so I couldn’t find it online.

Robert was kind enough to email this to me, so I share it now.

The original that ran in the paper was black-and-white, although color was added for the posters. After scanning the original to share it with us, Robert photoshopped in some color to recreate the poster effect…

The court’s unanimous ruling in the Harrell/Wilson matter

Dave Crockett points out that we haven’t discussed the SC Supreme Court’s unanimous smackdown of Judge Manning’s bizarre ruling in the matter of Bobby Harrell, and Alan Wilson’s power to investigate him.

Maybe I’ve just been avoiding it, subconsciously, out of petulance over being scooped by that upstart Bryan Caskey:

Bryan didn’t just scoop ME. I happened to read that Tweet while attending the awards ceremony at The State Wednesday afternoon. I followed his link, and passed my phone first to Cindi Scoppe, then to John Monk — two people who have done more than anyone to keep us informed on this case — to give them the heads-up. (To John’s credit, he had told me before we sat down that the ruling was sort of expected, “Even as we stand here.” Fortunately, another reporter from the paper was covering that base while he was occupied.)

What to make of the ruling?

Well, to start with, it affirms what remaining faith we have in the rule of law. The justices unanimously rejected the absurd argument that the trial judge had constructed of whole cloth.

On the other hand, Manning could still rule unfavorably on Wilson’s ability to continue to handle the investigation, as the judge was instructed by the court to consider Harrell’s original motion seeking to remove the attorney general from the case.

So justice is still not out of the woods.

And I’m still a bit worried by that footnote to the ruling: “Due to the secrecy afforded state grand jury proceedings, future arguments regarding jurisdiction, or any other ancillary matter, should be held in camera.” I’m not sure what that means, in terms of what will be cloaked in secrecy and what will not. You’ll recall that our awareness of this power struggle began with John’s story about how the attempt by Harrell to have the court consider whether to toss Wilson off the case secretly.

On that point, I await further elucidation.

There seems little doubt, though, that the justices have been distressed from the start by the splash this case has made on the front pages.

But how could it be otherwise — a struggle between the highest levels of two branches of our government, with the third branch caught uncomfortably between?

The unofficial Sammy Fretwell ‘Fan Club’

Had a nice time attending the awards ceremony at The State yesterday afternoon. Aside from recognizing the staff that almost won the Pulitzer for Hugo coverage, we saw three former colleagues inducted into the paper’s Hall of Fame, and honored two current staffers with the annual Hampton and Gonzales awards.

Sammy Fretwell received the Gonzales award, which is given each year for superlative reporting. It was an excellent choice. In keeping with theme that was running through a lot of the event about noting ways things have changed in the business, Sammy mentioned that something he’s had to get used to is the flurry of critical Tweets that follow everything he does these days.

When he said it, I thought, well, yeah — that’s something you have to expect today. Goes with the territory.

But when I Tweeted an innocuous picture of Sammy and me together after the reception, I saw what he meant. There does seem to be a rapid-response team on a hair trigger, ready to fire at any mention of Sammy Fretwell in the Twitterverse. Note the following:

If POTUS is uninterested in photo ops, that’s a move in the right direction, whatever his reasons

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I continue to make my way through “The West Wing” as I work out each night. The most recent episode was night before last (I got home too late to work out last night) — “Disaster Relief,” episode number 6 in the 5th season.

This was the one when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma, and the president flew to the scene to show his concern. Originally, he wasn’t going to do this, but Press Secretary C.J. Cregg insisted. Once he is there, he gets way too much into it, just exuding compassion all over the place, and extending his stay to the point that even C.J. expresses her disappointment in him that he hasn’t headed back to Washington, where things are falling apart, to do his actual job.

(A side note: This is the 6th episode in the first season not written by Aaron Sorkin, and there has indeed been a dropoff in quality, as I had feared. C.J.’s change of mind isn’t portrayed convincingly. There’s a rather ham-handed slide toward disillusionment on her part over the last few episodes, and I’m getting tired of it. Worse, the nature of my favorite character, the gruff-but-lovable Leo, has changed. The gruffness is there, but the “lovable” part has gone AWOL. Sure, the Leo I know would let Josh know he was displeased, that he had screwed up. But he wouldn’t cold-bloodedly undermine him the way this new Leo did in this episode.)

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. What I wanted to talk about was this:

 President Obama on Wednesday forcefully defended his decision not to visit the Texas border with Mexico to view a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, saying he’s “not interested in photo ops” and challenging Congress to give him new authority to respond to the situation.

“Nothing has taken place down there that I’m not intimately aware of,” Obama said during a hastily arranged news conference here, where he began a two-day visit to the state for Democratic fundraising and an economic event. “This is not theater.”…

To which I say, “Amen, Mr. President!” Sometime during the Clinton administration, I got completely fed up with this new role we’ve invented for POTUS, that of Emoter in Chief. I’ve had it up to here with staged demonstrations of concern, or with the nation waiting breathlessly for the president to strike the appropriate tone in a statement about something that has little or nothing to do with his job.

Yes, there is a such a thing as a leadership function, as military officers understand. You walk around checking on your people, making sure they’re fed and bedded down, on the night before the battle. Show that you care.

But folks, we have taken this to an extreme in this country. The president has enough enumerated duties, enough things he really needs to do, without constantly posing for the cameras. Unfortunately, too much of the presidency has become theater, and I like seeing POTUS push back on it a bit.

Yeah, it made him sound cold. And maybe little kids in desperate circumstances on the border isn’t the best place to draw the line. But I’m glad he felt motivated to draw it somewhere — if only out of defensive pique because the Republicans were landing some telling blows on him, which is what seems to have happened.

 

Ben Hoover’s account of what happened at WIS

For those of you following this ongoing story, Ben Hoover posted this on Facebook last night:

Here’s what I want you to know.

Right now, I don’t have a new job and I need to make sure future employers and my community know why I was led to believe that my place at WIS was secure.

I’ve worked in TV 15 years. I understand and accept that stations have the right to not renew contracts. Especially in situations when ratings might be down or the employee did something wrong, or both sides couldn’t reach a salary agreement. None of those issues applied to me. In fact when I asked why my contract wasn’t being renewed station management assured me I had “done nothing wrong.”brgnP616_400x400

Please allow me to explain what I meant when I said that I was caught off guard. News management had recently slated me to do a follow up to “Hope in Hard Times” this coming November, after my current contract would have expired. They also planned to have a co-anchor with me in the field at Oliver Gospel Mission. The week before I learned my contract would not be renewed I taped station promotions that historically have run for several months. We were far along in the search for a new house. My children were enrolled in school for the fall. That’s why I walked in with a folder with long-term contract options for management to consider. But, I never had the opportunity to open that folder. There were no negotiations. It was made clear that management did not wish to renew early on in that discussion and that I had “done nothing wrong.”

My first contract with WIS was 5 years. My latest contract was one year in length. In both cases, both sides had to agree to terms. Some anchors choose longer contracts. Some choose for even shorter than one year. It’s a personal decision. Never was I told that a one year contract would pave the way for my exit. In fact, we agreed to come back together and discuss longer term options. If I entertained potential advancement within the company, never did management indicate or communicate that it would mean I would not be renewed. I have documented on multiple occasions my happiness with my co-anchors at WIS and my openness to calling Columbia my forever home. And, never in discussions did they indicate that my future at WIS was not an option. In fact, I got a very different response.

I truly appreciate the support from the community. It helps tremendously to keep me going in this short amount of time I have to find a new job. So, from where I sit today, I cannot afford to let vague comments, including those by others outside of the situation and not privy to the details, leave an impression that what happened was something that I did or it was just a parting of ways. That’s simply not true.

My announcement last Thursday was in line with how I was trained, my high standards of journalism, and with what’s been a big part of my career – doing the right thing. Viewers don’t deserve to be caught off guard or wonder for weeks where someone they’ve seen for 6 years has gone. And, nobody deserves to get half of the truth. I’ve always put the viewer first. That’s what I will continue to do. And, it is possible to do that while still being a loyal employee.

I don’t know where my next job will take my family and me. I’ve been put in a position to consider anything and everything. Right now, Columbia is home. And, in order to move on both professionally and personally I needed to fill in some blanks so that there would not be any questions that could negatively impact my family or my pursuit to find another job.

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…

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The Ben Hoover reaction

Suddenly, Donita Todd, general manager of WIS-TV, seems to be the least popular woman in town.

As you’ve probably heard or read, she’s bearing the brunt of viewer rage over the sudden departure of anchorman Ben Hoover.

Hoover announced the move thusly:

After 6 years of anchoring and reporting at WIS, this Friday, July the 4th will be my last day on the air. Recently, I was informed by station managers that they did not wish to renew my contract. Like so many other anchors and reporters in the past, I wish I was in a position to announce the next opportunity for my family and me. But, to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. So, as we like to say on the news, you’ll have to stay tuned. And, maybe say a little prayer for my family and me.brgnP616_400x400

One of my closest friends shared this with me in the last few days: “If it’s not fatal, it’s not final…and, if it’s not final, it can be fruitful.” That friend is Judi Gatson. Working side by side with “JG” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Judi, Dawndy, Papa Joe, John, Ben, Rick and my core group of “news hounds” here will forever be like family to me. I will miss them like crazy.

Some of the stories I’ve covered over the years have been very heavy and hard to tell. A dad living on the streets after every corner of his life crumbled. The young parents in a fight and race to save their precious little girl. A military mom smiling through raw pain to ensure her son’s legacy (and dimples) aren’t forgotten. All of them, and others, facing down some of life’s greatest challenges. But, what’s always stood out to me is the one common thread that ties them all together – hope.

So, in the name of the dig deep, do good, work hard, “never give up” spirit so many of our viewers have shown me over the years, I say — HOPE is a pretty doggone good thing.

After Friday, you won’t see me on WIS anymore but please stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email hoov11@hotmail.com. I promise to do the same. Judi Gatson Dawndy Mercer Plank WIS TV John Farley Ben Tanner

After two or three days of protest, the station put out this statement yesterday:

During the last several days much has been posted on social media about Ben Hoover’s departure from WIS news, much of it erroneous.

However, we simply cannot engage in a public conversation regarding details of Ben’s departure from WIS TV. It is a private personnel matter.

We sincerely thank Ben for his service to the station and the community and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

We also want to thank our viewers for their concerns and comments regarding this matter.

We can assure you that WIS remains fully committed to the excellence you have come to expect from this television station over the last 60 years.

Based on the response to the statement on Facebook, that oil has done little to calm the troubled waters. Some examples:

  • “You got rid of the wrong person. Donita Todd needed to go.”
  • “What part of the comments were “erroneous”? The part that the viewers want him back? That he and Judi were good together? That he put his heart into his work – walking to work in the snow, living with the homeless? Again what part was erroneous?”
  • “I don’t own a Bull. I never have. But I do know what a bull does several times a day. And this smells just like it.”
  • “Excellence is not a word to be used in any way by WIS. You did not allow him OR Judi to anchor the final broadcast. There is NOTHING excellent about that. Rest assured your other employees are planning an exit, because the station has lost it’s moral compass.”
  • “WOW!! I have read through many many discussion forums in my life…NEVER have I read through one where all the comments from the public voicing their opinion are all in agreement!!! The viewers have really spoken and come together on this one! WIS really should re-think their decisions on this one!!!!”

As always, I hate to see a guy lose his job, but there’s an emotional core to this protest that I’m having trouble understanding. Was there this kind of outpouring when David Stanton left? Maybe there was, I don’t recall — I was sort of busy with my own stuff at about that time. Maybe y’all can enlighten me.

Anyway, it must be some comfort to Ben to know he was so appreciated. I hope so.

Thoughts? Observations?

NYT rehashes Sanford farce, but adds a new (to me) insight

My first reaction was this:

And indeed, much of the 5,000-word magazine-profile-style piece (it took me three separate chunks of time today to read it) was a painful rehashing of a story we know far too well here in SC, and yet another case of the world affirming Sanford in his conviction that yes, indeed, it’s all about him.

(Sometimes it seems Sanford moves in a bubble that is like an incident in a Douglas Adams novel: Zaphod Beeblebrox steps into a Total Perspective Vortex, which should cause his mind to implode with the realization of how insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things. However, he does so within the safe confines of a custom-made universe. Since that artificial universe was, indeed, made for him, he is the most important thing in it. So he steps out of the machine feeling confirmed in his outsized self-esteem. All he got from the machine was this: “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!” Very Mark Sanford.)

But I did eventually get to some things I didn’t know about. For instance, I’ve seen little about what has happened since the voters of the 1st District decided to sent him back to Washington. And Lord knows I haven’t been up to Washington myself to check on him. So I read this with interest:

Sanford wound up as a lower-ranking member of the Transportation and Homeland Security committees. When he arrived, the congressional Tea Party rebellion was well underway. And, as an enthusiastic renegade nearly 20 years earlier, Sanford could have easily joined it. But he decided instead to prove useful where he could to Boehner and Boehner’s second in command and expected successor, Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor initially had misgivings about Sanford but came to appreciate the new, less confrontational version of him. And Sanford came to appreciate what Cantor might ultimately do for him. Now, despite Cantor’s loss in the primary earlier this month to the more strident conservative David Brat, Sanford says he’ll stick to his plan and work with the leadership when possible.

Huh. Mark Sanford, the guy for whom Newt Gingrich wasn’t radical enough, working with the leadership, within the Establishment? For that matter, Sanford working with anyone other than himself?

This bears watching…