Category Archives: Media

Answer the readers’ questions, please! Or mine, anyway…

As a cranky old editor, I often have a problem reading news stories. It’s not the poor writing I sometimes encounter, or occasional typos, or the “bias” so many laypeople think they see. It’s this:

Too often, they fail to answer the most basic questions.

This started bugging me big-time shortly after I made the move from news to editorial, at the start of 1994. Time and again, there would be ONE QUESTION that I had when approaching a news item, a question that was essential to my forming an opinion on the matter. And not only would that one question not be answered in the story, but too often there would be no evidence that it even occurred to the reporter to ask the question. Worse, it didn’t occur to his or her editor to insist that it be asked. There would be no, “answer was unavailable,” or “so-and-so did not respond to questions” or anything like that.

I decided something about the news trade from that. I decided that the problem with news is the opposite of the one that people who complain about “bias” think they see. The problem was that, since the reporter and editor are so dedicated to not having an opinion on the matter, the questions that immediately occur to a person who is trying to make up his or her mind don’t even occur to them. Their brains just don’t go there. They’re like, “I got who, what, where, when and how, so I’m done.”

Too often, there’d be no attempt to determine who was responsible for a thing, or what the law required, or why a certain thing came up at a certain time.

This was maddening to me, and not just because it meant I’d have to do the work they’d failed to do. It was maddening because, well, why do we have a First Amendment? We have it so that we’ll have an informed electorate. And they’re not going to be very informed if they don’t know what to think about a news development because basic questions aren’t answered.

I knew news writers couldn’t care less whether people up in editorial didn’t have enough information. But it seemed they could care, at least a little, about arming readers with sufficient information before they went to vote.

(And I would, after a moment’s irritation, dismiss the whole thing from my mind — which is why I don’t recall a single specific example illustrating all this. I just remember my frustration. There was nothing to be done, because it would have been uncool to raise hell with news about it. Believe me, I tried once or twice, and it didn’t go well.)

Of course, sometimes my irritation isn’t so high-minded. Sometimes, I’m just ticked because my basic curiosity isn’t being satisfied. It’s more like, here’s a matter of something that didn’t matter to me at all as a voter, but I just wanted to know, and didn’t understand why I wasn’t being told…

Y’all know I don’t read sports news, unless something just grabs me. The other day, something in The Washington Post grabbed me. I saw that a professional baseball player’s wife had died of a heart attack. First, I thought, That poor woman! Her poor husband and family!… And I was about to keep scrolling down to the National and World parts of my iPad app (which for some reason the Post positions below sports), when I had a question, which I clicked on the story to answer.

What do you think it was? What would it be naturally? Well, of course, I wondered, How old — or rather how young — was she? Professional baseball players’ wives don’t die of heart attacks normally, and why? Because they’re young! As a 66-year-old who recently had a stroke, I was more curious than I would normally be, thinking, Even people that young are having heart attacks? And it was natural to wonder, well, how young?

But the story didn’t tell me. And I suppose that’s understandable under the circumstances, since the news broke on Instagram, rather than coming from a press briefing where there was the opportunity to ask questions. But still. For me, it was a case of, Here we go again…

Yes, I know. A decent human being would only care about the human tragedy, and wouldn’t get bugged about the details. But I am a longtime newspaper editor, so don’t expect normal behavior.

And I have this tendency, as an old guy, to think, These lazy reporters today… After all, beyond this one incident, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years to not bother with people’s ages even in hard news stories. That used to be an inviolable rule that, at least in hard news, you always gave a person’s age right away. The very first reference to a significant figure in a story would say something like, “John Smith, 25, was being sought by police for…”

But I’m not being fair to the kids. I’m just hypercritical. I was hypercritical back when I supervised reporters, and got worse when I moved to editorial, because I naturally wanted to know even more, so that I could opine. And then I just wanted to know because I wanted to know.

And sometimes I find evidence that I’m wrong to think reporters of yore were more thorough.

Lately, I’ve been looking at some fairly old journalism, from way before my time. Ancestry has started uploading newspaper stories as “hints” attached to certain individuals, particularly if they lived in the right markets. For instance, I recently received about 50 or so hints about my paternal grandparents from The Washington Post because they lived in the Washington suburb of Kensington, Md. Most of the items about my grandmother were social, such as an item noting that she had recently returned from a trip to South Carolina and was staying with friends until her mother returned and opened the house (because, of course, a young lady would not go stay at the house alone).

Most of the items mentioning my grandfather, who was once recruited by the Senators organization, were about baseball. They would usually mention that he had been captain of his team at Washington and Lee. And every time he turned around, he was attending a meeting to form a new team, and there’d be a news item about it, naming who was there and sometimes disclosing what positions they would play (he would usually pitch or play infield).

Of course, we know people back then were really into baseball, but still… you’ve got to be impressed by such depth of coverage — reporters digging up such hyperlocal minutiae going on in their communities (these guys weren’t even playing — they were just talking about starting a team!), and publishing it in those extremely dense, gray pages. I always have been. I mean, wow. This is driven home by the fact that Ancestry posts the entire page, which includes several times as many words as a typical newspaper page today, and you have to sift through the whole page to find the mention of your ancestor (which is why I still haven’t gone through most of the hints about my grandparents).

But sometimes they don’t seem so thorough.

For instance, I recently added an item about my great-grandfather Alfred Crittenton Warthen, father of the baseball player. It’s from the Frederick, Maryland, Evening Post on July 3, 1911. It’s way down on a page topped by a picture from the coronation of King George V (you see him and Queen Mary in their carriage), which contains news about a Boston rector who had traced the royal family to the lineage of David in Judea (which I suppose explains the picture). The page includes stories revealing that immigrants in quarantine in New York eat with their fingers rather than knives and forks, and one about an Englishwoman who was “Relieved from Hysteria Very Speedily” by visiting Coney Island. No, really. It was in the paper.

But eventually, I found this:

bells

And while it was a small item, I found it very interesting. Editorially, of course, I was ambivalent. As someone who hates noise, I’m obliged to feel some sympathy for Mr. Potts. At the same time, I have to think he’s a bit of a nutter.

I didn’t let myself be bothered by the fact that there should be a period after the second mention of Kensington, or a comma in the next line between “Town Council” and “Potts.” Such things happen.

But beyond those things, I had all sorts of questions, and no way to answer them:

  • I see Potts is “a resident of Kensington,” but is he a member of council? Or could mere residents present an ordinance in a way that council was required to spend time taking it up? I could see if he, as an observer, brought it up in a Q and A session, but an actual ordinance?
  • Why were Dr. Eugene Jones and my great-grandfather present? Had the fact that such an “ordinance” would come up been publicized, or even passed on first reading? Or did they attend meetings all the time, and just happened to be there? My great-grandfather was in the construction business. Did that bring him there? Was he there to get a permit or a code variance or something?
  • If they were there just because of this item, were they representing someone? Had the local ministerial alliance or someone like that asked them to be there? And was my ancestor someone who was often asked to speak out on local issues — or often did so, whether asked or not?
  • Did they object “so vigorously” on religious grounds — how dare this heathen seek to silence church bells? — or were they just irritated by the fact that the council was spending time on something so frivolous? Or somewhere in between? (I’m hampered by not knowing much about A.C. He died when my father — the last living member of his generation — was very young, and Dad only recalls seeing him once.)
  • The writer possibly didn’t bother to dig further into the matter because it was “said” that public sentiment was very much against it, and it was going nowhere. He was just reporting a local curiosity.
  • Was there a crowd at the meeting, given that public sentiment? Was there drama, and noise (which would have been hard on Potts, poor fella)? Or did the folks who opposed it trust A.C. and Dr. Jones to deal with the matter?

Today, of course, this item might have gone viral on the Web. Our president would probably have, at the very least, put out a Tweet defending church bells, and QAnon would say Potts was an agent for Hillary Clinton.

But as things are, I am just left to wonder…

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He's shown with my grandfather and my Dad's much-older brother Gerald.

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He’s shown with my grandfather and my Dad’s much-older brother Gerald — A.C.’s first grandchild.

Finally, Michelle Goldberg gets it! For a moment…

argument

For close to a year, I’ve been listening regularly to the NYT’s podcast “The Argument,” starring three of the paper’s op-ed writers.

There are two people on the left — David Leonhardt and Michelle Goldberg — and one on the right, Ross Douthat.

That may sound a bit lopsided, and for me it is, but not in the way you think. Week after week, I agree to varying degrees with liberal Leonhardt and conservative Douthat, and get really frustrated and turned off by the views of Michelle Goldberg.

One reason for that is that she’s always dissing my man Joe. It started before he got into the race last year, with her strongly expressing her wish that he NOT get in the race. After that, she continued to be a prominent voice among the nattering nabobs of the left competing to see who could be more dismissive of the former VP.

It’s not that she hated him. It’s just that she, you know… dismissed him. She was all like, Oh, good old Uncle Joe; he’s a sweet guy and I can put up with him at the family gatherings, but we all know he’s past it, and he has no business getting back in the game — the poor guy’s going to break a hip or something. And he just doesn’t get the world of today…

And as I walk about downtown listening to these podcasts, I’m like, No, YOU don’t get it…

But today, I finally got around to listening to yesterday’s podcast, which was about Joe’s triumphs of the last few days, and finally, she got it! She was awesome in the degree to which she got it, and how well she expressed it. I had to go back and listen again to write down some of the great things she was saying, starting with…

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg

So much of what we’ve been talking about the last few months, especially in the debates, has been irrelevant.

People… care less about the details of, you know, how we’re going to pay for universal healthcare, or Medicare for all vs. Medicare for all who want it.

There are people who really care about that stuff. But what most people care about is, you know, the house is on fire; how are you going to put it out, not how are you going to rebuild afterwards….

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been so impatient with all the idiots out there talking about this process in terms of who got off the greatest zingers in last night’s debate, or how Elizabeth “I’ve got a plan for that” Warren was going to pay for those plans, or whatever…

Who cared? I didn’t. Because the house is on fire! Stop talking about rearranging the furniture!

Also, too many people fail to get that the problem isn’t this plan or that plan of Bernie Sanders. The problem is Bernie Sanders, and the way he and too many of his followers conduct themselves. And a moment later, Ms. Goldberg said some awesome things about that:

I don’t think the Sanders movement understands how alienating it is to people who aren’t already on board with it, or maybe to people who are on board with maybe 85 percent or 90 percent of what they believe.

There’s a sort of paranoid style in that movement…

I’ve been around the left long enough to know that the left has always attracted a certain number of people who, um… you know, who are sort of just in it for the reeducation camps, right?…

Left-wing movements kind of succeed or fail to the degree that they can, you know, marginalize or quarantine those figures…

Yes! Absolutely! You get it! Paranoid style!

When she made that crack about the re-education camps, I laughed out loud, right there in the middle of the household goods department in Belk. (On rainy days, I tend to go do my afternoon walk in the nearly empty Richland Mall, rather than walking across the USC campus and around the Statehouse.)

And one of the guys on the show — I think it was Leonhardt — laughed, too. It was so perfect, so dead-on.

You go, Michelle!

But then, later in the show, she said she was going to vote for Bernie instead of Joe.

And suddenly the member of the trio I love to boo was back. I’m just briskly walking into Barnes and Noble shaking my head. I can’t believe it…

It’s alright, I guess. Most of the world came around and backed Joe this past week. Some people just take a little longer. No way to speed it up without, you know, re-education camps…

Wow, what a gross misrepresentation of reality!

downcast

This blew me away.

Being a fair-minded guy, I wanted to stress that not everyone in the working media lacks perspective. You know that one headline from this morning that I cited and dissected in my previous post? I was going to confess it was a bit of an outlier, and that for every guy like that one, there’s a sensible soul such as Frank Bruni, whose column this morning made the same point I did:

Yes, Bernie Sanders won the state’s primary on Tuesday night. And that victory, coming on the heels of his functional tie with Pete Buttigieg in the dysfunctional Iowa caucuses last week, makes him the indisputable front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

But look at how closely behind him Buttigieg finished, despite furious attacks from Sanders and other rivals over recent days. Look at the sudden surge of Amy Klobuchar, whose strong third-place finish demonstrates not only how unsettled the contest is but also how many Democrats crave a moderate — or female — alternative to Sanders.

Note that while Sanders is hugely well known in New Hampshire and beat Hillary Clinton by 22 points in its Democratic primary in 2016, he squeaked by Buttigieg this time around, as many people who voted for him four years ago obviously didn’t do so on Tuesday night.

And so forth. The real story being the inability of moderates thus far to settle on ONE candidate.

But before adding that, I decided to check my email, and saw an enewsletter from that same, sensible Frank Bruni, and the headline was “What in God’s name happened to Joe Biden?”

OK, fine. Yes, it would have been better had Joe been on the top of the stack of moderates rather than the bottom in New Hampshire, but still — I’m still in a good mood from Joe’s rally at 701 Whaley last night.

And then I saw the picture that ran with the eblast, and my jaw dropped.

I was there. I saw Joe and how he conducted himself. He was as upbeat and ebullient as ever. In fact, if I can ever get the freaking thing to upload to YouTube, I’ll show you every second that he was at the podium, and challenge you to find the split-second reflected in that photo above, in which he seems to be delivering a concession speech with a crushed spirit.

Until I can get that up and running (and finally, here it is), here are some representative images:

You can almost always get a picture like that NYT one. You can play a fun game if you use the “burst” function on your phone (akin to the motordrive of old film cameras), and you’ll see all sorts of expressions flash across a person’s face, some of them quite comical and many of them highly misleading as to the person’s emotional state at the time.

But this one is a prize-winner. And I’m shocked that it was used by the NYT, even in an email…

THIS is a representative image illustrating Joe's mood at the event.

THIS is a representative image illustrating Joe’s mood at the event.

For what little NH is worth, Bernie got CRUSHED by the moderates

Bern

My NYT app this morning.

One can sometimes see why there are so many people in this country who can’t stand the news media.

I can get pretty peeved with them myself these days.

There are two phenomena that particularly irritating. Or maybe they’re just one:

  1. They have the attention span of goldfish.
  2. They have a mental block that keeps them from seeing the larger picture.

The last two weeks, it has been astounding the degree to which the media — both straight news and opinion — have been trapped in what’s happening right this second. It has always been thus, but the pace of reporting and the orientation toward social media has made the problem far, far worse.

Instead of a considered, consistent narrative over time, the picture we get of what’s happening is so immediate, it has no value beyond a few moments:

  • There are no results from Iowa!
  • There are still no results from Iowa!
  • Iowa is a disaster! This is the death of the Iowa caucuses!
  • No one should ever see results from Iowa as meaning anything again!
  • Wait! There are results from Iowa! Pete won!
  • No! Maybe Bernie won! This is hugely significant!
  • One thing’s for sure: Biden is toast!
  • Iowa didn’t settle anything, but New Hampshire will!
  • Oh, look, Bernie won! Bernie is triumphant! It’s settled! This is over!
  • No, wait! Klobuchar came in third! This is the big news!
  • One thing’s for sure: Since New Hampshire settles everything, Biden is toast!

Meanwhile, Biden was having a very nice rally here in Columbia before an enthusiastic crowd. And as a Biden support, I would prefer that he had done better among those uber-white people in Iowa and New Hampshire, but as far as I’m concerned, the race is just getting started.

Of course, when Joe wins here, we’ll be seeing:

  • A miracle! Biden’s not toast at all! He won one!
  • But he’s still damaged! Some black voters voted for other people!
  • Also, South Carolina means nothing because it’s TOO black!

And so forth.

And then, Super Tuesday will roll around, and South Carolina will be forgotten and it will be all about Bloomberg or something.

That’s the goldfish part.

The other thing is that so many people out there seem incapable of seeing what happens in this brief moments within any sort of larger context.

My favorite example of that today is a headline that trumpets, “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won,” followed by the subhead, “Whether he captures the White House or not, he has transformed the Democratic Party.”

Uh… no, he hasn’t. First, he didn’t do nearly as well as he did four years ago. I think it’s early to completely dismiss him, but if you go by that one bit of info, his time may have passed.

Second, and most importantly, if we’re going to draw conclusions based on something as thin as the New Hampshire vote, consider: The three candidates appealing to the moderates who utterly reject Bernie’s revolution got a total of 52.6 percent of the vote, compared to Bernie’s 25.7 percent.

They crushed him. They demolished him. They utterly rejected him. Even if you give him Elizabeth Warren’s 9 percent on the assumption that her voters might switch to Bernie, he got massacred.

The real story here is that the moderates just can’t make up their minds. If and when they do, we won’t be hearing any more about the triumph of Bernie.

I — and a lot of voters here in South Carolina — still believe that they would be wisest to line up behind Biden because he’s the one most likely to beat Trump. And nothing is more important than that.

They just haven’t wanted to accept that yet. I get it. I like Pete and Amy, too. But I’m going with the guy most likely to win. And I still remain hopeful that other moderates — sensible folk that they are — will reach that conclusion, too.

I fixed that picture for you. No need to thank me…

Joe instagram

Below you see the centerpiece section of the front page of The State‘s print version today.

It seems the best part of the picture was cropped out. I think even Doug (were he with us) would agree with me on this point, since not only Joe was cropped out, but Tulsi as well.

So I’ve fixed it for you, with a screen grab from Joe’s Instagram account

front page

I dropped my newspaper subscription today

"That's the press, baby!"

“That’s the press, baby!”

Of course, the emphasis there is on “paper.” I only dropped the print version of The State. I still get it online.

That lowered the price of my subscription from $46 a month to $9 and something. Maybe $9.99. I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was in the middle of my afternoon walk around the USC campus when they called me on account of my having gotten a new debit card to replace the one that expired this month, and the autopay wasn’t working.

So I said, while I’ve got you, I want to drop the dead-tree version….  I only read it online anyway. That’s the only way I read any newspapers. I subscribe to The State, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and read them all on my iPad. The New Yorker, too. I dropped The Wall Street Journal several years back because it got too expensive.

So nothing lost, and a savings of more than $400 a year. A good deal.

Still, I’m a newspaperman. That’s who I am, no matter whether I’m employed doing it or not.

So there seems something historic about this, from my own perspective, and thought I’d take note of it.

Of course, I was never really wedded to the paper part of the equation. Starting in about 1980 when we went from typewriters to a mainframe front-end system, I started wishing that when I hit SEND for a story to go to the copy desk, it would just go straight to the reader. And it only took what, a couple of decades for that to happen.

So it’s all to the good. But still, there’ll be a bit of nostalgia for the days when I was the guy who said “Stop the presses!” when something big happened (or when we realized we’d made a big goof on one of the pages), and it really meant something. It felt a little like being Bogart in “Deadline U.S.A.”

I guess, in a sense, what I did today was say “Stop the presses!” just one more time….

NO, I’m not watching TV all day. Are YOU?

live tv

I’ve never been fond of “man-on-the-street” interviews. I prefer “people-who-know-what-they’re-talking-about” interviews. Guess that makes me an elitist. That, and… other stuff.

Anyway, this morning on NPR — I think it was on “The Takeaway” — there was this long string of short clips of Real People answering the question of whether they’d be watching the impeachment hearings on TV today. As usual, I could only take so much of it before switching it off.

If I remember correctly, most of the Real People were not planning to watch the hearings. (Actually, I just went back to check, and all of the ones I heard said that. There was a string of people who said “yes” after that, but I had turned off the radio before they came on.)

Presumably, I was supposed to be interested in their reasons for watching or not watching, as though there would be something edifying in these reasons, as though I would be somehow wiser for having heard the usual comments like “I’ve made up my mind,” “It’s all a partisan farce,” “I have a life,” etc.

And I’m thinking, Who can sit and listen to TV all day — TV about ANYTHING? And moreover, who on Earth would WANT to?

Or NEED to in order to be an informed citizen? I take in news and analysis from quite a few competent professional services every day. I’ll get all the information I need from those sources. (Unlike the president, I trust professionals to do their job — and I know if one slips up in doing it, the next one will fill in that gap.) If — and this seems doubtful — I feel the need to watch a portion of the testimony, to get intonation or whatever, I can go back and find and watch it with little trouble. In fact, I most likely won’t even have to look for it, because so many sources will be throwing the clip at me.

So in other words, the Real Person who sounded most like me was the one who said he would not be watching, but “I will pay close attention to the media recaps.”

Which will give you more than anyone needs to know. In fact, you’ll have to scan the whole mess with skill, discernment and alacrity if you’re going to get anything else done that day.

So who’s watching? And why?

the room

Ain’t got time to take a fast train

One of the people I worked with on last year’s campaign was a veteran politico who frequently complained about my former newspaper, saying it had become a “North Carolina paper.”

At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. But since then, while I don’t fully agree with that characterization, I do see what causes her to say that.

I thought of that this morning when I saw the story about the proposed high-speed train between between Charlotte and Atlanta. I sort of felt, “Why am I reading this?” I mean, it’s about something that will pass through a corner of South Carolina that is far from where I live.

Not that I mind stories about trains. As y’all know, I love public transportation, particularly of the rail type — although my true preference is for subways, with New York’s and London’s being my faves.

In fact, today Cindi Scoppe sent me the AP version of that story, wanting to make sure I didn’t miss it.

She may have been disappointed by my reaction:

Thanks, although I grow tired of hearing about trains that I will never ride. A route from Charlotte to Atlanta? What good does that do me? It’s perpendicular to anyplace I might want or need to go…

I want a train — fast, slow or in-between — that will take me from where I am to where I want to be. Preferably underground. Nothing of the kind seems on the horizon, though…

Ahhh, the Tube!

Ahhh, the Tube!

The Washington Post says it’s going to be okay. Whew…

all right

The news out of the capital is pretty dire, sometimes almost apocalyptic. Wars and rumors of war, the possible collapse of the Republic, and so forth.

The Washington Post‘s semi-new tagline, Democracy Dies in Darkness, expresses a grim determination that seems suited to the times.

But the Post has it’s softer, more soothing, side as well.

I was searching for the latest on Turkey’s assault on our erstwhile ally, when I clicked and, instead of an update from Syria, got the above screen.

Whew. I feel so much better…

You’re welcome, Washington Post…

thanks

I just noticed this message, way down at the bottom of a Washington Post piece I had read the other day — this piece, in fact. (I’ll leave tabs up and running for days.)

Well, you’re welcome.

Not that y’all necessarily need my money, being owned by Jeff Bezos and all.

But I’m glad to show my support for what I’ve been seeing at that paper, much of which I attribute to Bezos’ willingness to invest in the paper he owns, rather than stripping it of resources as companies that own most American daily newspapers are doing.

So again, for what little my contribution is worth, you’re welcome…

Mind you, it wasn’t ALWAYS fun…

Mike stare

After a few years, one might be tempted to romanticize the newspaper life, and miss all that scintillating intellectual stimulation, yadda-yadda…

But then, one runs across this random shot of colleague Mike Fitts, during some interminable editorial board interview in January 2007, and one realizes: It wasn’t all fun.

Sometimes, one sat there and endured loads of nonsense, and thought with dread about all the work that wasn’t getting done back at one’s desk. And one would start to plot how to get even with the world for this torment — perhaps by writing a piece in which one referred to oneself as “one,” over and over and over…

Anyway, the picture cracked me up when I ran across it yesterday…

 

How would YOU answer these 18 questions from the NYT?

18 questions

The New York Times put 21 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination “on the spot” by putting them in front of video cameras and asking them 18 questions.

My man Joe Biden declined to participate. Make of that what you will. (I could write a separate post on why it doesn’t bother me, I suppose, but I probably wouldn’t persuade anyone who is bothered.) On the other end of the cooperation spectrum, Elizabeth Warren was the first to be interviewed and even came in a second time, because the NYT added some questions after her initial session.

I haven’t watched all the videos, or even most of them, because I have a life — and as y’all know, I don’t make electoral decisions based on this or that specific issue — and if I did, it wouldn’t be on many of these issues. But I’ve skimmed the accompanying story, which you might wish to do to save time.

How the non-Biden candidates answered the questions doesn’t interest me as much as how y’all would answer the questions. So here they are, each with a brief answer from me. The links take you to the video answers:

  1. In an ideal world, would anyone own handguns? Of course not. I see that most of the candidates tried to dance around this, trying to reassure people that they aren’t against the 2nd Amendment. Pete Buttigieg seems to be about the only one who actually heard the question. The operative word is “ideal,” as in “perfect.” Which I take to mean, like the Garden of Eden. Handguns have one purpose — killing people, whether in acts of aggression or self-defense. In a perfect world, people wouldn’t be killing people, so no need for handguns. Now if you’d wanted a real-world answer, you should have asked the question differently.
  2. Would your focus be improving the Affordable Care Act or replacing it with single payer? I prefer single-payer, the one truly sensible way to go, but improving the ACA is probably more politically feasible. And even that is only likely to happen if Democrats keep the House and win the Senate. As we’ve seen, Republicans just talk about repealing it, but don’t repeal it, preferring to cripple it and watch it die a slow death.
  3. Do you think it’s possible for the next president to stop climate change? No. What is possible is for the next president to take significant, positive steps in that direction. For a change. And that is what should happen.
  4. Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights? Generally speaking, yes. But what are international standards, in a world that contains Russia, China, Syria, the Philippines and Venezuela? Let’s use the higher, Western, liberal-democracy standard. I think that on the whole, Israel strives to meet that higher standard while dealing with a host of people around them and in the country itself who wish Israel to cease to exist. And that means it’s not going to be perfect all the time.
  5. Who is your hero, and why? I’ve never known how to answer questions like this one. I could say “Jesus,” and leave it at that, or maybe throw in St. Peter, Thomas More, Pope John Paul II, and then move to the secular realm and add Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, FDR and Martin Luther King. John McCain was a hero to me. If it has to be living people, I might name Tony Blair, and both Rileys in South Carolina — Joe and Dick. You’ll notice none of them currently hold office….
  6. Would there be American troops in Afghanistan at the end of your first term? Probably, just because I haven’t heard anyone explain how we prevent the Taliban from taking over once we leave, and once again making the country a safe haven for Al Qaeda or ISIL. I’d love to have a plan for doing that, I just don’t know where to find it.
  7. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? Depends. If we’re pretending I’m a candidate, I’d be saying “not as many as I like,” but then campaigns change your metabolism. You adapt. I functioned on less sleep last year, and James and Mandy on much less than I did. All that said, may I say how much I hate wasting time on a personal lifestyle question?
  8. Do you think illegal immigration is a major problem in the United States? I think it’s a major political problem, especially if you’re a Republican. As for a real problem… I think it’s a disorderly process right now, and most of that is caused by the political problem. The anti-immigration folks have killed every effort at comprehensive reform since the start of this century. If you ask me what I want us to have, I’ll say we need more immigration, not less, for the sake of our economy, but even more because of what America is to people everywhere seeking freedom and opportunity. And that additional immigration needs to be administered in a far more rational and orderly process than we have now.
  9. Where would you go on your first international trip as president? Wherever I could meet with our key allies — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and others — to repair damage done to our relationships, and reassure them as to our ongoing commitment to multilateral arrangements for everything from collective security to trade to climate change. Then, I’d try to revive T.P.P., if that’s possible — which is to say, if it’s not too late to undo the huge diplomatic and economic advantage we handed China when Trump abandoned it.
  10. Describe the last time you were embarrassed. Why? Just a second ago, when I read this question. But yeah, I get why you ask it, given the embarrassment that currently occupies the White House — a man who either doesn’t get embarrassed or won’t ever admit it. Anyway, I’m embarrassed so frequently, so routinely, that I can’t tell you the most recent incident. If I remember, I’ll come back to this.
  11. Do you think President Trump has committed crimes in office? Oh, I don’t know. And given the obstacles to prosecuting a sitting president, I’m not sure it’s a relevant question. What IS relevant is that he is grossly, pathologically unfit for the office — for pretty much any office involving the public trust, but especially this one — and we need to get him out of office as soon as possible. Unfortunately, given GOP control of the Senate, the first practical opportunity is the election next year. Americans who care about our country should focus on coming up with the very best candidate to defeat him.
  12. Do you support or oppose the death penalty? I oppose it. And I oppose this being a federal issue. That the federal government has muscled its way into something that was once almost completely a state issue is a problem.
  13. Should tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google be broken up? I don’t know. There probably needs to be more regulation, but I’m not smart enough to tell you what form that should take. We find ourselves in a situation like what we faced in the Progressive Era, when railroads and oil companies and such exerted an unexpectedly excessive influence on our society. Major tech companies have had an even more dramatic effect, for good and ill, even to the point of rewiring human cognition. As a country, we need to come to terms with this somehow. I can’t tell you I know what the specific remedies might be.
  14. Are you open to expanding the size of the Supreme Court? Absolutely not. Hear me: What Mitch McConnell did to prevent even the consideration of Merrick Garland was unconscionable. A Democratic effort to do the same thing — tilt the court for partisan purposes — would be equally unconscionable.
  15. When did your family first arrive in the United States, and how? You’d think I’d know the answer to this, given my genealogy obsession, but I don’t. In fact, it’s because of my genealogy obsession that I know that I don’t know. The short answer is that I don’t have any recent immigrants on my tree. If I did — say, if all four of my grandparents were immigrants, I could answer the question. But I can’t. On every branch of my tree that I’ve been able to trace back that far, everyone was here by the mid-1700s. That’s about nine generations back. When you go back that far, each of us has more than 500 direct ancestors, with about 500 different surnames. (I’d be precise and say “512,” but even that recently, I have some people from whom I’m descended more than one way, and you probably do, too. That lowers the number slightly.) When you’re talking about being descended from 500 families just a couple of centuries back, it raises the question of which one is “your family.” Obviously, all of them are.
  16. What is your comfort food on the campaign trail? Oh, come on. Really? From my own limited experiences on the campaign trail — as a campaign staffer last year, and covering campaigns long ago — food is food, and lacks emotional meaning, beyond the fact that eating is more comfortable than not eating. I ate anything I could get my hands on, when I had the time, that wouldn’t kill me, given my allergies. Oh, and before you ask, on a related question of equal value: I used to wear briefs, but have worn boxers for about 30 years now. OK? Can we move on?
  17. What do you do to relax? Give me a break. If I’m a presidential candidate, I don’t. Since I’m not, I spend time with my family, I read, I watch TV, I exercise, I work on my family tree. I make time for this by not answering questionnaires such as this. Maybe that’s how Joe Biden maintains his equanimity. Sorry, but this particular question is a peeve for me. I once had a publisher who invariably asked this very question of candidates during editorial board meetings, because he wanted to say something and he didn’t know anything about politics or policy. Each time, I would have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. (Actually, it’s just now occurring to me, I should have thanked him for staying neutral and not delving into topics that would have a bearing on our editorial decisions.)
  18. Does anyone deserve to have a billion dollars? I’ll quote Clint Eastwood from “Unforgiven” on this point: Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. If you’re asking whether, when a person has amassed such a fortune without doing anything illegal or morally reprehensible, the government should take it away from him, I’ll say no. And unlike maybe Bernie or Sen. Warren, I think it’s a rather dumb question.

What’s missing: any serious questions about the chief part of the job of being president, which is dealing with the rest of the world. The one question about Israel is just a gut-check thing to test how you stand with the pro-Palestinian wing of the Democratic Party — and with a lot of this paper’s readers. And the “first international trip” question is somewhat vague, in terms of direct bearing on policy.

Nothing about China, or Russia, or Iran, or Venezuela? Or climate change? Or international organizations such as NATO or the U.N., or the defunct TPP? Or general philosophy on national or collective security? Really? Are you kidding me? What office do you think these people are running for?

That such questions are left out while time is spent on how the candidates “relax,” or their fave “comfort food,” just floors me. This is The New York Times, not Tiger Beat….

Welcome to Orlando, Donald. We endorse anyone but YOU.

Orlando

I have to congratulate the Orlando Sentinel for its endorsement today in the 2020 presidential election — of anyone but Donald Trump.

For those out there simple enough to believe that being for or against Trump is a matter of being a Republican or a Democrat, I should point out that this is a paper that practically always endorses the Republican. But like serious, thoughtful Republicans everywhere (a dwindling breed, although it includes most prominent conservative pundits, which makes it seem like a dominant view to those of us who take in our information from the written word), this board is apparently made up of Never Trumpers.

I’m not a regular reader of the Sentinel‘s edit page, but from afar I’ve always seen it as more or less center-right, based on the few times it has come to my attention (which admittedly could be misleading). For instance, in 1998, I briefly thought we were the first paper in the country to call for Bill Clinton’s resignation when he admitted lying to us — but I soon discovered the Sentinel had done so on the same day.

So… great minds and all that.

Here’s how today’s piece begins:

Donald Trump is in Orlando to announce the kickoff of his re-election campaign.

We’re here to announce our endorsement for president in 2020, or, at least, who we’re not endorsing: Donald Trump.

Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent.

Because there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.

After 2½ years we’ve seen enough.

Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies….

From there, the piece gets into a long litany of his sins, any one of which would have ended a politician’s career, back before our country went stark, raving mad in 2016.

It’s a very well-reasoned piece, although none of the points in it should be a surprise, and the conclusion is inescapable to any thinking person.

It’s a nice, VERY early kickoff to the endorsement season. For that matter, it’s nice to see that some major metropolitan newspapers still do endorsements, or even have editorial boards. Only one in South Carolina still does…

Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

Russell House magazine rack

Yeah, I know this doesn’t prove anything.

It’s just that, after all that stuff about how younger people can’t be expected to know who Alfred E. Neuman was, I thought I’d take note of this.Alfred E

I was doing my afternoon walk across the virtually deserted USC campus today, and cut through the Barnes & Noble (and no, I still can’t get over the fact that the Russell House bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble) in the Russell House because I like to get that short blast of air conditioning (and also because I love me some Barnes & Noble).

And as I passed by the magazine rack, there he was. Almost as big as life as the Swimsuit Issue. (Or Swimsuit Issues, plural. When did there start to be more than one of them?)

Does this mean kids automatically know who Alfred E. is? No. But at least it means the kids who pass through here have had the opportunity.

The weird thing about this to me is that magazine racks still exist. Who reads magazines? I know people still read comic books, and their big brothers graphic novels, but that’s kind of a cult commodity. Like vinyl records among some serious audiophiles.closer

They just seem like such big, slick, absurdly-expensive-to-produce dinosaurs.

What’s in a magazine that I can’t get in an even more attractive and interactive format, and more immediately, on my iPad? I don’t read the paper versions of newspapers, and I’m a lifelong newspaperman. Magazines just lie there and don’t do anything. You can’t even click on links. So why would I read a magazine?

Why would anyone?

 

The Post’s Fact Checker on pre-Roe abortion death rates

four pinocchios

I’m raising this because I found it fascinating when I saw it yesterday, for several reasons. I’m hoping to be able to raise it independently of our respective views on abortion, because this is interesting wherever you are on the spectrum.

That may be overly optimistic on my part, but here goes…

Basically The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker team took a look at the frequent claim from Planned Parenthood and other groups that if abortion bans being enacted in various states succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, then we’ll be “going to go back in time to a time before Roe when thousands of women died every year.”

Fact Checker ended up giving the claim Four Pinocchios, which is its harshest rating of a falsehood. Having cited that, though, I urge you to read the whole thing, because the numbers are complicated and often murky, so judge the data for yourself.

For my part, I’ll make several observations:

  • As y’all know, I’m a words guy. I try to appreciate the point of view of my numbers-oriented friends out there, even though I think their insistence on reducing everything to digits can lead arguments astray on many issues. In this case, I’ve always looked askance at the numbers, whether someone is claiming the number is high or the number is low — not because I don’t think numbers are important in this instance, but because I think they are unknowable with any precision. You’re trying to count something that happened in the shadows, a dubious exercise at best. So while I see the Post‘s finding as interesting, I don’t necessarily see it as Gospel.
  • Any deaths are too many. Of course as you know (and here’s the only place I’ll refer to my views on abortion) to me every abortion is a death, and a tragedy. If the mother dies as well, then the tragedy is that much more horrific — and yes, more than twice as tragic. It should be society’s adamant goal to prevent that from happening ever. No one’s ideology should get in the way of that.
  • To that point, perhaps the most interesting data points in the piece are these: “In 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39, according to the CDC.” So aside from the overall number being far, far less than “thousands” (which is the main point of the piece), it turns out that where abortion was legal, there were still more than 60 percent as many deaths as there were where it was illegal. Make of that what you will.
  • That year, 1972, is particularly relevant to the debate, because as the piece points out, a post-Roe America would most likely be most comparable to the time immediately before Roe, rather than to the decades before that (when the estimates of deaths were much higher). The main commonality is this: At that time, abortion was legal in some states and illegal in others. If Roe suddenly disappeared, I expect we’d return to a situation like that one — although my guess is that it would likely be legal in more places than it was then.

Finally, here’s the point that drew me as a journalist, and I hope it is not entirely lost among the media’s detractors: I realize that few critics of the Trumpista variety are likely to ever read this, but it they did they would see as effective a demonstration of this newspaper’s fairness regardless of whose sacred cows get gored. It’s hard to imagine a Fact Checker verdict more likely to cause distress to the political left, which the press supposedly shills for.

So I hope somebody on the right notices it, and has his or her prejudice lessened at least a bit.

Anyway, as I said, it’s interesting on a number of levels, so I thought I’d share it.

Yeah, that was kind of what I was on about…

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968. Imagine a giant pencil instead.

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968: It really DOES look like a giant pencil, doesn’t it? A freshly sharpened one….

Just noticed that a piece in the Charleston paper over the weekend made reference to something I wrote last week.

The Post and Courier piece was headlined “Where does South Carolina’s teacher labor movement go after 10,000 person march?” (They left the hyphen out of “10,000-person,” not I. Y’all know I love hyphens. And commas.)

“May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square?” opined Brad Warthen, a former editor at The State who worked as a spokesman for Democrat James Smith’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

As for the choice of date for the first protest action, Walker said her group chose it to stand in solidarity with North Carolina teachers, who were marching on their Statehouse the same day. She said she hadn’t heard of May Day or its socialist connotations before critics brought it up online…

Yeah, exactly. They chose it “to stand in solidarity” with workers elsewhere. Kind of what I was on about.

Before someone gets worked up: No, I don’t think the teachers are commies. Apparently, this one doesn’t even know about commies.

I’m all for the teachers. I’m all for public education. Always have been, the record will show.

I’m just saying what I said: That this is not a way to win friends and influence people — at least, not the people who make policy in this GOP-dominated state. While few enough among them remember the Cold War, one assumes it lurks somewhere in their collective unconscious (as much as they might deny, upon questioning, possessing a collective anything).

And especially not when the Republican speaker of the House has stuck his neck out trying to accomplish some of the things you say you want.

That’s all I have to say… except that I wish they’d quoted the part about the giant pencils. That was the good bit. The part they quoted was just the setup for the good bit. Ask Norm. He appreciated it, even within the context of taking me to task

Cindi Scoppe at Rotary today

cindi speak

Two different members of my old Rotary Club invited me to come back as their guests today, because Cindi Scoppe was the speaker.

So I went. And she did great.

She addressed the questions people like us hear the most from laypeople. I forget how she stated them (What? You think I should take notes?), but they’re the questions like, What’s happening to my newspaper? Will it be here in the future? What does this mean for democracy? And so forth.

Originally when she agreed to speak on this date, she was unemployed after being laid off by The State. But before today rolled ’round, she had started with the Charleston paper. So one thing she did today was explain why Charleston is in hiring mode — not only that, but expanding its staff — when The State has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.

It’s a simple answer, which she stated simply: The Post and Courier belongs to a family-owned company that is highly diversified and isn’t dependent on newspaper income to keep going. And The State belongs to a publicly-traded corporation that has to produce for shareholders.

Oh, and there’s one other critical element: The owners of the Charleston paper have resolved to use their advantageous position to produce good journalism as a public service to South Carolina. She said one of the last things she did in the interview process for the job was meet with Pierre Manigault, the member of the family who currently runs the business. And she thought then that whether she got the job or not, she felt blessed to have met someone with that intention, and the means of carrying it out. Because there aren’t many people possessing those two characteristics these days.

By the way, a digression… I noted above that The State “has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.” That brings me to a form of the question I’ve heard uncounted times over the past decade…

People have asked me over and over, after saying how much they miss me from the paper, and how the paper is shrinking away to nothing, the following version of question Cindi was answering: “Do you think The State will still exist in five years?”

Until recently, I’ve answered that this way: Do you think the paper you knew five years ago still exists today? Which is a pedantic way of saying hey, things have already changed radically, so decide for yourself at which point you think the thing you think of as “the newspaper” ceases to be what it has meant to you.

But we’ve crossed a threshold now. As of the day Cindi was let go, The State ceased to be the paper it had been, with ups and downs, ever since the Gonzales brothers started it, intending it to be a paper with statewide impact that stood for something. (At the time, that meant standing against Tillmanism — a cause for which N.G. Gonzales gave his life.)

Newspapers have always mattered to me, and to the country — whether the country appreciates them or not. But when I say “newspaper,” I don’t necessarily mean a thing that is printed on sheets made of dead trees. In fact, as early as about 1980 — at the time when we made the transition from typewriters to mainframe — I fantasized about a day when I could just hit a button and have the copy go instantly to the reader in electronic form, as easily as I sent it over to the copy desk. No more tedious 19th-century manufacturing and delivery process taking hours between me and the reader.

And now that’s not only possible, it happens many times every day. But in far too many communities, the newspaper — meant the way I mean it, as an identifiable entity that plays a significant role in a community (no matter how its delivered) — is a thing of the past.

A newspaper, as I mean it, is a thing with a mind, a soul, a voice, an identity, a consciousness. It has things to say, and says them. It provides a forum for discussing public issues in a civil and productive manner.

And once a newspaper ceases to have an editorial voice, it’s not a newspaper, as I think of the concept.

You may have noticed that since Cindi has been gone, some days The State publishes an “opinion page” and some days it doesn’t. But frankly, does it matter? Because when it does, there are no editorials — just syndicated copy you can read elsewhere, and some letters. There’s nothing where the paper says, “Here’s what we think,” and invites you to say what you think back.

I say this not to run down the hard work that the good folks who still work at The State do, from the young reporters who now cover state politics (with whom I interacted a lot during the campaign) to the few remaining veterans like John Monk (who introduced Cindi today), Sammy Fretwell and Jeff Wilkinson. They’re working harder than ever, and producing information of value, and may they long continue to do so.

And I’m perfectly aware that the world is full of people — including a lot of journalists — who saw no value in the editorial page, who interacted with it no more deeply than to say, “Did you see what those idiots said today?” If that.

But at least the idiots said something. They didn’t just regurgitate what happened. They thought about it to the best of their feeble ability to think, and shared what they thought, and stood behind it. And that means a lot to me. I decided long ago, even before I left the news division to work on the editorial page back in 1994, that I preferred learning things from sources that had something to say about the subject at hand. It didn’t matter so much what they said about it — I might think their editorial point was totally off the mark — but they engaged the news on a different level, a deeper level, and they invited my lazy brain to do the same. That was more valuable to me than “straight” reporting, which by its nature engages the news on a more superficial level.

Also, you should know, in The State’s defense, that when it abandoned its editorial role last fall, it just joined the trend. When The Post and Courier contacted me to arrange James Smith’s endorsement interview with their editorial board, I thought I might as well start reaching out to other papers and arranging such meetings with them, too. Work, work, work. But as I did so, I had a creeping feeling there wouldn’t be any more such meetings. And I was right. I called The Greenville News. They told me they not only didn’t do endorsements any more, they didn’t do other editorials, either. Ditto with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. I didn’t contact any smaller papers, figuring if they were exceptions to the rule, they’d reach out to me. I had plenty of other work to do, and it was — to someone like me, being who I am and valuing what I value — a singularly depressing exercise.

End of digression.

Anyway, Cindi did a great job, and represented the profession — the much diminished profession — in a way that did credit to us all. Even if very few of us are still around and employed, I’m glad she’s one of the few. But y’all probably already knew that…

Cindi and me

I finally found a time and a place for podcasts

giphy

I’m hip. I’m with it.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, I’m someone who digs social media (if it’s Twitter) and I can barely remember what it’s like to watch commercial broadcast television, except that it’s kind of like watching non-premium Hulu, on account of the ads.

But there’s one modern way of interacting with content that I just couldn’t figure out. Not technologically — that was simple enough. I just couldn’t find a time and place for it in my life.

I’m talking podcasts.

Even though there are plenty of things on, for instance, NPR that I would like to listen to at my convenience, I’ve had trouble figuring out when that would be.

  • Not in my car, because if I’m on a long-enough drive, I kind of need to be interacting with the people with me, or at least alert to them. I’m a family man; not the guy in “Vanishing Point.” I seldom take trips alone. Also, it’s really not safe to drive with earbuds on, and how many podcasts do I want to hear that are also interesting to my wife and my grandchildren? I did some solo driving during the campaign, but I was always talking on the phone or otherwise too busy to do any extended listening.
  • Not while working or reading. That works (sometimes) with music, but not with people talking. I can’t read words and listen to words and take both in. My wife can do it, but I can’t. It’s sort of a walking and chewing gum thing.
  • Not while working out on the elliptical at home. Sound isn’t enough to fully distract me from the tedium of exercise. So I watch stuff on the Roku.

I’ve particularly been frustrated in finding a good time to listen to The West Wing Weekly, but I’ve been intimidated by the logistics — I mean, don’t I really need to be watching the show while listening? And when do I have time for that?

Then yesterday, it hit me.

I’ve been listening to Pandora during my afternoon walks downtown. Lately, it’s been my Elvis Costello station (which also gives me the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Weezer and other good stuff).

It only hit me yesterday that I could just as easily be listening to a podcast. I had been wanting to listen to The Argument, which features David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg talking about some issue of the day. So I did. And it was great, although since my route takes me through the USC campus some of the kids may have wondered what’s wrong with the old guy whenever I scowled at someone saying Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

I even had time left in my walk to listen to some Pandora when it was over.

Yeah, I know: Obvious. But I like when some problem that had been bugging me suddenly works its way out. Even when it’s as insignificant as this one.

Of course, I still haven’t figured out the West Wing Weekly problem…

My beef with the newest NYT app

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it...

The old app: This is the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it…

Being invited by email to complete a survey for The New York Times, I said this when they asked me why I liked reading the paper best on my iPad app:

It works well for me. But I prefer the old app to the new one, for the simple fact that I can see the name of the author of an opinion piece before clicking on it. That’s important to me, because there are certain columnists I don’t want to miss. I have no idea why that feature is missing in the new app.

See what I did there? I told them what I didn’t like about it, even though they didn’t ask that. I’d been looking for a chance to get that gripe in, and I figured this was my chance. I’m putting it on my blog now on the slim chance that it might get to the attention of someone who can do something about it this way.

It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference in my enjoyment of the paper, as well as in its usefulness to me.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to read the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don't. And won't, as long as the old one works.

The NYT keeps trying to get me to use the new app. Although I have it on my iPad, I don’t. And won’t, as long as the old one works.

Over the years, I have come to spend most of my time interacting with newspapers reading the opinion pages. I prefer that to “straight” news. I like getting my information within the context of an argument. Don’t just tell me who, what, where… tell me what you think of it, and I’ll decide what I think of what you think of it.

This is a deeper way of engaging with news than reading the front page. I’ve written about this a number of times over the years. I find that there are certain questions I want answered about an event or an issue, and too often those questions don’t even occur to “straight” news reporters. Why? Because they’re not trying to figure out what they think about the event or the issue, so they approach it on a more superficial level.

When you’re going to make an argument about something, and thousands of people are going to read that argument and judge it, you think harder about it. And yes, this process works best with people who do it for a living. The same principle seldom applies in the case of the loudmouth on the barstool proclaiming his own gut impressions to everyone around him. Not necessarily because the professional is smarter; he’s just doing it within a more demanding context. And doing it day in, day out. And when you’re doing it for a living, and even more so when you’re syndicated, or appearing in a publication with famously high standards — such as the NYT — you’ve got to prove yourself every day.

And while I will sometimes click on a piece purely because of the headline, I’m just much more likely to do so when I see it’s by someone whose thoughtfulness I’ve come to respect.

And no, it’s not about just reading people I agree with (although I’m sure it would work that way with a lot of people, such as the blowhard on the barstool, assuming he reads). It’s about reading people who, whatever they think, have demonstrated to me over and over that they will make a good case well. I like people who make me think, “He’s wrong, but he almost convinces me…”

By the way, this preference of mine came into play when I became editorial page editor of The State in 1997. I immediately started requiring my writers to write at least one column a week, in addition to editorials (which by definition are not signed, because they speak for the institution rather than an individual, and represented a consensus of the board). I did this so that readers would see the editorial board less as a monolith, and know the people who crafted our positions. But I also did it because it made the page more the kind of page I liked to read myself.

These days, some of my favorites in the NYT are David Brooks, Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat. And yes, those three have some views in common with me — they are all never-Trumpers, and none of them are Democrats.

What that means is that, in explaining the problems with the current occupant of the White House, they have to think harder about their views and how they want to express them — unlike someone like Paul Krugman, who is painfully predictable. I’ve never been able to stand Krugman, as I’ve said many times before — although if the headline intrigues me, I may read even him.

I keep thinking at some point the NYT will upgrade the new app so that it shows the bylines. But they haven’t yet…

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.

The new app: This is NOT the way I like it.