Category Archives: Media

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

As you know, Je ne suis pas Charlie. Well, as it turns out, if Google Translate is right, Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

And not only that, but watch what you say about his Mama.

I learned all this from this Tweet from Bryan:

My initial reaction was, “Whad’ya mean, ‘start’?” But then I went to find out what he meant, and found this:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But, he said, there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

Now, just watch people across the planet completely misconstrue what he said, claiming he’s “blaming the victim” or “excusing terrorists for murder,” when he is obviously doing no such thing. But he is saying what I’ve said before, which is this:

One’s right to free expression is a sacred thing, just like one’s right to freely practice one’s religion. The Pope said that clearly. And no sane person, least of all the Pope, believes anyone should be killed or threatened with death for expressing himself honestly.

But, there is a difference between what you have a sacred right to do and what you ought to do. And if you want to live in a civil society, in which other people have some basic modicum of respect for you, you have a moral obligation to show at least some minimal respect for others.

This is not a terribly hard thing for most experienced editors to understand, because they live in that space between what one has a right to publish and what one publishes if one has any respect at all for one’s readers.

And folks, you don’t have to be an editor or the Pope or somebody with an advanced degree in ethics to know where the lines are. That’s what the Pontiff was getting at with the mock punch. He was saying, we all know where the limits are: Insult my mother, I’ll smack you down. It’s not complicated.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum state clearly, on many occasions, where the line is. Samuel takes a back seat to no one in defending civil liberties. But he makes no bones about the fact that you’ve crossed the line with him, and made an enemy, when you insult “my wife, my Mama or my faith.”

Does that mean Samuel would be justified in coming into your office and blowing you away for insulting Judaism? No, of course not. But he’s describing where the boundaries lie in civil society. He’s telling you what is beyond the pale, in case you missed that class in kindergarten.

Charlie Hebdo is wrong to publish childishly obscene (and not even funny, to an adult eye) cartoons that deliberately slap Muslims in the face, that insult them in the most obnoxious possible manner. Millions of those Muslims are people who mean Charlie no harm, and would never resort to violence against them. But they are deeply insulted, and now, with nonMuslims around them all saying “Je suis Charlie,” they feel more marginalized and looked-down-upon than ever. These people don’t deserve such treatment.

The fact that there are a few murderous jerks who will kill you for publishing such cartoons does not make you right for publishing them. If something is wrong, it is wrong whether people shoot you for it, or give you a big, wet kiss for it.

And that’s what the Pope was trying to say…

Oh, and by the way, he also said global climate change is real, and man-caused. That kind of got downplayed….

Je ne suis pas Charlie

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Did I get that right? If not, blame Google Translate. I know next to nothing about what Scott Evil would term “Paris talk.”

My point, in thus running against the current proper emotion, is that even though one might think I’d be the first to identify with the victims at Charlie Hebdo, I’d actually be among the last.

As Robert Ariail’s longtime editor — and one whom Robert used to flatter as being the rare sort of editor who could “think like a cartoonist” — it should really hit home for me when terrorists invade editorial offices and start shooting, with cartoonists and their editor being their specific, intended targets.

And on certain, basic, levels, it does. As someone who believes firmly in the importance of free expression in a free society, and especially on a human level. No one deserves such a fate. Those who carried out the attack must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or killed if they cannot be captured. They and their actions are beyond the pale. But because I have been involved daily in the production of satirical cartoons, and because I’ve made the thousands of small judgments that such a task involves, I feel acutely the difference between me and those responsible for Charlie Hebdo. It’s a difference that may seem subtle to you, and many will misunderstand me. But for me, there’s a bright line.

I am not Charlie because I would not create or publish some of the things that Charlie has published.

Most specifically, I would not even once, much less regularly, intentionally mock someone else’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. If I, in a weak moment (and I most assuredly would regard it as weakness, not strength — the inability to resist a cruel joke at someone else’s expense) did so, I would feel shame. I would not pat myself on the back for being courageous. Just because there’s someone out there who will kill you for making a bad joke doesn’t excuse the joke or make it heroic. It’s still a bad joke.

A situation such as this generates a lot of emotion, with predictable reactions, so let me go ahead and address a couple of the predictable misunderstandings that will greet what I’m saying:

  1. I’m not “blaming the victim,” to use one of more irritating catchphrases of our age. The blame lies entirely with the terrorists, whose murderous actions are utterly unjustified. Nothing that Charlie Hebdo has ever published, however offensive, justifies violence. And the editors of Charlie had every right to publish what they have published. My comments deal with the many choices one makes between the boundaries of the many things we have the right to do.
  2. I’m not saying that editors should not publish certain things because of fear of attack. Far from it. What I’m saying is that editors should not publish things that they should not publish, period. The threat of violence is irrelevant, and merely clouds the issue, making it hard to see the point I’m making. I hold that however incisive and hard-hitting your commentary, one should always strive to respect those you criticize as fellow human beings. And a most fundamental way you respect other people is that you don’t mock their religion.

I realize I’m on one side of a cultural chasm here. While many Americans can identify with the aggressive secularism that is so common in Europe, I cannot. I’m more of a typical denizen of this country in that I defy the Western trend toward rejecting traditional religion. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. I like to think that even if I were an atheist, I’d be the sort of atheist who found it unthinkable to mock others for their faith. Mocking other people’s deeply cherished beliefs, ones that are sacred to them, is just so tacky, so low, so déclassé, so nekulturny. I’d find it, as Mr. Darcy would say, insupportable.

Also, I sense that satire plays a somewhat different role in European politics than it does here. You say “satirical newspaper” — the standard description of Charlie Hebdo in news reports — and I think of The Onion. I love The Onion, even when it is at its most irreverent. But that is because I and others see it as all a big joke. It doesn’t occupy a place near the center of our political discourse. I may laugh my scrawny posterior off at a well-turned phrase in The Onion, but I don’t put the writer of that phrase in the same category as Thomas Paine, Horace Greeley, William Allen White, Walter Lippman, David Broder, Kathleen Parker or anyone else who has sincerely wrestled with the issues of the day.

A lot of younger people, we are told, get their news from “The Daily Show,” with everything filtered through a satirical strainer. And we, their elders, greatly valued the political gags of “SNL” in its heyday. Sure, there has always been a place for humor in political commentary, from Mark Twain through Robert Ariail. And I value that. Given much of the soul-crushing madness in our public life, humor is indispensable.

And when a cartoonist uses perfectly legitimate symbolism in making a satirical point, and oversensitive people — a category that includes many Muslims — object on irrelevant grounds, I defend him. I’ve been there many times. If you have a copy of Robert’s last book while at The State, take a look at the cover. It shows a varied mob chasing Robert with the proverbial torches and pitchforks, with such recognizable figures as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (two of his favorite caricatures) leading the pack. Look back a bit, and you’ll see some Muslim women in burqas among the irate mob. (Sorry, this is the biggest image of the cover I could find on short notice.)

Those women, or their real-life counterparts, actually inspired that cover, and for that matter the book. One day in 2001, some Muslim women were complaining about an Ariail cartoon that they felt disrespected them and Islam. Here’s the cartoon in question:

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That cartoon made fun of a new dress code for pages in the Legislature by showing them covered by burqas. This was obviously making fun of the lawmakers, not Muslim women. We shrugged off the criticism. I said something to Robert like, “You’ve just got everybody on your case lately, don’t you — flag supporters, the governor, Democrats, Republicans, traditional Muslim women…” Which inspired the cover drawing, which we then quickly decided would be a great cover for a book, which we then started to compile.

Robert experienced similar criticism after we both got canned from the paper, over the cartoon below. Though I was no longer paid to do so, I defended him quite vehemently. It’s hard to imagine a better way of stating one of the main flaws with Nikki Haley, particularly at that time — that she talks a big game on transparency, but doesn’t deliver. It was funny, pointed and entirely relevant. And its target was the governor of the state — no wait; going by the date on the post, it was a lawmaker well on her way to becoming the governor of the state.

Note the distinction here. True journalistic courage and integrity lies in willingness to skewer the powerful — the people who hold sway over our lives. It does not lie in deliberately mocking the Prophet, and thereby dumping on the sincere beliefs of a largely powerless, marginalized minority in your society, which is how I would describe Muslims in Europe.

There is a world of difference between unintentionally offending someone’s sensibilities (there is someone out there offended by every cartoon, which is unfortunate but unavoidable) with a symbol or image used to make a sharp point about the powerful, and deliberately savaging a revered religious figure just for the point of doing just that.

The problem in publishing images of the Prophet isn’t that you might offend terrorists. It’s that you will certainly spit in the faces of millions of unoffending Muslims who mean you no harm.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video today telling about some of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. At the very end, you see the murdered editor saying:

We are in a weird situation in France. Islam is the second religion in the country in terms of practitioners. And in fact, nobody knows anything about Mohammed. Nobody knows anything about this religion. It’s a religion that scares people because every time we talk about it, it’s when we talk about bomb attacks done by an extreme minority.

So… how do you get from there to deciding that the proper way to respond to that “extreme minority” is to go out of your way to mock the inoffensive, overwhelming majority of people who make up the second-largest religious group in your country? People whose faith you acknowledge that people like you know little about? (And please note the majoritarian assumption underlying his words. “Nobody knows anything about this religion” — nobody except the members of the nation’s second-largest religious group. Such ethnocentrism is weird in someone being lionized as a martyr to liberalism. He displays here the narrowness that unfortunately characterizes so many people who see themselves as the most broad-minded. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but this is worth pointing out.)

The Washington Post is absolutely right to say, as it does in an editorial today, “Charlie Hebdo stands solidly for free expression. The West must do no less.” I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Post‘s editors on that point. But I can’t honestly say “Je suis Charlie,” because I’ve thought too carefully about such issues over the years, and I know I am not. To paraphrase something allegedly said (the quote is apparently apocryphal) by a famous Frenchman, I defend to the death the right of Charlie to publish what Charlie sees fit to publish. And I will stand in solidarity with the millions of defenders of Charlie against the forces of darkness and intimidation. But I am not Charlie.

Watch this: Some idiot — the sort who should be the subject of a cartoon — will say I’m a coward; I’m “afraid” to deliberately mock Islam. No, I just believe it’s wrong. In fact, if there were a terrorist group threatening credibly to kill me if I didn’t publish images mocking the Prophet, I still wouldn’t do it. Because I DO believe in freedom of expression just as much as the publishers of Charlie Hebdo, and adamantly insist on being guided by my own conscience in deciding what to publish.

If I were still editor of the editorial page of The State, I would today be saying much what the Post is saying. Freedom of expression, particularly political expression (including especially expressions with which I disagree, the sort that appears regularly in Charlie Hebdo) is a core principal of liberal democracy that cannot and must not be compromised. A newspaper must take a stand on that. But note that the Post, in that same editorial, is also making the point that I am making in this completely personal (not institutional) blog post, which addresses a side issue:

We have objected in the past to expressions that appear intended to gratuitously provoke or offend Muslims, particularly in European nations such as France, where a large Muslim population suffers from chronic discrimination and is the target of demagoguery by populist political parties. But such criticism does not justify censorship, much less violence.

Absolutely.

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How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

The much-anticipated Ferguson decision

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I was thinking this morning that, while all Monday-morning papers tend to be light on news, today was a particularly slow one.

I thought that because both The New York Times and The Washington Post were leading their iPad apps with a story that hadn’t happened yet. Which, in the strict definition of What Constitutes A Lede that I was taught, is something you don’t do. News is, at the least, something that has happened. Advancer stories have their value, but they don’t lead the paper, in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I share that as a way of having a post already up and ready in case y’all would like to comment when the Ferguson grand jury does report, which I see it is expected to do at 8 p.m.

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I enjoy serendipitous juxtapositions

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I enjoyed this juxtaposition of headlines on the business page of The State today. The headlines go to this story, and this story.

For a split second, I thought maybe the stories actually were related. And in a global, trend-tracking sense, I suppose they are. Except, of course, that the larger posteriors some women seek are more of the muscular variety. Doughnuts alone won’t give you that…

I love the smell of advertising in the morning. It smells like… freedom!

This is a cautionary tale for those of you who gripe about “all the ads” in your daily newspaper. When the truth is that the dramatic decline in advertising revenue over the past decade or so is what has been strangling newspapers.

It’s why Robert Ariail and I, and a bunch of others, got laid off in 2009, at the very low point of the Great Recession.

Greet those ads as friends, because those that remain are all you have to keep the news flowing your way — no matter where you get your news. The few reporters left at mid-sized dailies across the country — and at virtually every other information outlet you can think of — get paid from ad revenues. It was always thus, only in the old days there was a lot more flowing in.

No bucks, no Buck Rogers. Or perhaps I should say, no Clark Kent.

There are readers out there who labor under the delusion that they pay for their paper, so they shouldn’t be assaulted with all these ads. Well, no they don’t — pay for it, that is. Oh, they pay something, but it’s a pittance compared to what it costs to publish a newspaper. The rest comes from advertising.

And contrary to the equally deluded belief of folks who imagine that ads make the news somehow hostage to the interests of advertisers (which just proves they’ve never worked at a general-circulation newspaper in this country), advertising is also what keeps news free and independent. As we’re seeing in Russia:

An advertising ban on Russian cable and satellite TV stations could decimate regional television broadcasting from the suburbs of the capital to the far reaches of Siberia, leaving the country almost entirely dependent on state media for news and information.

The law, which will prohibit commercial advertisements on paid cable and satellite channels starting next year, is one of many measures Russian authorities have adopted in recent months to tighten control over the flow of information, reduce foreign money in Russian media and force journalists to hew closer to a pro-Kremlin line.

But the advertising ban threatens to deliver the most devastating blow to homegrown independent outlets where Russians get most of their news: television….

When newspapers and other news outlets lose their access to advertising in a place like Russia, the news becomes, once again, a wholly owned subsidiary of the government.

So enjoy the ads, folks. They’re better than the alternatives…

Happy Elephant Day, Republicans (courtesy of Thomas Nast)!

Nast elephant

I learned this from a Tweet today:

On this day in 1874, in a Thomas Nast cartoon, the Republican Party was symbolized as an elephant for the first time

You know, that’s gotta be a bitter pill for some in the GOP to swallow — their symbol was given them by a hero of the MSM.

I must remember to mention this to Robert Ariail, who has a special bond to Nast — he was judged best cartoonist in the world in 1997 by the Overseas Press Club, which gave him their prestigious Thomas Nast Award.

By the way, here’s an explanation of the Nast cartoon that ran on Nov. 7 1874.

Any of y’all vote early? Why? And how did it go?

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A couple of things we talked about last night on Cynthia Hardy’s radio show (there I am with host, crew and fellow guests above) stuck with me.

One was all the talk about voter turnout. I joined in with the others in urging people to get out and vote — I even threw in the cliche about “If you don’t vote, don’t come crying to me about what happens after” — but I also shared my personal doubt about get-out-the-vote efforts. Basically, if you have to be reminded, cajoled, begged and prodded, I’m not at all sure I want you voting. I’d rather have elections decided by people who care enough that they would never consider not voting.

Then, I was struck by all the talk about early voting. Not “early voting” technically, but “absentee” voting — which is engaged in more and more by people who won’t actually be absent. My fellow guest Jim Felder kept urging folks to get out and vote today rather than wait until Tuesday, in case the weather is bad on actual Election Day. Various anecdotes about busloads of folks voting early were shared.

So I thought I’d ask: Did you vote early? If so, why? And how did it go? And anything else you’d like to share.

I know that Doug, at least, voted on Friday, because he texted me about it, saying it was very busy at the Parklane location. Perhaps he’d like to share some more about that.

Anyone else?

Wow. NOW Mia McLeod is attacking Carolyn Click

Here’s the latest escalation from Rep. Mia McLeod, who really seems to be going around the bend on this thing:

Okay, Ms. Click, so you write front-page fabrications about race in Richland Two on Sunday and then again on Tuesday and Wednesday of the same week? Guess The State must be hard-pressed for real news…and real journalists.

Race wasn’t an issue in Richland Two until you and your White Citizens Council (WCC) buddies made it one.Mia leopard jacket

The illusion of racial tension and animosity you guys have created continues to reveal your true colors. In fact, the same WCC spokesperson quoted in Sunday’s story, had this to add today,

“These people are playing hardball—if they get control they will drive off all the competent people…”

Funny thing is…”these people” kinda reminds me of “those people” and “you people.”

Clearly these are “your people,” Ms. Click, since you’re working overtime to help disseminate and lend credibility to their racist chatter.

Thankfully, somebody at The State had the good sense (not you, of course) to remove his racist rant from “the story” you originally posted online last night, as well as the printed version today.

More proof that “control”—not race, is the real issue. “If they get it,” means we’ve never had it. Guess that’s what scares y’all so much.

And you so desperately want the few readers you do have, to believe that I’m Amelia McKie’s biggest supporter. Guess that’s why you’ve conveniently omitted thousands of dollars in contributions and a diverse cross-section of her contributors from your “story.”

Too bad that while you’re working hard to undermine and discredit Mrs. McKie, the front-runner in this school board race, you’ve actually disclosed even more “evidence” of the collaboration between the current Administration and the WCC.

Obviously, the campaign contributions of current R2 Administrators to some of the WCC’s “chosen four” is evidence of collaboration and conflict—not to mention, impropriety. But I’m sure that’s well above your pay grade, Ms. Click, since The State must not require you to check the rules or the facts before you print your fabrications.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t compare Debbie Hamm to Lillian McBride in my blog. I simply referenced incompetence as their common denominator.

Even my Senator chimed in to “reaffirm” his support for Debbie Hamm. But, this isn’t about her. Or is it?

Anyone who thinks she’s “building morale” in R2, is out of touch with everybody but the DO. For her loyal supporters, friendship trumps everything.

What a sobering reality check for the rest of us in Richland Two.

Let’s channel our energy and efforts towards a true commitment to excellence in education, for the benefit of all Richland Two students.

For those who are afraid of losing it, it’s clearly about control. For the rest of us, it’s truly about moving our students, communities and District forward, in a better direction.

It’s time to silence the rhetoric, the rancor and the manufactured issues of race. Next Tuesday, November 4, I’m counting on voters to do just that.

Maybe then, Ms. Click, you can focus your attention on real news, for a change.

Quote that….

Speaking as a 35-year newspaper veteran, I can tell you with authority that this is real news, and Carolyn Click is a real journalist. A good one. I’ve known her for a couple of decades, and I think this is the first time I’ve heard anyone call her professionalism into question.

And you can quote that….

Hutchins highlights Dudley’s role in bringing down Harrell

On a previous post, Doug Ross and Lynn T. both said that Renee Dudley, formerly of The Post and Courier, deserved a lot of credit for bringing Harrell down. I had to confess that I wasn’t that familiar with her work (the last one of their reporters I knew at all was Yvonne Wenger) and had little to add on the subject. I knew that a lot of the initial spadework on the case had been done by the Charleston paper, but that was about it.

Well, today, Corey Hutchins brings to my attention to this piece he wrote in Columbia Journalism Review, praising Ms. Dudley along those lines:

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Renee Dudley

It is a case study in why local accountability reporting matters. It took the reporting of Renee Dudley, a young, aggressive reporter for the Charleston Post and Courier, to break the news of the longtime politician’s wrongdoing and force the issue to the forefront of public debate.

Harrell had been in the House since 1993, and had been Speaker since 2005. Before Dudley took him on, no other reporter had so thoroughly researched and scrutinized his behavior in office, not at papers around the state capitol nor in his home district of Charleston.

But Dudley, a Boston native, had started to make a name for herself with investigative features after joining The Post and Courier in 2010 to cover health stories. As a reporter covering politics at the capital for the Columbia, SC-based alt-weekly Free Times, I first noticed her work when she dropped a September 2011 story on Gov. Nikki Haley’s trip to Europe.

By the time I read her pieces on Harrell the next year, I was jealous. In the spring of 2012, Dudley, then 26, penned her first big report on Bobby’s world. The story was an investigative report about a big-money political action committee linked to the Speaker, and how he used it to consolidate and wield power in the House. Her piece raised questions about conflicts of interest, including whether it was proper for one lawmaker to accept $123,000 in payment to his communications firm from “the Speaker’s PAC.”

The bombshell that eventually put the Speaker in legal crosshairs, and later led to his guilty plea, came that September. Its title: “Harrell offers no details on self-reimbursement of $325,000 from campaign funds.”…

Trying to make up my mind on the Lexington sales tax hike

This story in The State today reminds me that I have to decide by next week whether to vote for the Lexington County penny tax increase.

I checked with Warren Bolton to see whether they’re going to have anything about it on the editorial page. He said there will be something, and I look forward to reading it. Y’all may think of me as a guy who comes equipped with a full set of strongly-held opinions, and to some extent that’s true. But my daily discussions with Warren and Cindi — and back in the halcyon days, Mike Fitts and Nina Brook and before them John Monk and Claudia Brinson — helped me refine and correct and hone my views. I was always smarter about an issue after discussing it with them. Even if I still had the same general view I went in with (which, I admit, was usually the case), I had a better grasp on it, and had sanded off the rough edges, when I came out.US_One_Cent_Obv

And when, as with this case, I’m not sure what to think, such a discussion always helped me make up my mind. (That dynamic, by the way — the testing of one’s thoughts against those of a group of thoughtful people — is what editorials, and especially endorsements, are all about. Even if you disagree with the piece, and don’t change your mind, you’ll be smarter about the way you approach the issue for having tested your views against the ones you read.)

I know that if I could sit in a regular morning meeting with my friends on the edit board, I could arrive at a conclusion that I would be comfortable with, and that I could support and defend. Lacking that, I look forward to seeing what they publish.

The problem I have making up my mind on the Lexington penny is that it’s just for roads and infrastructure. I backed the penny in Richland because half of it went to the buses. I’d have backed it more enthusiastically if it had all gone to public transportation. But Lexington County largely turns its back on the bus system, and is all about cars and roads. Which bothers me…

OK, it’s not ALL about cars and roads. There’s some other infrastructure in there. But I’m happy to pay the Richland penny because it’s funding something that is an alternative to cars and roads, and which the community needed, and which it was having trouble paying for otherwise. (And though I do live in Lexington, I probably spend at least as much on taxable items in Richland.)

Then there’s also the problem that we’re already leaning on the sales tax too much in this state. It’s crept up to where it’s on the border of being too high if not there already, while property and income taxes aren’t bearing their share of the load (OK, business property taxes are, but primary-residence taxes are not).

And as I’ve said repeatedly, we have a mechanism for building and maintaining roads — the state gasoline tax. That needs to be raised, rather than just raising sales taxes here and there across the state.

At the same time, that is still a tough row to hoe, and in the meantime we have inadequate roads. So I struggle with this.

Maybe y’all can help me with this. The morning meeting is hereby convened…

Scoppe reminds us Sheheen is a guy who gets good things done

We were treated to “steak-and-steak” in The State today. That’s what former Associate Editor Nina Brook called an editorial page that had a lede editorial on one subject, and a column on the same (or related subject). As opposed to, say, steak and potatoes. (Nina meant it disparagingly. Me, I like a lot of protein.)

And while I thought the editorial endorsement of Vincent Sheheen was fine, and made its case well (no open-minded person could come away from it thinking we shouldn’t make a change), I was more pleased with Cindi Scoppe’s column.

That’s because it made a point that I made here several months ago — that Sheheen is a remarkably successful and influential leader in our State House.

This year alone, he has been the driving force behind a shift of power from the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board to a Department of Administration under the governor (his baby from the get-go), a huge expansion of 4k education, without any new taxes; and a ban on texting while driving.

As Cindi concluded:

There are more legislators than I can count — and then-Rep. Nikki Haley was among them — who don’t get a single significant bill passed in their entire legislative career. To pass three in a single year, all of which will help our state … well, that’s practically unheard of, even for the Legislature’s most powerful Republican leaders.

Indeed. This campaign is about flash over substance, and there’s little doubt, to a careful observer, about which side has the substance.

Video: Sheheen’s and Ervin’s meetings with The State’s editorial board

I was looking for something else, and happened to run across these videos posted by SCETV, obviously with the cooperation of my friends at The State.

These are a considerable improvement over the low-res, 3-minute clips I used to post from my little personal Canon camera — which could not shoot any video longer than 3 minutes, and which I also used for still shots, so the video record was far from complete. And I was doing it all while running a sound recorder, taking notes and presiding over the meeting. But hey, before I started blogging, you didn’t get any pictures or video from these meetings. So get outta my face.

Anyway. I’m happy to note the progress. And as a connoisseur of these things, it’s fun for me to note the way things are the same and how they differ. For instance, I notice Cindi used the usual “give us your stump speech” opener with Sheheen, but asked a slightly different opening question of Ervin. The Sheheen approach was always our standard. I would do that because I liked to start with the candidate making his or her case in his or her own words, rather than just responding to our questions. I felt that was the fairest way to start, to lay a base, before we started asking what we wanted to know. And even if the spiel was a bunch of baloney, the fact that the candidate freely chose such a pose told me a lot. It was boring for the reporters who would sit in, because they had heard the speech out on the hustings. But these meetings weren’t held for their purposes; they were for those of us trying to make an endorsement decision.

You’ll hear me starting things off that way in this meeting with Barack Obama, just as I did with hundreds of others.

You might notice another, subtler thing. You can sort of tell at the start of the Obama clip that something has gone before — some small talk, some joshing around, before we got down to business. I always did that. You’ll note that Cindi, far more task oriented than I, and nobody’s idea of a social butterfly, doesn’t fool with that. She doesn’t schmooze. An interview is an opportunity to get answers to X, Y and Z, and that’s what she’s there for.

She always knows just what information she needs. I took more of a zen approach. I was always curious to see where an interview would go if I let it have its head. I was looking for column inspiration; I had Cindi and Warren and, in the good times, a couple of other associate editors to make sure all the essential bases were covered.

Oh, you’re wondering where the Nikki Haley meeting is, right? There wasn’t one. My understanding is that her campaign did not accept the board’s invitations to meet. So if you ever wondered what, if anything, Nikki Haley and Hillary Clinton have in common, now you know.

More newspapers have stopped doing endorsements, and their excuses for this cop-out are as lame as ever

Politico notes that more and more newspapers are announcing that they’ll no longer do candidate endorsements.

And as usual with such cop-outs, their excuses for this are completely lame:

Papers in Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Texas have all announced this year that their editorial boards will no longer print the traditional candidate endorsements.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette said they are discontinuing the practice in order to be “an independent voice amid the growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

Yes, that’s right. You are supposed to be “an independent voice.” And if you, the independent voice, won’t state a preference between the candidates, then the only people out there expressing a preference will be the “growing clamor of voices espousing hyper-partisan views.”

To continue:

It’s a trend that’s been spreading throughout the country, CJR reports. In 2012, the Halifax Media chain said they would stop endorsing ” because endorsing candidates could “create the idea we are not able to fairly cover political races.” The Chicago Sun-Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have also ceased endorsing candidates.

Guess what? People will still accuse you of not fairly covering political races. As has always been the case and always will be the case, people will try to read a bias into every word you write. They will always be looking for an indication that you’re really for the other guy, and in their minds, they will find the proof in every news story.

That’s why, as an institution, you should be honest about any preference you do have. So at least readers can take that institutional preference into consideration in assessing the fairness of your coverage. It makes you more transparent, rather than forcing readers to guess about the biases that they assume you have.

Fortunately, there are still some editors out there who understand what newspapers, and especially editorial pages, are for. As CJR reports:

As for movement in the other direction? The Los Angeles Times, which gave up endorsements in presidential campaigns after 1972, in part because of conflict over its support for Richard Nixon, returned to the practice in 2008. The Times’ reasoning tracked pretty closely with the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 statement on why it plans to keep endorsing: Editorial boards take stands on political issues every day, and it would be odd or even irresponsible to go silent at such a key moment.

Amen to that. I’ve said the same many times: Every day of every year, newspapers publish their opinions on every policy issue under the sun — which is a fine thing in theory, but the fact is that in a representative democracy, a newspaper’s readers can’t do anything about most of those issues. The one time they all get a say is at election time, when they choose the people who actually will act on those issues.

To opine about these issues the rest of the time (and if you don’t think newspapers should express opinions at all, then that’s another issue for another day), and then fail to point out which candidates are most likely to enact the policies one favors, at the critical moment when readers all have a decision to make, is both lazy and cowardly.

Cowardice has always been a factor because close to half of the people reading any endorsement are going to get mad at you about it. So has laziness, as endorsements are labor-intensive. The “lazy” factor is playing a bigger and bigger role as newspaper staffs keep shrinking.

And so it is that I’ve been proud to see Cindi and Warren cranking out endorsements this week, here and here and here and here. I know how much work they’re putting into the process, and I appreciate it.

endorsements

Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

Did you see the exclusive story in The State the other day to this effect:

State and federal law enforcement officials are questioning S.C. legislators about potential illegal vote swapping in February’s race that re-elected the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, multiple sources have told The State….

Did you find yourself confused in reading it? Did you think to yourself, Don’t lawmakers trade votes all the time, on all sorts of issues? Since when is that illegal?

Well, Cindi Scoppe helps walk you through all that in her column today. She explains that yes, lawmakers routinely swap votes on issues — the General Assembly would get even less done if they did not.

But she also explains how a series of horrific events in 1995 that caused lawmakers to elect less-qualified jurists to the bench led to reform, and the practice was banned — with regard to judicial selection. (And ironically, the reform was passed by a vote-swapping deal between House and Senate conferees.)

Here’s her recap of what happened back then to lead to the reform:

it starts on a sunny spring day in 1995, when the Legislature elected E.C. Burnett to the Supreme Court and Kay Hearn to the Court of Appeals and re-elected Danny Martin to the Circuit Court. Mr. Burnett and Ms. Hearn were qualified for the positions, but analyses by the S.C. Bar and the Legislature’s judicial screening committee showed that they were the least qualified candidates in their hotly contested races. The committee found Mr. Martin didn’t understand the law at all, and the Bar had declared him unfit for the bench.

As senators filed out of the House chamber after the election, then-Sen. Robert Ford bragged about how it all happened: The Legislative Black Caucus pledged 20 votes for Hearn in exchange for Horry County votes for Martin and 18 votes for Burnett in return for four Spartanburg County votes for Martin; another five Spartanburg County legislators agreed not to vote in the Martin race.

“All kind of deals was made,” Sen. Ford told reporters. “I had to sell my soul to 10 devils.”

No one denied the deals, because vote trading always had been a part of judicial elections — whether the votes involved other judicial races or legislation. And why not? Trading votes is a natural part of the legislative process….

As so often during his lamentable lawmaking career, there was the brazen Robert Ford, standing as the poster child of bad government. But of course, he was just the most visible manifestation of something much more widespread. Perhaps we even owe him a debt of gratitude for making the unsavory situation so much more obvious.

That’s all history, but the thing that deserves even more attention is this conclusion:

I supported the current system for a long time, because it was such a huge improvement over what came before. But it never was a good system, because it encourages the sort of logrolling that is alleged to have occurred in the chief justice race, and because it allows one branch of government to control the judiciary.

And if one person rules the House with an iron hand — one person who is not the governor, who is not elected by all the voters of this state, and who is not accountable to the public for his power — it allows that one person to control the judiciary. As felt so disturbingly to be the case as we watched Mr. Harrell’s treatment in our courts in the weeks and months leading up to his indictment this summer on public corruption charges.

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

I have long held the position that we should switch to a different method of choosing judges, preferably one like the federal system — the governor nominates, and the Senate confirms. That spreads out the power across the other two branches of government, and makes sure that the one individual having extensive say in the matter is one elected by all of the people, not just one House district.

But since the reforms of the 1990s, which did much to inject merit into the current system of election by the General Assembly, I (and the editorial board) acknowledged that the system was much better than it had been, and so we let judicial selection slide to a back burner. We still advocated for change when the subject came up, but we didn’t drive it the way we did so many other issues.

The events of the past year or two — with Bobby Harrell trying to bat the judiciary around like cat with a chew toy, so soon after a dramatic example of his power in choosing justices — mean it’s time to move real, substantive reform to the front rank of priorities.

It’s high time to stop letting the Legislature choose judges, all by its lonesome.

In the Line of Ire: Secret Service chief quits

A guy climbing the fence and running wild in the White House and some aggressive reporting by The Washington Post have led to the following:

Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, resigned Wednesdayfollowing a series of security lapses by her agency, including a recent incident in which a man with a gun was allowed on an elevator with President Obama.secret service

Obama “concluded new leadership of the agency was needed based on recent and accumulating accounts” of performance problems within her agency, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a news briefing.

Pierson’s departure from her post came just 24 hours after a congressional oversight hearing about a growing number of security breaches. She appeared evasive, gave conflicting accounts of a recent incident involving a man who jumped over the White House and got deep inside the building, and said she learned some things about her agency by reading accounts in the Washington Post.

That growing list of security failures, many first reported in the Washington Post, had put the president and his daughters in potential danger. Some of the details of the lapses, including the service’s fumbled response to a 2011 shooting at the White House, were unknown to Congress and the president before they were reported ….

It usually takes a little longer than this for someone in Washington to fall this hard. But fall she did.

And yeah, I partly posted this just to use the headline…

I’d also like to say that while I don’t subscribe to the school that holds that the ultimate measure of a journalist is the number of public officials’ scalps on his or her belt, the Post has done some fine work ferreting these stories out, and making a compelling case for quick action.

That said, a resignation solves nothing. The work of addressing these problems needs to begin now.

Headlines about Eric Holder

As a former front-page editor, I found the different approaches taken by three great newspapers in announcing the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder mildly interesting:

  1. Holder to Resign as Attorney General — The Wall Street Journal takes the plain, unadorned approach.
  2. Holder, Liberal Voice, to Quit as U.S. Attorney General — The New York Times throws in some analysis, bordering on making an editorial judgment. Interesting choice. Of course, this being the Times, we might see that as an honorific.
  3. Eric Holder, first black attorney general, to resign — The Washington Post charts a middle ground. They wanted to say more than the WSJ was saying, but didn’t want to venture into subjectivity. So they point out something about him no one can argue with. Of course, if I’m Holder, I’d prefer the NYT approach. I’d be thinking, “That’s it? That’s all you think of when you see me?”

    Yeah, I know. It seems like I think about these things too much. Well, I used to get paid to do that, and it’s hard to stop…