Category Archives: Media

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.

 

 

Wonderful news for Cindi, and even better for SC!

Cindi

Cindi Ross Scoppe shared her good news with me last week, but told me to embargo it while she and the folks at the Post and Courier decided how to announce it. So I did. And then, she went ahead and scooped me herself on social media!

It’s those kind of killer instincts that have made her the finest political journalist working in South Carolina today.

And yes, she is indeed back working. As she wrote:

I’m starting my new job on Thursday, as an editorial writer for The Post and Courier. I’ll be working with a great team, writing editorials and columns primarily about state government and the Legislature. And yes, I’m staying in Columbia, where I can keep a close eye on everything. I’ll have a column in a few days introducing myself to readers, and I’ll share that here.

This is tremendous news — the Charleston paper creating this new position, in Columbia, and hiring Cindi for it is the kind of fairy-tale ending that just doesn’t happen for experienced journalists these days. It’s wonderful for Cindi, and even better for South Carolina.

Y’all might not know this, but the Post and Courier is the last daily newspaper in South Carolina that actually employs an editorial department (with an editorial page editor and everything), offering opinions on the issues that affect our state. The State, as you know, doesn’t do it — they didn’t even bother to have an “opinion page” today, which is just as well, since when they do run it it’s just canned stuff from elsewhere and a few letters. And I learned during the campaign, when I was checking around to set up endorsement interviews, that the Greenville and Spartanburg papers don’t do editorials any more, either.

Cindi told me that the Charleston folks asked why, toward the end of her career at The State, she wrote only columns and no editorials. The answer was as obvious to me as it was to her — there was something vaguely false about offering editorials when you’re the last member of the editorial board. Might as well sign them. (For those still confused about the difference, I’ll explain further on request.)

I’m just so happy for Cindi. But I’m thrilled for South Carolina. We all needed her back on the job.

Oh, you mean the guy they say faked that attack?

This is "the boy who cried wolf." Not very self-explanatory, is it? Needs word balloons. Sorry. Best I could find.

This is “the boy who cried wolf.” Not very self-explanatory, is it? Needs word balloons. Sorry. Best I could find.

There’s nothing stupider in political discourse than the game left and right play in trying to catch each other out for being hypocritical, or inconsistent, or unfair. I’m talking about the kind of J’Accuse! assertions that the ones asserting them think are devastating, but are persuasive to no one but the already brainwashed. These facile, leap-to-judgment “arguments,” generally found on social media, sort of make me feel ashamed to be a human in the 21st century.

I find it doubly irritating when news media are being unjustly accused of the above sins (this is from the right 90 percent of the time). But that’s me; your mileage may vary. (Sorry, Bryan — you hadn’t used that today, so I grabbed it.)

This is not even an extreme example, but it’s one at hand, so I share it:

I had a number of thoughts in quick succession about this when it appeared the other day:

  • Who reads the print version of The Washington Post? I don’t. I can’t even get the print edition where I live, but I prefer the iPad app anyway.
  • Maybe Hume isn’t being a jerk. Maybe he’s really decrying the death — or at least rapid decline — of print. It actually is a real problem that things that happen fairly early in the evening do not make it into the print version. Back when I was in charge of the paper at night, here and in Wichita, I’d be putting breaking news into the paper at 1 a.m. and later. With the super-early press times now, I have seen things that did indeed break as early as 8 fail to make it into The State. No skin off this reader’s nose, but it means folks like my parents who depend on the dead-tree version get the breaking news two days later. Anyway, in this generous interpretation, Hume’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” crack was a lament that things that happen after sundown aren’t in the next day’s paper.
  • Nah, that’s probably not what he meant, I decide after looking at some of his other Tweets.
  • In any case, there was way more than I was interested in reading about this absurd (according to the cops) affair — in The Post, and elsewhere. In the online editions, I mean — the place where news organizations focus most of their effort and attention these days.
  • And I gotta tell ya, Brit — the first I remember hearing about this incident, there was already doubt being cast on this guy’s story. Maybe that’s because that’s when the story got big in the biased news media you decry. (Another cause was that I’d never heard of this “Jussie” person before that coverage.) Maybe I did half-hear something about it before that, but not consciously. Having spent decades of my life having to very quickly pick the real news out from the boring background, I long ago learned to filter out “dog bites man” stuff. “TV actor you never heard of attacked” is a headline that puts me to sleep by the third word. “Cops: Actor faked attack for the publicity” is a hed that might make me read a graf or two, and maybe shake my once at the foolishness in this world before moving on.
  • Oh, wait — is this about the fact that some of the overexcited Democratic presidential hopefuls leaped to express sympathy for this guy before facts were known? Well, they made fools of themselves, didn’t they (but with kind intentions, apparently)? But that’s on them. They are not The Washington Post, and The Washington Post is not them, despite the fantasies of those who see the world in binary either-or, us-vs.-them terms. No connection.

Personally, I like what the NYT‘s David Leonhardt said about cases such as this, two days before Hume’s Tweet:

Ms. Harris said in response to the question about her use of the ‘modern day lynching’ phrase,” as Katharine Seelye of The Times reported. “After a moment, she said, ‘I think the facts are still unfolding and I’m very concerned’ about the initial allegation by Mr. Smollett. She said ‘there should be an investigation’ and declined to comment further until it was complete.”

Her final instinct there was the best one. Making sweeping pronouncements about unverified criminal allegations isn’t a good idea — not now, not three weeks ago. It’s especially problematic with matters involving race, gender and sexuality, which ignite particular political passions.

Everyone — and definitely anyone running for president — should know by now that it’s O.K. to wait before weighing in on a hot topic. As the most recent Democratic president famously said, “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”…

Good advice, that.

Reactivated for campaign duty, for one brief moment…

Q4

I was eating breakfast last Thursday, minding my own business, when the call came from Tom Barton of The State.

He said he thought maybe today was the day for campaign finance reports for Q4, and wondered when we might have our report ready.

I didn’t say “What?,” or “Why are you asking me?” or “Take a flying leap!” After all, whom else was he going to ask? So I shifted immediately back into campaign mode, and gave him the response I probably used the most during those four months: I told him I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I’d check and get back to him.

I soon learned that the deadline was today, although there was a five-day grace period, and that a couple of folks who had handled finance for the campaign were working on completing it.

This led to a flurry of multilateral communications via text that lasted all day and into the night. I just went back and counted: There were 64 of them, involving a total of seven people. Although the main communications involved one of the finance folks, James and Mandy and me. And James didn’t weigh in until the rest of us had things sorted out — which was smart.

In other words, it was just like being back on the trail, except more restful because we were only dealing with this one simple thing, instead of 10 or 20 things that made us want to tear our hair out.

The short version is that one of those texts gave me the figures I needed, I wrote a release, James and Mandy approved it, and after holding it for a couple of hours to see whether we wanted to react to anything in Henry’s report when they filed it (we didn’t), I dug up my campaign media address lists and sent it out to 200 and something media types, at 10:28 p.m.

But first, I texted Tom to tell him it was coming, since he was the one person who had asked.

I haven’t seen any reports on the filing, which is not surprising, because it’s not that interesting. (Perhaps I even DID see such a headline, and My Eyes Glazed Over.) But we did what was required.

It was kind of nice and sort of poignant to be working with everybody again, although on such a low-key level.

That’s probably my last release for the campaign, but who knows? I wasn’t expecting that one…

But take heart! Corporate B.S. is alive and well…

In 1974, the paper's newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

In 1974, the Memphis paper’s newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

I tend to have little patience with populists who rant about corporations, from Bernie Sanders to Tucker Carlson.

But you know that thing Fitzgerald said about “he test of a first-rate intelligence (being) the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time?”

Well, personally, in my newspaper life, I never saw much good come out of the corporate offices. And I did my best to ignore them, because of a central truth about newspapers: They only had meaning as local players, as institutions vitally engaged with their communities. The purely financial relationship between papers and the corporations had nothing to do with the sacred relationship between papers and their readers. And I was determined to make sure the one in no way intruded into the other.

I was not alone in that, of course. And fortunately, the corporations that owned the papers I worked for respected that.

Those days are largely gone. Corporate looms much larger in the day-to-day existence of small-to-mid-sized newspapers, and the sense of place is much diminished, starting from the top, with senior editors and publishers who oversee several papers at a time, scattered across several cities.

But I digress.

Today, on a Facebook page created for journalists once employed by a newspaper at which I first started working 43 years ago, I noticed a shared news item from 2017 (the page doesn’t get a lot of activity) about the bigger paper down the road in Memphis, with the headline, “The Commercial Appeal seeks new home with digital forward attitude.”

Some of my former colleagues commented on remembering when the building the paper was abandoning was built, and seemed such a glittering modern creation. Me, I remember the ancient building before that one, where I had started my career as a copy clerk while still in school. The atmosphere was exactly like a set from “His Girl Friday,” or something else that would have been familiar to Ben Hecht. It was like stepping from the 1970s back into the ’30s, or ’20s — both architecturally and in terms of the working atmosphere. That was an atavistic bunch that worked there in 1974, bearing very little resemblance to the places I worked for the rest of my career.

But what I chose to comment on was the phrase, “digital forward attitude.”

A lot is gone from the old biz — the people, the money, the sense of mission — but we can clearly see that corporate B.S. is alive and well…

The Chuck and Nancy thing was an added weirdness bonus!

Dwb5vClX0AEZ5UE

We knew all along that it would be extremely weird to see the strangest president in our nation’s history by far using his first live address from the Oval Office to try to convince us there’s a crisis on our border, and that it’s worth shutting down the government in order to implement his own preferred remedy for said nonexistent crisis.

Especially since we’d been conditioned all our lives to expect such addresses to be about something, you know, important. Like escalating the war in Vietnam, or killing bin Laden.

But there was an added weirdness bonus to the evening — Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi doing a Siamese twins impersonation standing behind one small podium at the same time.

It was predicted that we’ll definitely see this odd visual on SNL this week, and there were some good shots on social media as well:

You know, we took a lot of criticism during the campaign for not separating James and Mandy more, but sheesh — at least they took turns at the microphone on their joint appearances….

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer

The young folks just love hearing Sen. Land talk about ‘likkah’

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

On the first day of the Leave No One Behind Tour, we had two reporters and a photographer on the bus with us.

One was Maayan Schechter of The State. Maayan wasn’t at the paper when John Land was in the Senate, but she knew his rep. And when we stopped in Manning for an event the senator had set up for us, she couldn’t resist asking him to talk about “liquor.”

She has not ceased being delighted by his willing response, as I learned when a “like” by Mandy Powers Norrell drew me to this Tweet, featuring video shot that day:

If you want to know more about the senator and likkah, you might want to watch this clip from several years back:

That, of course, was a tribute to this famous bit from Mississippi politician Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. in 1952.

Sen. Land is a South Carolina treasure.

By the way, at one point another campaign aide and I had the same idea independently of each other, proving the old saw about great minds: We both thought it would be wonderful to get Land to play Henry in debate prep. Not just because of the accent, but because Land is so sharp that he’d really have given James a workout. We didn’t follow through on it, though. A shame. I’d love to have video of that. Imagine Land saying, “Ah like it, ah love it, ah want some mo’ OF it!

On the bus that same day. That's Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

On the bus that same day. That’s Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

Nobody’s as hip as the Salvation Army

hip

Reece Williams, a client of ADCO, has been a board member of the local Salvation Army for more than 40 years.

Reece was in the news recently for a generous gift he gave the Army — there’s a great story behind it; you should check it out. When we met at Sylvan’s for the TV shoot, he brought along this ad to share with me.

Near as I can tell, it’s from a campaign to promote the New York Salvation Army, back in the late ’80s. Before the Web, so it’s hard to find. Here’s one image of it, and here’s a news story about the campaign.

I thought it was pretty cool. Thought y’all might like it, too…

No, seriously, Nikki: I’ve been tuning it out, too

My response this morning to a headline about Nikki Haley may have come across as mocking, or at least facetious:

But the truth is, I HAVE been tuning it out. Or at least, not tuning it in.

Last night, I dropped in as usual to check on my parents, and they were doing something I never do — watching network TV news — and my mother said something about Cohen being sentenced to prison, while none of the others in all this mess had to do time… and I said I didn’t think that was right. I thought I’d heard the other day on the radio that someone had just finished serving a brief sentence and was getting out…

But I couldn’t name the guy. And I really wasn’t sure about it. It was something I had half-heard, without actively listening… although I tend to have good retention of stuff I heard without paying attention — it’s the secret to how I got through school.

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don't go by me on this...

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don’t go by me…

(For the purposes of this post, I did a little Googling. Apparently, four people have been sentenced to time behind bars. This was the guy who just got out, after a ridiculously short sentence — 12 days. I can’t tell you anything else about him. Whenever I hear his name, I picture this guy, so don’t go by me.)

Here’s the thing: The whole enterprise seems kind of pointless to me. I mean, I think the Mueller investigation needs to continue, for very serious reasons: We need to know all we can about the Russian effort to disrupt our elections — the 2016 one and especially future ones. We need to get a LOT more savvy about that stuff, and stop being so absurdly gullible as a people.

But I’m not terribly optimistic that that’s going to happen in a post-truth America.

And anyway, I sense that the reason other people pay so much attention to this investigation and its resultant prosecutions is that they think it has bearing on Donald Trump’s fate.

It doesn’t, near as I can can see. If you’re counting on, say, impeachment, dream on. Impeachment is a political act, and the Senate is in thrall to Trump. And even if the Dems had succeeded in capturing the Senate, impeachment would not have been a viable option. It probably would have exacerbated the sickness in our body politic that produced Trump.

The political significance of the Cohen prosecution has nothing to do with violation of campaign finance laws. It has to do with him paying off a porn star at Trump’s behest. That’s something we knew before the election, and it had zero effect on the people who voted for him. As it continues to do.

That’s how low we have sunk as a country. And you might say my dropping of names of Watergate figures was an act of nostalgia on my part, a longing for a time when facts mattered, and the nation had standards.

I watched “All the President’s Men” again the other night. Such a wonderful film, on so many levels. The wistfulness I feel watching it goes far beyond remembering the days when newspapers were healthy and vital. It goes to a time when, if the public learned that people in and around high public office did bad things, that was it.

Once it reached the Oval Office, and the non-denial denials weren’t working any more, Nixon was toast. And being the master politician he was, he knew that. So he resigned. And in retrospect we can see that maybe he did so in part because of something missing today — a sense of honor, a wish to avoid putting the country through the trauma of impeachment.

We didn’t lose that all at once. It took time. And Democrats who congratulate themselves on still having standards should remember that 20 years ago one of their own did NOT resign, despite having been caught in impeachable acts, including brazenly lying to the American people.

Things are worse now, of course. Facts at least still mattered a bit in 1998. They don’t now, with a shockingly large portion of the electorate.

I appreciate what Mueller is trying to do, and I appreciate him, as sort of the last Boy Scout, a guy who still believes in the importance of facts.

But I just can’t get interested enough to follow the details. So I’m like Nikki there…

 

 

Humanity took one small step forward this week

At least The State played it prominently...

At least The State played it prominently…

There’s been little in the news to make us happy about being a member of the human race lately. I certainly wasn’t encouraged by the election result, as you can imagine. But the tawdriness, the discouragement goes far beyond that.

So it was nice to see us make a tiny bit of progress as a species earlier this week, with the successful descent and landing of our latest mechanical emissary to Mars.

No, it’s not as cool as if we’d actually send people there, but it’s something, however small. It shows us reaching out, growing, expanding out grasp and our consciousness beyond the cesspool that dominates our public conversation.

So I felt good about it, and looking back, I wish I’d seen more prominent coverage of it. No, I don’t expect everybody to be herded into the school auditorium to watch it live, the way we did upon John Glenn’s first flight when I was in 3rd grade. But I’d like to have seen more than I did.

At least my former newspaper played as the centerpiece on the front. That was nice, although I’d have appreciated a little more depth. And I’d like to have seen more celebration elsewhere, because lately there’s been so little for us humans to celebrate. Maybe it was there. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong direction…

Want to laugh at media folks? Here ya go…

Well, this kinda cracked me up:

Even though we’re looking at something that’s definitely of a certain time and place — the era of smartphones and social media — I could identify. It’s not all that different from being a reporter in the distant past.

Remember that picture I ran (again) of me and Howard Baker during the Iowa caucus campaign in 1980?

That was taken by the photog who accompanied me on that trip, Mark Humphreys. I always enjoyed working with Mark because he respected my photography skills enough to hand me one of his Nikons when we were out on assignment together, so we could get different angles of the same event.

One night, we were trapped at the general aviation airport in Dubuque by an ice storm. Waiting for Baker’s campaign plane to get clearance to fly back to Des Moines, Baker — a serious amateur shooter himself — and Mark got to talking about the craft, and next thing you knew the two of them were out on the tarmac in the blizzard shooting pictures of each other.

Here’s them embarrassing part… I went out to shoot a picture of them shooting each other — figuring it would make a fun shot for our story — but it didn’t come out, according to Mark. My only excuse is that, back in the days of manual exposure, it was really, REALLY hard to get decent photos in a snowstorm with Tri-X black-and-white film.

Technology changes, but the goofy moments spent waiting for news to happen are pretty timeless…