Category Archives: Media

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!

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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…

Washington Post sees chance for Smith in SC

There were a couple of SC-related items of interest in The Washington Post today.

One was to be expected: Coverage of Trump’s visit here last night. The headline pretty much says it all:

Trump makes runoff election for SC governor about him, too

For national reporters, that makes it a same-old, same-old occurrence.

The other item is more interesting. The headline is, “Could anti-incumbent fever leave an opening for Democrats in Oklahoma and South Carolina governor’s races?,” and it begins:

Oklahoma and South Carolina don’t top the list for most competitive gubernatorial races in 2018, but Democrats hope to reach for both governor’s mansions this year anyway — especially if Republicans nominate unpopular incumbent and incumbent-tied candidates Tuesday.

The story here isn’t necessarily about President Trump.

Republicans may be victims of their own success in governor’s mansions. They hold a near-record-high number of them: 33 of 50. In states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, the very fact they’re in power could be hurting them.

Voters in both states with elections Tuesday are incredibly unhappy with their current governors. Some of that discontent is personality-driven, such as in South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster (R) is having trouble unpinning the label his opponents slapped on him as a corrupt insider. His runoff against businessman John Warren on Tuesday is expected to be close, even after Trump goes there Monday night to campaign for McMaster….

After that, the story is mostly about Oklahoma, just briefly returning to SC down in this graf:

In South Carolina, Democrats nominated a veteran and Purple Heart recipient, state Rep. James Smith, who’s been able to campaign while McMaster has been focused for the past few weeks on his runoff….

Which isn’t even entirely accurate. James has mainly left it to the two Republicans to dominate the headlines the last couple of weeks while he takes some family time. His general election campaign has yet to start — but based on a conversation I had with him today, look to hear a lot more soon.

I look forward to somebody from the Post coming down here and doing a fuller job of reporting on what’s going on down here. I’d value that outside perspective…

If the Post had checked Twitter, they'd have seen that James has been hiking in Alaska with son Thomas and dog Laffey.

If the Post had checked Twitter, they’d have seen that James has been hiking in Alaska with son Thomas.

Marquerite Willis’ race-baiting radio ad (and the debate, too)

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night.

Cynthia Hardy, Jim Felder, me and Jon Parker on the radio Sunday night. At this moment I’m apparently making a terribly cogent point that requires hand gestures, even on the radio.

(Editor’s note: I wrote this last night, but am just posting it today because of problems with the sound file. WordPress will take an MP3, but not a WAV.)

Did y’all watch that Democratic gubernatorial debate tonight? I didn’t get to see most of it, but I heard a good bit on the radio while I was driving first to a program at my youngest grandchildren’s school, then over to my parents’ house to check on my Dad (he had a fall recently, but is doing better), then home. A few seconds after I turned on the TV, it was over.

I did pull over a couple of times to Tweet about what I was hearing. I Tweeted this at the end:

Speaking of unpleasantness…

Sunday, I was a guest on Cynthia Hardy’s show on the Big DM (you can watch the show here). Before the show started, Cynthia asked whether Jim Felder and I had heard the “race-baiting ad” — as she said some had called it — that Marguerite Willis was running. I said no, and she played it for us.

Give it a listen. And (let me know if you had technical difficulties.)

When it was done, I said, “So… I suppose she’s playing that mostly on the country stations…” As soon as I said it, it occurred to me that my joke might fall flat, although Jim Felder laughed politely.

That’s really something. And it’s totally consistent with what I heard of the debate, which at another point caused me to Tweet:

But that ad was something — grossly unfair, misleading and desperate. But the issue remains, will she and Noble manage to inflict enough damage on a good man so as to ensure a GOP victory in the fall? Because surely the two Democratic challengers are bright enough to know neither of them would have a chance in a general election…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

Another perfectly good blog post, ruined by gratuitous, over-eager journalistic enterprise

Grabbed this from Meg's Twitter feed. Hope she doesn't mind...

Grabbed this from Meg’s Twitter feed. Hope she doesn’t mind…

Dadblastit!

I’ve been giving key personnel at the Post and Courier unmitigated hell for having ruined a perfectly good, really fun blog post that I was almost finished writing when they had to stick their noses in:

This is what had me ticked off:

And what did I get from Andy Shain, the Columbia bureau chief? A bunch of sass:

And his boss, Executive Editor Mitch Pugh, was no better, thoroughly enjoying my pain:

I fired this back at Andy:

Fortunately, I was then able to taunt them a second time-a with this:

But enough of my fulminations. Some of you may wish to comment on the substance of the breaking story.

Frankly, I’m surprised she went with a guy with such a mainstream pedigree, given her desire to be seen as a destructive force, an “outsider buzzsaw,” yadda-yadda. The answer to the standard South Carolina question, “Whose his Daddy?,” is respected former federal appeals judge Billy Wilkins.

And his uncle is even more establishment — our former speaker and ambassador to Canada, David, a throwback to the days when South Carolina Republicans voted for people with names like “Bush” instead of “Trump.”

So maybe she’s not quite the rebel she wants Trump voters to think she is. Or maybe she was just excited to hear that he was a “Young Gun.” Because, you know, she likes guns. Or likes us to think she likes them, anyway…

Ambition does weird things to people

Doug was talking about Hillary Clinton always being in the news, and I was saying stuff like Hey, I never see her in the news, but then I remembered that last weekend, I read something in The Washington Post about a new book by the lead NYT reporter who covered her campaign.

And then, having read that, I read a piece by that reporter, Amy Chozick, in the NYT itself, sharing observations about her experience.

And the part that really struck me was this:

In July 2013, Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, put me on the “Hillary beat” ahead of the 2016 election. It was 649 days before Mrs. Clinton would announce she was running for president again, 1,226 days before she would lose to Mr. Trump…

No, not that part. That part’s normal enough, although it’s a little weird that she’d counted the days and all. But then the piece continues:

Every major life decision in my 20s and 30s — when to get married, where to buy an apartment, whether to freeze my eggs until after the election — had revolved around a single looming question: What about Hillary Clinton?…

Really? You let what most of us would consider to be the most important things in our lives be dictated by what this stranger did and what you’d have to do in order to be prepared to cover her?

Amy Chozick

Amy Chozick

Hey, I know back in my reporting days, almost four decades ago, I wasn’t covering politics on that level, but the difference between the way I approached the job and the way she did makes me feel like a member of another species. Back in 1978, my editor was like, I want you to go travel with this gubernatorial candidate next week, and then follow his opponent the following week.

And I was like, yeah, OK, sounds like more fun than what I’d be doing otherwise. And it was. But I didn’t rearrange my life in order to do it.

The idea of making such decisions based on how it affected my readiness to cover one person boggles my mind….

The name of Amy Chozick’s book is Chasing Hillary. Writing about it in The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada said, “Yes, she chases Hillary. But it is Chozick who gets caught.”

Yeah, no kidding…

My speech to the Naval Academy alumni

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here's a picture of a ship -- one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here’s a picture of a ship — one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

Today at noon at the Palmetto Club, I spoke to the Midlands Chapter of the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association.

It’s a good group, consisting of a bunch of former naval officers (including one admiral), and they let me speak about whatever I wanted, although I understand that what most groups want me to talk about is politics and/or the media.

I like to keep my remarks short because I prefer to devote as much time as possible to questions — not because I’m generous about answering questions, because I simply feel more comfortable doing that. When I’m answering questions, I know I’m talking about something that interests my audience, and I can do it all day it you let me. So I relax.

But I have to prepare some remarks, and this time I went a bit overboard, leaving time for only about four questions (each of which I answered at length, of course). I really need to time myself on these things going forward, to increase Q&A time.

Here’s what I had written down, and — after some off-the-cuff remarks about today’s news about The State‘s new publisher — I read most of it, with a few tangents. So, since I don’t like to spend time writing anything without publishing it, here are my notes:

US Naval Academy Alumni Assoc of the Midlands
Thursday 19 April at noon

We are living in a strange time.

It’s a time when everyone is more closely connected than ever, at least on a superficial level, but we are being blown apart by the very factors that allow us to connect.

Distrust of institutions, distrust of the ideas that have animated our country and given it meaning from the beginning. Distrust of expertise. Distrust of facts, distrust of reality.

There’s a quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most thoughtful people to grace our politics in the second half of the 20th century. He said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

At the time when he said it, it was just an assertion of common sense. People repeated the quote because it so succinctly stated a basic truth. We congratulated ourselves on understanding this. We knew what a fact was, and we knew what an opinion was, and we had a general agreement on where the dividing line was between the two.

No more.

Growing up when I did, in the postwar world, I was fortunate to live in a time when we all had a shared daily source of facts – the newspaper.

Newspapers in America started life as disreputable things, at least by the standards in place by the time I came along. They existed to push partisan points of view. In the first years of our republic, the papers run by Hamilton’s Federalists existed to tear down Jefferson and Madison’s Democratic-Republicans, and vice-versa. And there were no boundaries.

Journalism continued to be wild and wooly throughout the 19th century, and in many places, well into the 20th. But then they started to get “respectable.” They started trying to treat Democrats and Republicans fairly and impartially and at arm’s length on the news pages, and keep opinion strictly confined to the editorial page. And increasingly, to be nonpartisan on the editorial page as well.

I’d like to say that this happened out of nobility, but there was also a selfish factor at work: Publishers figured out they could make more money if everybody – Democrats, Republicans and independents – read their papers. So objectivity became the order of the day.

And it had a good effect, to the extent that people’s understanding of public life was formed by newspapers, and to a great extent it was: Everyone, regardless of their political views, had a shared set of facts to work from. Everyone was entitled to his opinion as to what to DO in light of the facts, but the facts belonged to everybody, and were no respecters of persons.

We all tacitly accepted what my favorite Founding Father, John Adams, had said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

However fiercely we might have held and expressed our opinions, they rested on a shared belief in the same facts, the same reality. And however wrong we believed them to be, we were able to respect other people’s rights to THEIR opinions.

And while our debates, and our elections, were lively, they were civil.

Facts were things presented to us by experts, by people trained to understand what was important, to investigate it, and to present it in an easily understood format. (talk about what editors went through in deciding how to present the news [this turned into a lengthy digression, talking about stuff like this]). Their ability to make these decisions and follow through on them in a hurry was honed in a hard school, daily, over years of pressure.

And they tended to come up with the same facts, and presented them very similarly. (My experience comparing on a daily basis in the 80s.)

Now, nobody needs an editor. Let me correct that. Actually, one of the old truisms of journalism is that everybody needs an editor, all the time. But we have technology today that fools people into thinking they don’t need an editor. Now, everyone is his own editor, and publisher.

This is very democratic – small d. It’s also the way madness lies, because nowadays, everyone is persuaded that he is indeed entitled to his own facts, and everyone else’s facts are “fake news.”

The “news,” as many people experience it, is no longer curated by people who have an understanding of what is important. Worse, there is no skeptical editor telling the reporter, “You don’t have that story nailed down, so I’m not running it.” Not on many of the “news” platforms of today. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. (And I can say that even though I love Twitter, which I can elaborate on later if you care.) And not on the plethora of websites out there that exist to cater to your preferred version of reality.

This has driven our national politics, the level most susceptible to these forces, mad. From the left to the right, although the rightward version currently holds power. And the madness is seeping down to the state level.

I could give a lot of examples of this, but I’ll give one: sanctuary cities. The number-one legislative priority of the governor of our state these days is to pass a law against “sanctuary cities” in South Carolina. Never mind that there ARE no sanctuary cities in South Carolina; the governor wants to force cities to actively PROVE that they are not sanctuary cities – in other words, he would accomplish nothing but increase the amount of stupid, pointless, bureaucratic red tape in government.

Reality doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter, in a new world in which people choose their own facts.

Before I open up to questions, I want to point out that our problem with personal-preference facts isn’t entirely a creation of the Internet. There are a lot of other unfortunate trends of recent decades that have brought us to this divided state.

To pick on another medium, before the Web there was 24-7 cable TV “news,” and now there’s more of it than ever.

This had two very bad effects on the country.

First, it elevated local news into national news. Once, news directors only needed to fill half an hour. Now, they have to fill 24 hours, and they’ll use any “news” they can get their hands on. So it is that stories of weird, disturbing crimes and small-time public corruption – things that would never have been reported beyond a local news market — became national news stories. Accordingly, people think the world is much more menacing and corrupt than they used to think, because they’re exposed to much more of it.

This makes people distrustful of everyone and everything – the streets aren’t safe! they’re all crooks! – and they no longer perceive the most important thing that should be understood about news: News is the unusual, the weird, the departure from the norm. Increasingly, people think what they see on sensationalized TV news IS the norm. Because it’s on ALL THE TIME!

Secondly, no matter how hard they try, these stations can’t come up with 24 hours of NEWS news. So they fill the rest with opinion. It might be an interview with an “expert,” or a panel of highly opinionated talking heads yelling at each other. In any case, increasingly the viewer ceases to distinguish between this yacking and NEWS. Worse, increasingly, people who watch this stuff begin to tar real journalists with the same brush. They think everybody’s pushing an angle, even when they’re reporting the news straight.

I could keep on, but I won’t. I’d like to hear your questions, so we can talk about what interests YOU….

My initial inspiration for my topic was this column from earlier in the week by David Brooks, about how in this age of hyperconnectivity, loneliness is at an all-time high in our society. But as you can see, I digressed from that almost immediately. To correct that, I threw in an elaboration on his theme. Brooks’ column is better, of course, because it’s a column, rather than rambling notes…

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.