Category Archives: Media

‘The Nation’ on politics and race in South Carolina

My headline might make you cringe a bit, but the piece isn’t bad. It doesn’t really say anything about us that I haven’t said, or that you don’t already know.

After all, we are the state that seceded first, and some of us would do it again with just a modest amount of encouragement.

It’s tone-deaf in a couple of spots, though. For instance, it equates Strom Thurmond, the segregationist, with Ben Tillman, the advocate of lynching. Most of us can see the gradations of wrongness there rather clearly. And speaking of Thurmond — the writer either doesn’t know or has forgotten that the senator cleaned up his act in the last few decades of his career. In other words, he spent far more years in the Senate NOT being a segregationist than most people spend in the Senate.

That leads to confusion. After noting approvingly that Paul Thurmond says a lot of enlightened things — which he does; he’s a fine young man — the writer observes,

I leave Thurmond’s office wondering whether what I’ve just heard can be real. He seemed like a sincere man, but he, too, was eager to get beyond race. “My generation has not been taught to hate people based on the color of their skin,” the son of South Carolina’s most notorious segregationist told me.

Yet someone taught Dylann Roof and Michael Slager, the cop who shot Walter Scott in the back. The Confederate flag may finally be on its way to a museum, but the attitude of racial arrogance that the flag represented is very far from being a mere artifact. That’s a fundamental truth of our national life—though not one that’s easy to see from Iowa or New Hampshire. Perhaps South Carolina’s role in our politics is to remind us of all those parallel universes—not just Republican and Democratic, or rich and poor, but yes, still black and white—we work so hard to ignore. We always have a choice. We can carry on pretending that it’s still morning in America, that we’re all in this together. Or we can take a good hard look in the mirror.

Yep, Strom was a notorious segregationist, before he wasn’t. (Oh, and do I think it’s because he had some road-to-Damascus transformation, like Tom Turnipseed, the opponent of integration who did a 180 to become possibly the most ardent, sincerest progressive in South Carolina? No. The world changed, and Thurmond adapted. Early in his career, it was helpful to be a segregationist, so he was one. Later it was not, so he wasn’t. But it’s still true that he wasn’t.)

And the fact that Dylann Roof is a racist does in no way demonstrates that Paul Thurmond is lying when he says he wasn’t brought up that way. Possibly, Dylann Roof wasn’t brought up that way, either. I have my doubts about the old saw that children have to be taught to hate. I strongly suspect that people are capable of getting there on their own. Anyway, almost no one Paul Thurmond’s age was brought up that way, although his father certainly was. We live in subtler, politer times.

But there is no doubt that, decades after the Southern Strategy transferred the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans, race is always, always on the table. The article gets that right. It just misses some of the nuances…

Kristof posts his Tweets on HIS blog, too. So there.

Admittedly, his are often more thoughtful and substantial, such as:

I had that very same thought when Cruz said that, but didn’t think to Tweet it. I don’t know why. Instead, I Tweeted this within one minute of what Kristof said:

Which is OK, but not as pointed, not as helpful, as what Kristof posted. Dang. And in retrospect, it was too soft on Cruz. What Rubio said a moment later, that not only had Cruz not helped the Navy; he was part of the problem, was way better. As were Kristof’s Tweets.

But even if they were better, he WAS using up a blog post to call attention to his Tweets — something I’ve been criticized for doing.

Of course, he wasn’t doing it instead of his thoughtful, well-crafted columns. It was in addition to. And yeah, I sometimes post Tweets as a substitute for extended commentary, when I don’t have time to write a real post. Under the theory that something is better than nothing.

But in my defense, I’ll say this: Kristof still gets paid to write those thoughtful columns. I do not. He doesn’t have to find time around his job to write them; they are his job.

And though I’m envious of that, I do appreciate his commentary on all levels, from Tweet to blog post to column.

Of course, there are people who won’t pay attention to what he says because he’s a liberal, and they think they are conservatives, and they’re thick enough to think that means they should not be exposed to his views. Such as the Trump supporter and member of Congress who wrote, “We could have written them for you before you started, my friend. The bias is simply that intense and unchangeable.” (At least he said “my friend.”)

Yep, Kristof is a pretty consistent liberal, which means I disagree with him frequently. But he’s the kind of liberal who posts such things as this:

… which means he is not only a talented observer, but an intellectually honest man who doesn’t reflexively dismiss what those on the “other side” have to contribute. And we should all listen to such people more.

“Bloggers are we, born to be free…”

Did you see Rep. Mike Pitts’ proposal that journalists be registered?

To his credit, Mr. Pitts apparently did this ironically. The intention, apparently, is to mount a facetious attack on the First Amendment to make a point about the Second, which doesn’t really make sense, but don’t stop him; he’s on a roll.

Anyway, last night Bryan asked, via Twitter, whether this would also apply to bloggers.

No way, I responded defiantly:

In the studio with Todd and Joel on Cynthia Hardy’s show

Studio

Just sharing this shot of Rep. Todd Atwater, Sen. Joel Lourie and me in the studio during Cynthia Hardy’s On Point radio show on the Big DM this evening.

Note that Todd is alert and looking around, Joel is playing the nerd studying the notes he had brought with him about the SOTU and Gov. Haley’s response, and I’m staring at my phone, probably writing this Tweet:

Which prompted Rob Godfrey from the governor’s office to respond:

Yes, this is a very self-referential blog post. But then, blogs tend to be that way as a medium — they are to journalism what selfies are to photography.

We had a good discussion, with everyone on board with agreeing with both the president and the governor in their calls for greater civility and less negativity. In fact, if our Legislature consisted entirely of Joel Louries and Todd Atwaters, we’d get a lot more done at the State House.

Not that there wasn’t sincere disagreement. Todd and Joel had a pretty good back-and-forth about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. At one point I almost jumped in on Joel’s side, when Todd said it was a shame the president didn’t meet Republicans halfway on the issue.

Hey, I was about to say, the president and the Democrats did meet Republicans halfway and more from the get-go — before the debate on the Act was joined, before the president was even elected.

That happened when Obama didn’t run advocating for single-payer, which is the one really rational approach to healthcare. And he backed away from that in deference to the wall of Republican resistance that already existed against it. So he and the other Dems started out with a compromise position.

But then the subject changed, and we didn’t return to it. Just as well. I was being presented to listeners as the guy in the middle between Joel the Democrat and Todd the Republican, and it would have just confused everybody if I had jumped out on the one issue where I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders. That is, that’s where my position has been cast popularly — mostly by Republican resistance that has made Democrats afraid to embrace it. I don’t consider it to be to the left of anything. To me, it’s the commonsense, nonideological, pragmatic option. And a lot simpler than the ACA.

Speaking of Bernie… He and the author of Hillarycare will be on the tube in awhile, so I think I’ll stop and rest up to get ready to Tweet during that. Join me @BradWarthen if you’re so inclined.

 

Lindsey Graham, back from the campaign trail

Graham availability

You may already have read Andy Shain’s piece on Lindsey Graham’s press availability in Columbia yesterday. It began:

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday that he quit the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination last month because he saw no clear path to the upper tier of candidates, some of whom — Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — he sees as toxic to the GOP.

The Seneca Republican regularly was named the winner of the GOP race’s “undercard” debates, which featured lower-polling candidates. But not getting on the main debate stage killed his chances to win greater support, Graham said.

Graham thought that if he could make the top three in the New Hampshire primary polls, he could have won the next GOP contest, in his home state of South Carolina….

And so forth. I won’t repeat anything Andy already said. But here are a few points Graham made that Andy didn’t touch on:

  • Asked whether he was interested in serving in the Cabinet of the eventual winner, he said he didn’t think so. He sees it as too important to stay in the Senate. He’s one of the few who can work across the aisle, and he’s convinced that none of the actual challenges that face the country — dealing with entitlement reform, dealing comprehensively with immigration — can be dealt with by one party or the other. It’s going to take coalition-building. It’s going to take people who can “get to ‘yes’.”
  • “This is a religious war” that the West is engaged in, and winning will require working with Muslims — the 99 percent who “are non-radical Islamists.” That’s why the approach of a Trump will never work.
  • Is Christianity under attack in this country — with laws forcing employers to provide birth control, or a court ruling creating the institution of same-sex marriage? No, he says. Not in this country. Democracy has outlets for people to express their views, and sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. There is a war against Christianity, though, and everything else about Western culture — but it’s happening in the Mideast.
  • Did he like running for president enough to do it again? As Andy wrote, he’d consider it. And the reason why is that he thinks there’s a market for what he offers. “I think people are looking around for somebody like me,” if not actually him. Somebody who will be “tough on our enemies,” but who believes in pluralism, in the principles of a liberal democracy and land of opportunity.
  • On the campaign trail, John McCain “worked harder for me than he did for himself,” and Graham deeply appreciates it. Noting that politicians are a little too quick to call everyone their friend, but in this case, it applies: “John McCain is my friend.”
  • Reminiscing about the campaign trail, he asked whether anyone had heard the story of his encounter with an out-and-out racist in a pool hall. No one said yes, so he told the story, which recognized before he was done. The voter in question muttered some ethnic slurs, including the “N-word.” Graham said “I totally dissociate myself from this guy,” and answered a few more questions before taking the bigot on in a game of pool — and winning. “It was fun to beat his ass,” Graham said Friday.
  • Speaking of pool halls, Graham said anyone who grew up in a bar — as Graham did, the one his parents owned — is very familiar with people like Donald Trump, and knows how to deal with them.
  • Touching on fellow South Carolina Republicans, he said Nikki Haley being chosen to deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union is “a big honor” for our state, Tim Scott is “a rock star,” and Trey Gowdy has done well with the tough hand he was dealt. “South Carolina is hitting above her weight” on the national political scene.

Earlier, I had asked him another SC question. I wondered whether, with Newt Gingrich having won here in 2012 and Trump and Cruz doing so well here this time, South Carolina’s losing its touch on picking eventual nominees, and presidents. In other words, is South Carolina becoming irrelevant?

He didn’t think so. His answer is on the video clip that follows…

Did you read my comments in the NYT?

Over the weekend, the NYT finally ran that piece by Richard Fausset, in which he quoted me on the subject of the Confederate flag.

Some people are nationally recognized experts on quantum physics. Others are sought after for what they have to say about macroeconomics. Me, I’m seen as a boffin on South Carolina’s cheesy, nylon, fake Confederate flag.

Hey, it’s something. And if anybody’s got an idea on how to monetize this, my super-power, I’m listening.

Anyway, here’s my bit in the story:

The museum is also full of Confederate battle flags that were used by South Carolinians during the war — unlike the flag that was removed from the State House. That makes the whole issue of honoring the State House flag in the museum particularly absurd to critics like Brad Warthen, a former editorial page editor at The State in Columbia, who now blogs about South Carolina politics.

Mr. Warthen has noted that legislators, years ago, mandated that the flag be made of nylon, rather than cotton, to keep the colors from fading. He ridiculed this as ahistorical and “cheesy.” (One of his old columns began with altered lyrics to the song “Dixie”: “Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon.”)

Like many here, Mr. Warthen believes that spending millions to display the flag makes little sense in a state that is struggling to find funds for road and infrastructure repairs (much needed after catastrophic flooding in October), educational initiatives and changes to a scandal-plagued Department of Social Services.

“Our state’s spending needs are legion,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how you feel about the flag. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources.”…

I tweeted about this Sunday morning, and Phillip Bush responded:

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. This may be my first time in that august publication. I’ve been in the WSJ once or twice, but not, as I recall, in the Gray Lady. It’s nice to be quoted in a paper where they call you “mister.”

But think about it: Donald Trump is in there every day. So, you know…

Personally, I’ve never seen a Telnaes cartoon I liked

cruz23n-2-web

Last night, Bryan Caskey brought the above cartoon to my attention. Apparently, it was presented in a context that indicated that the monkeys represented Ted Cruz’ young daughters.

My only reaction was this:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Ann Telnaes cartoon that I liked. Don’t like her style, and I can’t recall when she’s ever had a good idea. I never used her in the paper…

In other words, I think the cartoon stinks. But then, that’s my standard reaction to her work. With actually good cartoonists losing their jobs to cost-cutting in recent years, it rather surprises me that she has kept hers.

Today, it seems, that cartoon is a huge deal in social media. And Telnaes’ editor has withdrawn it from the Post‘s website, with this explanation:

Editor’s note from Fred Hiatt: It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.

So, it seems that even an editor who does normally run her cartoons won’t run this one.

Cruz has used this as a way of damning all journalists, because, you know, we’re all responsible. Just one, big, colonial animal. It plays well with his base.

But hey, a guy gets to rant a bit when defending his kids…

‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ makes list of biggest canards

As you probably know, The Washington Post has a fact checker feature which involves regularly checking the veracity of various claims that make news, and awards “Pinocchios” to indicate the relative level of falsehood. The biggest lies get four Pinocchios.

The Post has now published a year-end list of “The biggest Pinocchios of 2015,” and as you might expect, the list is dominated by the 2016 presidential candidates. In just six months, Donald Trump has earned 11 Four-Pinocchio ratings — far more than any other candidate.

Politicians, of course, are easy targets. Their statements are regularly subjected to great skepticism and close scrutiny.

What struck me as most intriguing (and not just because it was more of a 2014 thing than 2015) is that the Post chose to include, on this list of biggest lies, the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” meme out of Ferguson. In other words, the Post is highlighting that thousands of morally outraged people who thought they were speaking truth to power were in fact perpetuating a falsehood.

The belief that Michael Brown raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot!” was embraced without question by protesters across the country, and helped to launch the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

The thing is, though, that to the best of our knowledge, it did not happen. As the Post states, “But various investigations concluded this did not happen — and that Wilson acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown.”

The irony here, of course, is that there are other incidents across the country more deserving of protesters’ indignation — Walter Scott being shot multiple times in the back, the shocking killing of Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner suffocating in a police chokehold.

But unfortunately the Michael Brown killing — which was never as clear-cut a case of police brutality as other incidents — was the one that got the ball rolling. And it’s appropriate, in the interest of historical accuracy, to take note of the fact that the protesters didn’t know what had happened.

Reminds me of the Boston “Massacre.” The British soldiers involved were later acquitted, and rightly so (John Adams was their defense attorney, which took a lot of guts and a profound faith in the rule of law).

That didn’t mean the Revolution that followed was without merit. On the whole, I’d call our independence an excellent thing. But sometimes people are initially radicalized by the wrong things…

I need to pay more attention to Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat has been out there at the edge of my consciousness for a while, but I haven’t actually focused on him. He joined the NYT‘s op-ed page in April 2009, a month after I was laid off from the paper, so he was never in the mix of columnists that I pored through and compared in choosing content for The State.

A few times, he’s come to my attention with a column or an idea that briefly intrigued me, but I just haven’t read him enough to form an impression. I should probably make more of an effort, after what I read today. His next-to-most-recent column ran in The State, and it included this passage:

I do not own guns, and the last time I discharged a firearm was on “Second Amendment Day” at a conservative journalism program many years ago. (Yes, dear reader, that’s how conservative journalism programs roll.) My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian, I don’t think the Constitution guarantees a right to bear every kind of gun or magazine, and I think of myself as modestly persuadable in the gun control debate….

No, not the part about his attending a “conservative journalism program,” which to me sounds every bit as appalling as “liberal journalism program,” but the good bit. This bit:

My political commitments are more communitarian than libertarian…

I forget the last time a major national pundit said something like that, if one of them ever did. (It’s the sort of thing David Brooks might well say, but I don’t know that he’s ever put it that plainly.)

So I just went back and read his last few columns, before running up against the NYT‘s paywall (sorry, but I’m subscribing to three newspapers and one magazine currently, and just can’t afford to add another). I particularly liked the one examining whether Donald Trump is, strictly speaking, a fascist (spoiler: he is), but all were thought-provoking.

So, while I can’t say yet that I’m a fan, to the extent that the Times will let me, I’m going to start paying more attention…

 

Cindi Scoppe’s 8th annual cake party

cake

She surveys her handiwork with satisfaction just before allowing her guests to plunge in.

What does Cindi Scoppe do when she’s not producing the best print commentary — nay, the best political journalism — in South Carolina?

She bakes cakes.

Cindi shared this shot taken by a priest who observed, "She laughs uproariously at things that aren't even funny."

Cindi shared this shot, which reflects what Tucker Eskew once said about her: “She laughs uproariously at things that aren’t even funny.”

Not just a cake here or there. She bakes a lot of cakes. And not your yellow cake out of the Duncan Hines box. She bakes, from scratch, such things as “Cookie Dough Brownie Cake” and “Caramel Almond Torte” and “Orange Cheesecake” and “Apple Sharlotka” and “Pistachio Baklava Cake” and on and on.

And she does it all at once.

Several score of her closest friends were reminded of this over the weekend at her 8th annual Advent cake party. She served 25 cakes in all.

She took off all of last week to complete the task, even though that meant doing the whole week’s editorial pages ahead of time. What of that? Those cakes weren’t going to bake themselves.

Cindi… needs this outlet. What’s more, she deserves it. She works long hours at the paper doing the work of eight people. Then she takes home mind-numbing documents such as legislative bills and academic studies and reads every word of them on nights and weekends.

Someone out there who knows this about her may object, “But she’s diabetic.” True, and I think that may have something to do with the… intensity… of her cake fixation. But there was never a diabetic who more assiduously kept track of her condition or addressed it more readily. More than once, I’ve seen her hike up her skirt and give herself a shot of insulin in the thigh because there was a slice of cake before her that needed eating. (Once, she did this in the governor’s office over lunch. I thought Mark Sanford was going to fall out of his chair.) Cindi’s just a very matter-of-fact person who deals with things, eats her cake and moves on.

I asked her for some stats — how much sugar, for instance. She said she had no idea, but she did offer, “I want to say around 25 pounds of butter.”

She sent me all the recipes. I count, let’s see, 99 eggs, plus the yolks of two others. One recipe, chocolate mousse cake plus chocolate buttercream frosting, called for eight eggs.

Needless to say, I wasn’t eating any of this, or even coming into contact with it. Nothing is more deadly to me than dairy products and eggs. But I took a plateful home, since my wife couldn’t make it to the party. She appreciated it.

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes?

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes? Not to mention that very sharp pink knife she’s wielding.

The NYT’s front-page editorial about guns

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We knew that the New York Daily News was conducting a rather lurid campaign against guns on its tabloid front, but things have taken a significant new turn in a more respectable direction.

The Gray Lady, The New York Times itself, has published its first front-page editorial since 1920, headlined, “End the Gun Epidemic in America.”

This is a profound development, folks. The editors of the Times have resorted to a step that they did not see as necessitated by anything going on during the Great Recession, World War II, the turmoil of the 1960s, Watergate, 9/11 or anything else that happened during the past 95 years.

I suppose that’s because, while those other things were huge news events, none involved such difficult questions about what sort of nation we want to be as does this. More to the point, none of those things were likely to run into such adamant opposition as this initiative. If we’re really, truly, after all these years, about to have a serious national discussion about guns, it may be our toughest disagreement since slavery.

An excerpt from the editorial:

All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected to international terrorism. That is right and proper.

But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.

It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism….

Bryan and I have already been having a discussion about this today, via Twitter. This post is intended to broaden the discussion:

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…

 

I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.

Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.

Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:


Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.

And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:

“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”

There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.

But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:

Asians
Attack
“Base”

… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…

Glad to see The State endorsing in city council runoff

I was really glad this morning to see The State endorsing in the District 2 race. That causes me to expect an endorsement Sunday in the at-large runoff.

These are the first endorsements I’ve seen since the editorial department was reduced to one, which I was worried would mean no more endorsements. While the editorial board has always consisted of more than the editorial department (the publisher in my day, the publisher and the executive editor and I think at least one other today), the actual legwork necessary to an endorsement was always done by those of us in the department.

So I was glad to see such a thoughtful, in-depth analysis of the District 2 race, ending in an endorsement of Aaron Bishop. Personally, I had no idea which of those guys I would have endorsed. I haven’t done the legwork. So I got a lot of food for thought out of what The State said — which, after all, is the purpose of an endorsement. As I’ve said so many times over the years, an endorsement is less about the who than about the why.

I look forward to the Sunday piece. I have a pretty good idea which way they’ll go, but I’m not at all convinced I would go that way — so I look forward to the seeing the arguments advanced.

Did Lindsey Graham steal the JV show last night?

That seems to be the consensus of what I’ve read about the undercard debate.

I wouldn’t know, of course, because CNBC wanted to charge me to watch, and the World Series was free, so guess what I watched? (This blog would have to pay a lot more than it does for me to buy cable just for blogging purposes.)

As for the big-table debate, from what I’ve gathered from various sources, the main points were:

  • Big night for Rubio and Cruz.
  • Bad night for Jeb Bush.
  • The candidates and other GOP types went on a Spiro Agnew media-bashing spree.
  • Trump and Carson were relatively quiet, except for Trump bashing Kasich.

Here’s a transcript if you want it. I don’t have time to read it right now.

Among those of you who saw it: Thoughts?

This is why readers see media as negative

I couldn’t help reacting this way this morning:

Yeah, I know: The first American soldier killed in Iraq in four years is definitely news. But, of course, the reason no Americans have been killed is that we haven’t had Americans engaged in combat on the ground for four years. I can see how, if we had been conducting successful commando raids in Iraq every week, and this was the first time we’d lost a man, then yeah, that casualty would be the one fact you would choose for your headline if you could only fit in one.

To me, looking at the big picture here, it seems that the main news is that we sent men into ground combat in Iraq for the first time in four years. See it as good news or bad news, that’s the news. That, and the fact that the action was successful. The loss of a man is important, and terrible, but it is a result of the first thing, which is the big news…

And hey, you couldn’t work in that the raid succeeded in saving 70 people who were about to be killed and dumped into mass graves? No, they weren’t exactly the peshmerga fighters we went in to save, but apparently we still saved 70 people from the bad guys.

I honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler. He was a great soldier, as I know from the fact that he was with Delta Force. We — and those people he helped save — owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. I am in awe of what he did, and his sacrifice.

But I would not have mentioned his death as the only thing worth noting about that raid.

Let’s take ourselves out of our immediate, narrow, 2015 frame of reference and consider another example, from another time…

Lt. Den Brotheridge was the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day. He is known for that, and honored for it. He was charging a German position across the bridge now known as Pegasus Bridge just minutes after midnight, leading his glider-borne platoon that had just crash-landed a few yards away.

But what we remember is that his British unit, part of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, took that bridge, which was critically important to protecting the landings that would begin on the nearby beaches a few hours later.

We remember Lt. Brotheridge for the way he died. He is not forgotten. But we remember the deed, the feat of arms, and why it mattered, more. Stephen Ambrose’s book about that remarkable coup de main operation is named “Pegasus Bridge,” not “The Death of Den Brotheridge.”

But we don’t look at things that way any more, do we?

The disaffected vs. the professionals

I was amused by the way The Slatest described a contretemps between their guy Josh Voorhees and angry Bernie Sanders supporters:

On Tuesday night, Josh Voorhees wrote that Hillary Clinton won the first Democratic presidential debate. A number of Bernie Sanders supporters subsequently wrote to Josh to inform him that he was a stupid man with a stupid face and that Bernie, as confirmed by a number of online polls, was the obvious winner. Last night, the Voorhees struck back, informing those Sanders supporters that it was in fact their faces that were the stupid ones, that online polls are a bad way of deciding who did the best in a debate, and that by the way, HILLARY WON* (*from his subjective perspective).

After that, Voorhees’ actual piece was a disappointment as entertainment — low-key, professional. He didn’t call anybody’s face stupid. Although he well might have, given the emotional nonsense that he was up against:

Several were nuanced and well reasoned; others … less so. “Hey dumbass,” began the first, “You should be ashamed of yourself you hack!!!” The next was only slightly more measured with its criticism: “How much money were you paid … you either got big bucks to do this article or you have an intellectual issue,” it read. “Are you blind or just bought? Grow a pair and admit the truth,” read another. One industrious reader, meanwhile, sent eight different emails, most of which included graphic photos and all of which came with the prose that matched the tenor of the distinctly un-PC subject line they shared. I could go on, but you get the point.

Folks, if you’re a dispassionate observer (a creature the people who wrote to Voorhees probably find it difficult to imagine) who understands politics in general and the current situation in particular, Hillary Clinton won that debate, on so many levels. And no, you don’t have to be in the bag for Hillary to see that. I’m certainly not. I’m very concerned that her performance will keep Joe Biden out of the race, and I really wanted to see him run.

Charles Krauthammer is no shill for Hillary, and he went farther than anyone else I’ve seen, saying she essentially sewed up the nomination Tuesday night. His column saying so was headlined, “Game over.”

That’s the sort of conclusion one reaches when one is an informed, professional observer who does not have a dog in the Democratic fight.

But if one is an emotional participant who adores Bernie Sanders (who clearly came in second, but largely because the other three candidates were so awful) and doesn’t really fully understand the way polls and other such things of the political world work, you think you have absolute proof that the professionals are lying or crazy or corrupt:

You want to blame the media professionals for something unprofessional, even self-interested? Then blast them for posting those instant surveys on their websites without making it absolutely clear that such reader-participation games are most assuredly NOT polls, and should not be seen by anyone at any time as indicative of opinions of the general population.

News outlets provide those things because they are marvelous clickbait. To put it more politely, they drive reader engagement. They make people feel like they are participating in the story, and they don’t cost anybody anything. But they do not provide useful information. As Voorhees puts it, “they’re mostly for entertainment (for the reader) and traffic (for the outlet).” A low-key version of bread and circuses, you might say.

All of this said, the argument can be made quite strongly that we are at a point in time when professionalism — whether on the part of journalists, pollsters or for that matter political consultants — doesn’t count for much, because there are so many of the disaffected, emotional people who don’t understand what they’re looking at that they constitute a sufficient plurality to swing elections.

We saw it with the Tea Party uprising in 2010, we’ve seen it in the dysfunction of Congress exacerbated by that election. We saw South Carolina go for Newt Gingrich in 2012. We’re seeing Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders.

Now, some of you will get indignant and say Bernie Sanders, for one, is tapping into genuine yearning for a society more like Denmark, and that his supporters know just what they are enthusiastic about.

I’m sure that’s quite true. (His dedicated followers are probably more like those of Ron Paul than of Donald Trump.) But I’m reacting to the subset that unloaded on Josh Voorhees, who are exemplars of the kind of proud, indignant ignorance that marks too much of political interaction these days.

And yes, my liberal friends — we see much more of this in the dysfunction of the Republican Party. Sanders’ supporters love his policies; Trump’s love his anger and contempt. In a column I’m grateful to Norm Ivey for bringing to my attention this week, David Brooks brilliantly described the sickness that pervades what was once the conservative party, but which is now overrun by clueless agents of destruction.

But foolishness is no respecter of political parties, and this surge of emotionalism against the professional consensus regarding Tuesday’s debate is but one small example of the tantrums one can find among the disaffected of the left.

But we’ll all keep reading ‘Playboy’ for the ‘interesting articles,’ right, guys?

And we’ll mean it — if we bother. Which I doubt. Seriously, those of you who are no longer adolescent boys — when was the last edition you bothered to pick up?

The shocking news:

Last month, Cory Jones, a top editor at Playboy, went to see its founder, Hugh Hefner, at the Playboy Mansion.

In a wood-paneled dining room, with Picasso and de Kooning prints on the walls, Jones nervously presented a radical suggestion: THE magazine, a pioneer of the revolution that helped take sex in America from furtive to ubiquitous, should stop publishing images of naked women.

Hefner, 89, but still listed as editor-in-chief, agreed. As part of a redesign that will be unveiled in March, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

For a generation of American men, reading Playboy was a cultural rite, an illicit thrill consumed by flashlight. Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance….

In other developments:

  • Apple will no longer produce cool gadgets for the consumer market.
  • Coca-Cola will drop its line of sugary soda.
  • Carter will no longer produce its little liver pills.

OK, that last one might have actually happened. At least they don’t call them that any more. But you get the idea.

Frankly, I’d call this a desperate plea for attention. I mean, seriously — if nudity has become passé, why remove it? Why not have your models nude sometimes and not nude other times, as the photographer chooses? Since it’s so last century and all to care about it.

Also, you know, there’s nothing particularly new about this. In the past, the centerfold models were often partly clad. Partly because that was sexy, and partly to distinguish “Playboy” from “Penthouse” and “Hustler.”

I’m thinking the plan is to get people to run out and buy the first edition under the new policy just to see what the clothed centerfold looks like, then everybody will say “uh-huh,” and go back to not buying the magazine, ever.

Because, as everyone knows (hence the joke), the articles around the nekkid women weren’t really that “in-ter-esting.”

The last “Playboy” I bought for the “interesting articles,” and I suppose the last one I bought, period, was the November 1976 edition — the one with the Jimmy Carter “lust in my heart” interview.

And you know, I haven’t missed it. I don’t think I will in the future, either.

After this, a headline writer would have nothing left to strive for

CO--R5tWwAAWinS

Bryan Caskey brought the above headline to my attention last night. I don’t know where he found it.

It prompts three thoughts:

  • The journalistic pedant in me protests that this is not a headline. It’s a lede and a good bit of the next graf. But hey, kudos to whoever had the sand to decide to hell with the rules; we’re gonna get all of this into the headline! But then, what choice did the editor have? What were they going to do, leave out the part about the guy she waved at being dressed as a Snickers bar?
  • As I Tweeted to Bryan in reply, “After that, the headline writer died happy….” I mean, seriously, what does he have to look forward to after that? He’s never going to top it.
  • If the copy editor did decide to cling to life — as we humans are wont to do — he should retire from his job at the tabloid, turn this headline into a country song and head to Nashville. Fame awaits.