Category Archives: The State

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.

Once again, photographic proof that Mike Miller and I are two completely different people

Mike and me

That’s me on the left. Not my left, YOUR left…

Here we go again, y’all.

Last night, I stopped by the First Thursday event on Main Street, partly because I wanted to drop by Kyle Michel‘s law office and rummage through the discs he was prepared to part with. Kyle, the son-in-law of my old boss Tom McLean, is the Rob Fleming of Columbia, and much of the space in his office is taken up by his amazingly extensive record collection. Each First Thursday, he puts a couple of tables out on the sidewalk in front of his office, laden with boxes full of LPs he’s prepared to sell. (Last night, I came away with a mono LP of Trini Lopez’ greatest hits.)Trini-Lopez-Greatest-Hits---S-504697

Crossing the courtyard of the art museum on my way toward Main Street, I heard my name called, and it was Mike Miller, standing chatting with Tim Conroy — yes, he’s one of those Conroys, brother of Pat — and Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig (and one of my elder son’s best friends).

Mike immediately reported that it had happened again. Just minutes before in a shop on Main Street, a woman had mistaken him for me. He did his best to persuade her that he was this whole other guy who had also worked at the newspaper, and she allowed as how yes, she recalls there was a Mike Miller who wrote about the music scene for the paper, but she had felt certain that the man in front of her was Brad Warthen.

This is ridiculous, people.

This happened to me — being mistaken for Mike, I mean — three times in one week back in 2012, in the wake of Mike’s run for city council. I have since posted photographic evidence that we are not the same person. That should have settled it, right?

Evidently, that photo wasn’t persuasive enough. So I asked Tim Conroy to take a picture of us together, right then and there, to put an end to the persistent rumors that Clark Kent — I mean, Mike Miller — and I are the same person. He obliged.

Please share this with your friends and neighbors, so we can clear up this misunderstanding. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Cindi’s good idea for Greenwood monument could be applied in a lot of areas

Cindi Scoppe had a good column about the absurd problem that the town of Greenwood faces. The town decided some time back that it wanted to revise the lists of dead from the world wars on local monuments so that they were no longer separated into “white” and “colored.”

But the Legislature’s execrable Heritage Act, which was passed years ago for the now-irrelevant purpose of protecting the unlamented Confederate flag on the State House grounds, forbids the town from doing so. Which is absurd and wrong on several levels.

And unfortunately, Speaker Jay Lucas’ Shermanesque statement that while he is speaker, no more exceptions will be made to the Act, period, means there’s no hope for what the town wants to do. (I can appreciate Lucas’ pragmatic desire, once the good work of lowering the flag was done, to get onto other issues without distractions, but this is a particularly unfortunate effect of his declaration.)

Anyway, I like Cindi’s solution:

We should all hope that once cooler heads prevail, the speaker will walk back his Shermanesque statement, and the Legislature will give the American Legion and the city of Greenwood control over their own property — and give all local governments and private entities control over their property as well, for that matter.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s a better solution than a lawsuit: The folks in Greenwood should take up a collection for a new sign, to erect next to the monument, that says: “These lists of Americans who gave their lives for our nation remain segregated in the 21st century because the S.C. General Assembly either opposes integration or refuses to let local governments make their own decisions or both.”

That idea could be applied in a lot of situations where the Legislative State ties the hands of local governments. For instance, signs could be posted at Richland County polling places saying, “You are waiting in such long lines because the Legislature, in its ‘wisdom,’ gives control of the voting process to the local legislative delegation.”

Given the many ways the Legislature reaches down to meddle in local affairs, the possibilities for applying this idea are practically endless…


Back in the day, when we were all quite young


Cynthia Hardy isn’t the only one remembering when.

Susan Ardis at The State posted some pages from an old newsroom directory from the late 1980s on Facebook. I got tagged because mine is one of the mugs featured.

On this page, you can find all sorts of familiar names and faces. There’s Cindi Ross, before she was Scoppe. She was such a baby (only 23 when I became her editor). There’s Clark Surratt, who comments here frequently. There’s Neil White, who left in the most recent buyout. And there’s Bill Robinson, who opted to go in the first buyout round, several months before Robert and I were laid off.

Even though this page just covers from Priddy to Wiggins, there are almost as many people as there are in the whole newsroom today. Today, there are two people listed as covering government and politics, total (although some others sometimes do). On this one page, I count six of us — aside from me, there’s Bill, Cindi, Maureen Shurr, Steve Smith and Clark. There were about five others, in those halcyon days right after the Record had closed and we had combined the staffs — Lee Bandy, Charlie Pope, Jeff Miller, Scott Johnson and Bobby Bryant. And Clif Leblanc at one point. I don’t think I had all of those people at the same time, but all were on the gov staff at some point in that period. And once, at the height, I did have 10 people.

We could flat cover some gummint in those days.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Mike Miller, back before we were doubles.

The employee directory was a handy thing to have in a newsroom with 150 or so people.

Later, this sort of thing disappeared. When I was editorial page editor, I was frustrated that while I knew most of the news people, in other departments of the paper were hundreds of people who knew who I was (not because I was so popular, but because my picture was in the paper all the time), and I didn’t know them. Which can be socially awkward:

“Hey, Brad!”

Hey… you!”

So I nagged and begged and harangued our HR person for a picture directory. I knew pictures existed of all employees — for their IDs — so how hard would that be? An electronic one on the intranet would do. But she kept saying no dice, because of some kind of fear in the HR world that having such directories around would lead to sexual harassment or something. Which seemed odd to me — wouldn’t a harasser be more likely to harass in person, instead of via a picture? But never mind, this concern was all the rage in the HR universe, and we were not going to publish such a directory.

But finally, she got fed up with my griping about it, and had someone compile a looseleaf directory just for me. Just that one copy, eyes only to me. I felt like C, the head of MI6, and the only one allowed to see the NOC list.

I consulted it frequently, and it came in quite handy. And ne’er did I harass a single fair maid.

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.

My column on the flag in The State today


Tim Dominick/The State

A New South Carolina

We have come so far. We are so close. Let’s get it done.

That’s the litany I’ve been reciting this past week, as the previously unthinkable quietly became a matter of fact — at least in the S.C. Senate. To paraphrase a T.S. Eliot quote that Sen. Tom Davis cited after the Senate vote: This is the way the Confederacy ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

We now live in a new South Carolina. No, the flag’s not down yet, but the South Carolina I’ve known all my life is gone. In that late, unlamented version, that anticlimactic 36-3 vote in the Senate would have been impossible. And yet in this new world, it was so … matter of fact. Poetry aside, there wasn’t even a whimper.

How did we get here? Well, I wasn’t around for the start. But while some scoff at the ostensible reason for putting the flag up there — to mark the centennial of The War — I find it credible. I was in the second grade in New Jersey when the centennial observances began. Navy blue kepis — the hats we identify with the Civil War — were very popular among the kids who mocked my South Carolina accent. I searched everywhere and found a gray one. I wore it to school, daring the other boys to try to knock it off.

Innocent enough. But the centennial ended in 1965, and the flag stayed up. We know why. By that time, the civil rights movement was winning important national victories.

And what did the flag mean? We know. Oh, news reports will affect that priggish, pedantic neutrality peculiar to the trade: “Some people see the flag as meaning this; some see it as meaning that.” But we know, don’t we? It is a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it.

It was a way of telling the world whose state this is.

My own involvement with the flag started in February 1994, about six weeks after I joined The State’s editorial board. I hadn’t planned to write about it. But my colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the flag. The governor had dismissed the issue as beneath his notice. He was too busy with the “big picture” to fuss about with such “temporal emotions of the moment.”

Carroll Campbell did a lot of fine things as governor, but on that day he really ticked me off. So I ripped out a short editorial — just 349 words — that said if the governor was serious about national ambitions (and he was), he needed an attitude adjustment. The “emotions” to which he referred arose “from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.”

From that moment, I couldn’t leave the issue alone. I berated a series of governors, and Legislatures, on this failure of leadership. And what result did I, or anyone else calling for the flag to go, get? A hardening of attitudes. The Republican Party rose to power in the General Assembly after putting a mock flag “referendum” on its 1994 primary ballot, after which legislators moved to enshrine the flying of the flag into law.

The anti-flag movement grew, and reached its zenith in 2000, with a 60,000-strong demonstration on Martin Luther King Day, and a dramatic march from Charleston to Columbia led by Mayor Joe Riley. And still, what did we get? A “compromise” that moved the flag to a more visible location. After which the Legislature made it clear for 15 years that it had zero interest in revisiting the issue.

But that all happened in the old South Carolina, which ceased to exist not the night that Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight of his flock were murdered in cold blood. It ended two days later, when the families of the slain forgave the young man charged with taking their loved ones away.

The new South Carolina was born in that moment, in that courtroom. Hatred and death didn’t bring it into being. The love of the living did.

A chain reaction of grace started there, and its radiance shone forth from Charleston. The nation marveled: Why were they not seeing another Ferguson, another Baltimore? How can this black-white lovefest be?

A series of governors had, to varying degrees, brushed off the flag. (Although both David Beasley and Jim Hodges sought compromises.) And now here was one saying, without any mention of compromises, “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.” Period. God bless Nikki Haley for actively stepping out to lead this new South Carolina, a state that would be ashamed to engage in the games of the past — a state that couldn’t look at those victims’ families and respond any other way. A state that had grown up.

Standing behind her on that miraculous day, three days after the arraignment, was a cross-section of our political leadership — black and white, Democratic and Republican. The chairmen of the two parties, whose rivalry was defined by the division that flag represented, literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Things like this don’t happen in South Carolina. Or rather, they didn’t happen in the old South Carolina.

Anything can happen now. Anything. Thank God. Now, on to the House.

Mr. Warthen is the former editorial page editor of The State and now director of communications and public relations at ADCO, a Columbia marketing agency. He blogs at

The first 350 words I wrote on the Confederate flag

black and white flags

OK, it’s technically only 349, which is amazingly terse, considering the thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of words I would eventually write on the subject.

I make a reference to this piece in my column in Wednesday’s editions of The State. I thought I’d share the whole thing with you.

It was February 1994. I had only been on The State‘s editorial board for six weeks. One morning, I read in our paper where my friend and colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the Confederate flag that then flew over the State House, and saw how dismissive the governor had been of the issue.

Which I found to be outrageous.

So I quickly ripped out this very short editorial — what we called a backup, as opposed to a lede — and got it into the paper ASAP. (Actually, The State has the first backup that I’ve seen in awhile on the page with my column.)

I hadn’t thought all that carefully about the flag up to that point. The fact that it should come down seemed obvious to me. But in reading this you can see I had not yet developed the themes that would be central to my writing about the flag later. You’ll see that I emphasize South Carolina’s image to outsiders, which has not been an important theme to me since then. I mainly did that because it was believed that Campbell harbored presidential or vice-presidential ambitions, so I seized on that to at least give him reason to think harder about the issue.

Here is the editorial:

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Wednesday, February 16, 1994

THE ever-careful Carroll Campbell is taking an interesting gamble by not taking a stand on flying the Confederate battle flag atop the State House.

As Governor Campbell cautiously nurtures ambitions for the national stage, this issue could prove to be his Rubicon. If he crosses it, he risks alienating a chunk of South Carolina voters. But crossing it could be a way of gaining the national credibility necessary to his ambitions.

Increasingly, the flag is a human relations irritant even as we confine our gaze inward. And it is a problem for Southerners each time we reach out to the world. This happened with Georgia as it looked toward the Olympics, and Alabama as it worked to lure Mercedes-Benz.

As Mr. Campbell gazes outward, he should see that he ought to issue a call to bring the flag down, and he must do it now. He will have no standing to address it next year, when he will be asked why he avoided the issue as governor.

To say, as Mr. Campbell does, that the flag has to do with little more than “temporal emotions of the moment” is absurd. These emotions arise in turn from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.

We’re not saying it would be easy. We’re saying that the effort would be worthwhile, particularly if the flag is placed in an appropriate historical display. The Governor has gained a considerable store of political capital in the past seven years; this would be a good way to invest some of it.

By having the guts to deal with this problem constructively, he will have shown himself worthy of the national stage. And he will have done an enduring service to his home state.

Anyway, that was the start of my 21 years of writing on the subject. And soon, maybe, maybe I’ll be done.

Not only was the flag not always there; neither was the monument


I say that not to suggest moving the monument. I just want to emphasize that the folks out there muttering darkly about how we’re trying to “erase history” by moving that flag that was put up in 1962 generally don’t know a lot about our postwar history.

I wrote this column to run on July 2, 2000 — one day after the old naval jack was removed from the dome, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia was placed behind the Confederate flag monument.

My purpose in writing it was to let it be known from the very moment of the compromise, that I was not satisfied with it, and saw it as by no means a permanent solution. There was very little appetite for continued debate on the subject at this moment, and I was acutely aware of that. People were flag-weary. But while most folks were celebrating, I wanted to signal that this wasn’t settled, and foreshadow the debate to come…

Here’s the column:


State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, July 2, 2000

Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor

An important thing to remember about monuments: They aren’t set in stone.

OK, bad choice of words. They are set in stone, or concrete, or something along those lines. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be modified or moved.

Take, for instance, the Confederate Soldier Monument on the State House grounds. For many of us who wanted the Confederate flag moved off the dome, that was probably the least desirable place of all to put its replacement. Unfortunately, if the flag or one like it was going to fly anywhere, that was probably the most logical location.

Why? Because so many groups that advocated moving the flag said to put it instead in a more historically appropriate setting. And what more appropriate place could there be to put a soldier’s flag than alongside the monument to the soldiers who served under it? It’s just too bad that that monument is in the most visible location on the grounds. There’s nothing we can do about that, is there?

Well, here’s a fun fact to know and tell: The state’s official monument to Confederate soldiers was not always in that location. In fact, that isn’t even the original monument.

I had heard this in the past but just read some confirmation of it this past week, in a column written in 1971 by a former State editor. When I called Charles Wickenberg, who is now retired, to ask where he got his facts, he wasn’t sure after all these years. But the folks at the S.C. Department of Archives and History were able to confirm the story for me. It goes like this:

The original monument, in fact, wasn’t even on the State House grounds. It was initially erected on Arsenal Hill, but a problem developed – it was sitting on quicksand. So it was moved to the top of a hill at the entrance of Elmwood cemetery.

The monument finally made it to the State House grounds in 1879. But it didn’t go where it is now. It was placed instead “near the eastern end of the building, about 60 feet from the front wall and 100 feet from the present site,” Mr. Wickenberg wrote.

But another problem developed: The monument kept getting struck by lightning. “The last stroke” hit on June 22, 1882, and demolished the stone figure.

At this point, if I were one of the folks in charge of this monument, I might have started to wonder about the whole enterprise. But folks back then were made of sterner stuff, and they soldiered on, so to speak.

At this point a new base was obtained, with stirring words inscribed upon it, and “a new statue, chiseled in Italy,” placed at the top. On May 9, 1884, the new monument was unveiled and dedicated in the same location in which we find it today.

So we see that the folks who lived in a time when “the Recent Unpleasantness” was actually recent – and burning in their personal memories – had to try four times before they came up with a way that suited them and their times to honor Confederate sacrifice.

In light of that, why should anyone assume that we’re finished deciding how to remember the Confederacy in our time?

Am I suggesting that we move the monument yet again? Not necessarily. I don’t think anybody’s ready for that battle yet. (Anyway, the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.)

But I am saying that alternatives to the present arrangement exist. For instance. . . .

Remember the proposal that came up in the heat of the House debate to put the new Army of Northern Virginia battle flag within the context of a group of flags honoring S.C. veterans of other wars? The plan died partly because the details were sketchy and partly because House leaders didn’t want to consider anything new at that point.

Well after the present arrangement was safely passed and signed, that plan was resurrected – in an improved form – by Sen. John Courson, who had already done so much to bring the compromise to fruition over the past six years.

Sen. Courson’s resolution, co-sponsored by the 19 senators who, like him, are military veterans, would create a commission to “design and establish an appropriate monument to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol Complex to recognize and honor the accomplishments of South Carolina veterans who have served honorably, in peace or war, in any of the five branches of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”

The monument would consist mainly of the official flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Thereby all who served our nation – black and white, from the Revolution to Kosovo – would be honored the same way we are honoring those who served the Confederacy.

The plan leaves site selection to the new commission, but Sen. Courson says there is only one place left on the grounds that could easily accommodate such an addition – the same grassy area where the ANV battle flag was raised on Saturday.

The resolution was filed at the last minute and automatically died at the end of the session. But Sen. Courson introduced it anyway to give lawmakers something to think about between now and next January.

So you see, the present arrangement – with the Confederate banner sticking out so conspicuously by itself in a prominent place – really isn’t set in stone, in the metaphorical sense.

Sen. Courson has presented one viable alternative. There are no doubt others.

I was being generous there suggesting Courson’s idea.

The best proposal to emerge from the debates of that year came from Bob Sheheen — the former speaker, and Vincent’s uncle.

He suggested doing away with the physical, cloth flag altogether, and placing a modest bronze monument somewhere on the grounds to say that the flag once flew here over the dome, and giving some historical perspective.

Unfortunately, that proposal was never really given a chance. The infamous compromise came out of the Senate and then-Speaker David Wilkins allowed only one day — one day — for debate, thereby ensuring that no other proposal would have a chance to catch on and win support. Pressed for time, the House just passed the Senate plan, and moved on.

That day was one of the most frustrating of my professional life. This was before blogging, and The State’s online presence was pretty rudimentary. All day, I kept writing different versions of an editorial based on what was happening in the debate, hoping that Wilkins would allow the debate to continue another day, hoping to have some influence on the outcome — hoping for the chance to push for the Sheheen plan or something like it.

But they pushed on late into the evening, and I had to let the page go without any editorial on the subject, since I didn’t know what the facts would be when readers saw the paper in the morning.

So frustrating. Such a missed opportunity…

I used to work in a place that… ‘doesn’t even exist anymore’


In a comment way back the middle of last month, Bryan linked to one of my favorite bits in “The Right Stuff” (which is saying something, since I love all of that film). It’s the scene in which The Media (portrayed throughout the film as an overexcited colonial animal constantly emitting motor-drive sounds like the ever-present background noise of crickets in the night) ask Dennis Quaid’s Gordon Cooper, “Who was the best pilot you ever saw?”

Cooper beams, and the viewer smiles with him, because we know the character loves to pose that question rhetorically, and answer it himself with, “You’re lookin’ at him.”

But then he gets serious, and says thoughtfully, hesitantly, in a low voice:

Who is the best pilot I ever saw? I’ll tell you. I’ve seen a lot of them, and most of them were pictures on a wall… back at some place that… doesn’t even exist anymore….

That’s a reference to Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, a run-down, low-rent bar and grill (as portrayed in the film, anyway) in the desert outside Edwards Air Force Base, where test pilots who had been killed in the line of duty were honored by having their pictures nailed up behind the bar. Pancho’s had burned down a number of years before Cooper became an astronaut.

Well, I just had a moment of wistful remembrance like that of Cooper’s.

I was on my way to an appointment on Market Street, which runs between Bluff Road and Key Road just south of Williams-Brice Stadium. And as I turned off George Rogers onto Key, I was shocked to see that the building housing The State‘s (and The Columbia Record‘s) former offices, there in the shadow of the stadium, was just gone, and something else was being built in its place. Even the little parking lot in front had been dug up.

That was where I worked for the first year I was at The State. We moved to the new building in 1988, and SC ETV bought the building. I knew that ETV had stopped using it, and had seen it looking rather derelict lately.

And most of my memories of The State were down the road in the new building. And I was pretty stressed that one year in the old building, trying to get acclimated to a new paper after my years in Tennessee and Kansas. I didn’t really settle in and start to enjoy myself until after we moved.

Still, it was a bit of a shock.

So I guess I’ll recover the way Gordo did when the journalists were too thick to follow his humble, honest effort to answer the question.

I’ll just give a cocky grin and say, “Who’s the best editor you ever saw? You’re lookin’ at him!”

Corey Hutchins writes about buyouts at The State

Yesterday afternoon, Corey Hutchins called me to find out what I knew about the latest round of staff reductions at The State. I pointed him to my report two weeks ago, and chatted a bit about what I had learned since then. Beyond a few names, I had little else to say to enlighten him.

Corey’s report was just published by Columbia Journalism Review. And for me, the most pertinent part is the names of the longtime colleagues:

A number of entries disappeared from the paper’s online listing of newsroom staff between Thursday and Friday, though it was not immediately clear whether all the changes were related to the buyouts. Some of the names not on the current list include features reporter Joey Holleman, education and religion reporter Carolyn Click, associate editor and editorial board member Warren Bolton, photojournalist Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, sports columnist Ron Morris, and sports writer Neil White, who had been with the paper nearly 30 years.

Investigative reporter John Monk, who has deep sources in the legal and law enforcement worlds, is still listed, as are veteran environmental reporter Sammy Fretwell, business and military reporter Jeff Wilkinson, and longtime newsman Clif LeBlanc….

I had already told y’all about Warren and Neil, the only two I had confirmed of the dozen I had tentatively identified. Nothing in Corey’s report contradicted anything I had heard. I will say that some of the people I’ve heard are leaving are still listed on the newsroom’s online roster. Maybe I heard wrong; I don’t know.

Today is Warren’s last day. Here’s the only notice I’ve seen of that in print, at the end of his column today:

Editor’s Note: After 29 years with The State, the past 18 as a member of the editorial board, Mr. Bolton is leaving the newspaper. His insight and his journalism have enriched our community.

Kind of makes my farewell tour from the paper — three columns on the subject, a whole day’s letters to the editor, and multiple blog posts — look like an extended display of narcissism, doesn’t it?

My thoughts and prayers are with those leaving, and with those staying behind, from the top of management to the lowest folks on the totem pole. They’ve all been fighting a tough battle for years, and it just got harder for most of those left behind.

I’d love to be able to help, if I could.

A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

From our media watch beat…

Doug Pardue just wrote the first line of his obituary, and I mean that in a good way. The Post and Courier just won the holy of holies among journalism prizes, the Pulitzer Public Service gold medal, for their “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which told “tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.” Not only only did the paper address a critical, urgent issue that has long brought shame upon their state, but the series was followed by serious action in the Legislature.

The series was written by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff. But I mention Doug in particular because I know him — he used to be in charge of investigative reporting at The State, a couple of decades back.

So way to go, Doug! And the rest of y’all, too.

As that news was spreading yesterday, my friends and colleagues at The State received another kind of news — more staff reductions are coming. The process will begin with voluntary buyouts. My sources say staffers will have the opportunity to volunteer to leave in exchange for a severance package. There’s no stated goal in terms of number of people who will lose their jobs, but there is apparently a monetary goal in mind.

What happens if the total salaries of those volunteering don’t add up to the goal? That apparently has not been stated. But we know what has happened in the past. I was laid off in one of several waves over the last few years.

I’m very sorry to hear this on a number of levels. I care not only because The State continues to be my newspaper, but because South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper. Here’s hoping the reductions will be minimal.

(I learned of this when a respected colleague called me this morning. And no, that source probably isn’t one of the first ones you would guess, so there’s no point in guessing.)

It’s not THAT unusual in SC for white cops to be charged with shooting unarmed black men

post shoot

That’s kind of a two-edged headline, isn’t it? On the one hand, it suggests that it’s not that unusual for white cops to shoot unarmed black men in SC. And indeed, The State recently reported that police have shot at people more than 200 times in the past five years.

But my point was that the charges against North Charleston cop Michael Thomas Slager for shooting and killing motorist Walter Scott are not unique.

That was in my mind last night when I was sort of surprised to see the story leading the NYT. But I was in a rush, and my laptop was taking an absurd amount of time to perform the most basic operations, so I didn’t stop to look up the recent incidents that were at the back of my mind.

But this morning, when I saw the Washington Post story (which The State led with) that characterized the charge as “what seems to be an unprecedented move in South Carolina,” I thought I should take a moment to do some basic research. I was further spurred by this quote from my old friend Joe Darby, also in the Post:

“I am surprisingly and gratifyingly shocked because to the best of my memory, I cannot think of another occasion in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of Charleston’s NAACP branch.

Warming to his subject, Joe further spread his rhetorical wings:

“My initial thought was, ‘Here we go again. This will be another time where there will be a cursory investigation. It will be the word of law enforcement versus those who are colored as vile perpetrators. People will get very mad, but at the end of the day nothing will change.’ This kind of changed the game,” Darby said of the video and Slager’s arrest.

When Joe says he cannot think of another case ” in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” I believe him. But his memory is dead wrong.

Just in the last few months, there have been at least two such cases, which I found in just a few moments this morning:

  • State Trooper Sean Groubert was fired and charged with a felony, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, after his dashboard video showed him shooting Levar Edward Jones in the Columbia area. Groubert’s trial has not yet been held, but Jones  has received a nearly $300,000 settlement from the state.
  • Former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs was charged with murder in the May 2, 2011, shooting death of Bernard Bailey. A mistrial was declared in the case when the jury deadlocked in January.

Now, let’s be clear: As The State reported, no cop of any race has yet been convicted in any of those 209 shootings in the past five years.

And these three cases seem to be unusual in that there was video evidence in two  cases, and the other took place right in front of the courthouse in Eutawville. So this should certainly add fuel to the national movement to have cops wear body cameras at all times.

But it’s plain that these charges were not “unprecedented,” and that Joe Darby’s memory is lacking. And maybe the world’s press got excited over this “unprecedented” case for the wrong reasons. (Based on modern news standards, it’s still a good story, because of the video causing the authorities to reverse themselves. The horrific video itself — which you can see below — is enough for such a story to go viral. But it’s not man-bites-dog.)

Finally, I just noticed that the Post has corrected itself. Its current version of the story no longer contains the unwarranted speculation that the situation is “unprecedented.” But the story still leads the Post’s site. More to the point, is still leading with the old, erroneous version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow. NOW Mia McLeod is attacking Carolyn Click

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote that….

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

And you can quote that….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Cindi concluded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Time for change: Scoppe column on judicial vote-trading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s sort of new, and sort of not.

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

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

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

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

Touring USC’s new Darla Moore School of Business

Peggy Binette of the USC media office threw a poor blogger a bone and invited me on the official media tour yesterday of the fancy new ultra-modern, artsy, green, hyper-energy-efficient Darla Moore School of Business.

I’d have posted about it Wednesday, but was tied up the rest of the day.

The tour was like old home week. I ran into, let’s see… six people I used to work with at The State, two of whom actually still work there. So it was nice to catch up with them.

The building was really nice, too, although it will look better when the trees and plants come in, and they get some artwork up on the walls. I’m assured the architects have a plan for decorating the oceans of beige, but they’re not putting anything up until all construction is finished.

And it mostly is, or so it seemed. The building is fully in use, with students coming and going and faculty moved in to offices, but it will probably be awhile before it feels lived in.

In the video above, you hear Dean Peter Brews speak, with his South African accent, about the reaction of students to the new facility. He said they were saying it is “sick… which I gather is a positive thing.” For my part, I didn’t know the kids were still saying that.

For the basics, here’s The State‘s story from the tour. The messages for the day were:

  • This is a banner day for the Moore School, putting business education at USC in an enviable position in terms of facilities and capabilities.
  • The beauty, functionality and energy-efficiency of the building.
  • Collaboration. Over and over, we heard how faculty and students from different disciplines who never saw each other in the old, vertical building are already interacting to an unprecedented extent, which is expected to lead to all sorts of good things.

And, yes, the fact that the building is where it is to act as “a gateway for the University of South Carolina leading into the Innovista district.” Beyond that, I’ll let pictures tell the story…