Category Archives: Working

A bit of news: I’m joining the Smith/Norrell campaign

One victory down, one to go.

One victory down, one to go.

Starting today, I’m joining the James Smith/Mandy Powers Norrell campaign as communications director.

In blog terms this means that, while Leo McGarry is still the guy I want to be when I grow up, it turns out that in real life, I’m Toby Ziegler.

It means a lot of other things, too. More important things.

There are other things it does not mean. For instance, it does not mean, “Brad’s a Democrat now!” Nope, as always, I’m no more of a Democrat than I am a Republican. As you know, over the years I’ve endorsed candidates from both parties in almost exactly equal numbers. I go with the best candidate, without regard to party. In this race, the better candidate is unquestionably James Smith.

This is partly because I’ve respected and admired James for the ways he has served his state and country, and I like what he wants to do for South Carolina — and because, while I’ve only recently gotten to know her, I think Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell is a tremendous positive force in our Legislature (a point on which her largely Republican constituency has repeatedly agreed).

It’s also because Henry McMaster has repeatedly failed to stand up and be a leader on the issues that matter to South Carolina — or on anything, for that matter. He’s a born follower, and he’ll follow anyone he thinks will help him hold high office. It’s almost like the office of governor is vacant, occupied by a nonentity who offers only one thing to the voters: “Donald Trump loves me.”

So what you have here is a guy who doesn’t care about party being so persuaded as to who the better candidate is in this important election that he’s quitting his day job to put it all on the line. Which should count for something among fair-minded observers.

This is weird for me. Very weird. My job will involve constantly dealing with reporters, and they are unlikely to do what I tell them to do, the way they did in my former life. (Which is just plumb unnatural.) As I step out into this unfamiliar territory, I try to reassure myself that others have successfully made the transition before me. For instance, one of my earliest mentors, John Parish — the unquestioned dean of Tennessee political writers — went to work for Lamar Alexander in 1978, and that worked out. “The Bear” remained a hero to young journos like me.

This is the second stage of my transition. As y’all know, I’ve been very frank about which candidates I prefer ever since I joined The State‘s editorial board in 1994. But that was all just words, as Doug would say. A couple of months back, I took the unprecedented step of putting campaign signs in my yard for the two candidates I most wanted to see win this year: James (this was before Mandy joined the ticket) and my Republican representative, Micah Caskey.

Micah has already won his election — he won his primary walking away, and has no general election opponent. So he doesn’t need my help.

James and Mandy have a long, tough campaign ahead of them, trying to win the governor’s (and lieutenant governor’s) office in a state that hasn’t picked a Democrat for either of those offices in 20 years.

But there are reasons to think these two candidates can win. It starts with their qualifications and positive vision for South Carolina, and ends with a factor called “Henry McMaster” — an incumbent who had to scramble like an unknown (against an unknown) just to win his own party’s nomination.

In any event, James and Mandy are determined to win. And so am I….

David Brooks’ excellent column advocating ‘personalism’

Cindi Scoppe and I used to go back and forth over the enduring value of op-ed columns.

Her view was that if they’re good, they’re good, and if she had to wait two or even three weeks to get a good column into the paper, she’d do it.

I saw them as far more perishable. With syndicated columns, I didn’t want our readers to see them more than a day after they were first published elsewhere. I had a prejudice in favor of columns from the Washington Post Writers Group, because they sent them out in real time, as soon as they went to the Post‘s own editors, so we were able to publish George Will, Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer in the same day’s paper as the Post. The New York Times, by contrast, didn’t move their columns on the wire until after we were done with our opinion pages — so the best I could do was run Tom Friedman and David Brooks a day after they were in the Times.

Past that, even when a column was really good, it would tend to lose out to something fresher if I were picking the columns that week.

There are arguments for both points of view, of course, and the relative value of the opposing approaches could vary according the particular column. Today, I’m very happy that today The State ran a David Brooks column that first appeared on June 14, a whole week ago. (It was his column before the column that I mentioned in the Open Thread two days ago — therefore quite moldy by my usual standards.)

I had missed it when it first ran. And it wasn’t perishable at all.

The headline was “Personalism: The Philosophy We Need,” and it won me over from the start:

One of the lessons of a life in journalism is that people are always way more complicated than you think. We talk in shorthand about “Trump voters” or “social justice warriors,” but when you actually meet people they defy categories. Someone might be a Latina lesbian who loves the N.R.A. or a socialist Mormon cowboy from Arizona.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

Moreover, most actual human beings are filled with ambivalences. Most political activists I know love parts of their party and despise parts of their party. A whole lifetime of experience, joy and pain goes into that complexity, and it insults their lives to try to reduce them to a label that ignores that.

Yet our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person. Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme, evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives, capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest, modern Marxism to their class position and multiculturalism to their racial one. Consumerism treats people as mere selves — as shallow creatures concerned merely with the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of stuff….

Yes! And going back up to his mention of journalism at the top…. most news coverage is as guilty as any of these other culprits of trying to cram people into boxes that aren’t made to fit them. As I’ve said many times, too many journalists write about politics the way they would about sports: There are only two teams, and you have to subscribe to one or the other — Democrat or Republican, left or right, black or white. And one is always winning, which means the other is losing — you’re up or you’re down.

Which I hate. One of my motives for blogging is the same as my aims when I was editorial page editor: to provide a forum where we could talk about the world and public policy in different, fairer, less polarized and more accurate terms. The truth is that almost nothing about human affairs is black or white. And I’ve always wanted to provide a forum where that aspect of truth could reign, and lead to more productive conversations.

In this column, Brooks is talking about the same thing I’m talking about when I say “people are people.” Which sounds vaguely stupid, I know, but I mean they’re not just “liberals” or “conservatives” or members of this team or that team, or predictable because of some demographic accident — they’re complicated.

And I think the only way we can write and talk about people and public affairs is to acknowledge that complexity at all times — to get past the black and white and not only deal with the gray, but with the full range of color and combinations of colors.

Anyway, you should read the full column. It’s full of good bits on the meaning of life and other things that are hard to squeeze into so few words. It’s so good I suspect the Brooks haters have been out in force trying to tear it apart over the past week. I’ll close with the ending:

The big point is that today’s social fragmentation didn’t spring from shallow roots. It sprang from worldviews that amputated people from their own depths and divided them into simplistic, flattened identities. That has to change. As Charles Péguy said, “The revolution is moral or not at all.”

Amen.

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

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

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

Dadblastit!

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

This is what had me ticked off:

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

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

I fired this back at Andy:

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

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

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

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

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

From John Spratt to Ed Jones: Twitter is awesome

John Spratt with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

John Spratt in Lancaster Friday with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

I ran up to Lancaster yesterday to catch James Smith’s announcement of Mandy Powers Norrell becoming his running mate (an excellent choice, by the way — I’ll post video later). One of the highlights of the day was seeing John Spratt, whom I hadn’t seen in years.

So I looked at this Tweet from the AP’s Jeffrey Collins with interest:

That kicked off a digression in my head (sort of my default mode, really) and I replied with this:

Rob Godfrey, whom you’ll remember as Nikki Haley’s press guy, joined the conversation:

I laughed and replied that Ed Jones was a nice guy (“Mr. Ed’s” campaign slogan was “The congressman from the heart of the district, with the district at heart”), but thinking on his feet wasn’t his strongest suit. Then Meg Kinnard said:

Meg is originally from Memphis, and knows that neck of the woods. I decided to take a stab in the dark — Meg’s the age of my kids, but I thought just maybe we’d have an acquaintance in common:

To my surprise, she replied:

 

Twitter is awesome! In what other way could I have possibly made a connection like that? I need to get Kelly’s contact info from Meg — assuming he even remembers me after more than three decades — so we can get a beer together next time I’m at the beach…

That's Mr. Ed Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I'm probably somewhere nearby....

That’s “Mr. Ed” Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I’m probably somewhere nearby….

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations!

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn't take no matter how well they paid.

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn’t take no matter how well they paid.

As you know, back when I first got laid off, I signed up for all kinds of job-tip services — and I still get emails from most of them, all these years later. Sometimes, they are a great source of amusement, considering some of the jobs for which they think I’m just perfect.

One of the many is a service called “Ladders.” It’s one of the least realistic in terms of jobs to which I’d be suited. But I signed up for it anyway, because it supposedly specialized in jobs paying six figures and more. Why lower my standard of living, I thought, right after losing what may have been the last journalism job in South Carolina that paid well?

Of course, the universe of jobs that pay that well is limited, so the jobs the service lists tend to be from a wide variety of fields, including many very far from my experience and qualifications. Some are really interesting: For instance, I frequently see positions for “executive assistant,” which makes me think, Really? Being a secretary pays that well now? What do their bosses make?

But today, I saw something disturbing — an email from Ladders headlined, “Jobs that pay More Than $80K.”

What?!? No-no-no-no-no. If you’re going to show me jobs that I’ll never get anyway, then make them super high-paying ones. In fact, since the whole enterprise is so unrealistic, from now on I only want to see jobs paying at least a million a year.

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations. You might discourage me…

Ambition does weird things to people

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

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

And the part that really struck me was this:

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

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

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

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

Amy Chozick

Amy Chozick

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

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

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

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

Yeah, no kidding…

Tim Kelly on how he got fired by DHEC

Do y’all remember Tim Kelly, pioneer South Carolina blogger? He was one of a number of folks who gave me pointers back when I started this nasty habit in 2005. His blogs, in his case from a liberal Democrat’s point of view, included “Crack the Bell” and “Indigo Journal.”

He sort of quit blogging there for awhile and tried going legit. He worked at ADCO competitor Chernoff Newman for quite awhile, then became chief spokesman for DHEC. Which lasted until he posted this on Twitter a few weeks back.

As he says now, in a blog post:

Its not the worst thing ever said about Donald Trump. It’s not even the most profane thing I’ve ever said about Donald Trump.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

But he said it on the official DHEC Twitter feed, thinking he was on his own account: “But, oops, wrong browser window, and I was toast.”

Yeah, I’ve done that myself. Just not with such, ah, explosive content. In fact, that’s why I recently purged my iPad Twitter app of a couple of client feeds I had been managing. I’d discovered that occasionally the app would just spontaneously flip over to one of those other accounts without my knowing it. Which is kind of scary.

But Tim’s experience far exceeds any cautionary tales I can share from my own experience.

Ironically, Tim was surprised again by Twitter — he had forgotten that his long-dormant blog was set to post the headline and a link to each post automatically.

I say “ironically” because Tim was the guy who originally taught me that was possible. In fact, he’s the guy who talked me into going on Twitter. When I asked him why on Earth I’d want to do that, he said, “To promote your blog.” And then he told me how, and I started doing it right away.

Anyway, Tim thinks he may be onto a new line of work that he will find more personally rewarding than what he’s done in the past, even if he doesn’t get rich doing it. I hope that’s the case…

Great to be ‘working with’ Robert Ariail again

SCMcMasterSanctuaryCitiesAriailW

Back during the years when I worked with Robert Ariail, he would occasionally pay me the great compliment of saying I was the one editor he’d worked with who “thought like a cartoonist.” He had respect for my cartoon ideas, which is not always the way it goes between a word guy and an artist. (He also knew when to ignore my ideas, which was important.)

He never really needed my ideas, but it was fun for me to brainstorm with him — maybe some of the best fun I ever had as a journalist.

Well, I ran into him today at Lizard’s Thicket — he had just had a solitary lunch before heading back up to Camden — and he paid me another compliment, telling me two of his recent cartoons were inspired, at least in part, by things he’d read on this blog.

The one above came from this post, and the one below from my making fun repeatedly of the monotonously pandering intro to Catherine Templeton’s name in all her press releases.

It’s great to be “working with” Robert again, even it it’s for free…

SCTempletonAriailW

Look what I found: My old press cards

press cards

I was digging around in the closet in my home office, trying to find a staple-plucker to use on some multi-page documents I was digitizing, when I ran across these.

They are:

  1. My Tennessee Press Association press card from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
  2. My Secret Service press card from the 1980 presidential campaign (the one with the beard). I probably got this before going up to Iowa to cover Howard Baker’s unsuccessful bid in the caucuses.
  3. My Secret Service press card from 1984. I was an editor by this time, but I was the sort of editor who didn’t believe in letting my reporters have all the fun. Also, I had a weekly column to write, so I couldn’t stay tied to my desk. I liked to go check out interesting events — such as when presidential candidates came to town — myself. The schedule of a p.m. newspaper allowed this, especially if the event happened in the afternoon or evening. Morning newspaper editors can’t get away from the office as easily.

Halcyon days…

Meg Kinnard’s confrontation while covering train wreck

One of Meg's photos from the scene.

One of Meg’s photos from the scene.

Yesterday morning I was sleeping late. I was awakened by an editor at The New York Post, telling me there had been a train wreck a few miles from me and asking whether I would cover it for them. (They’ve had my name and number on file ever since I covered the infamous Mark Sanford presser for them in 2009.)

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

I declined. There was a time, about 40 years ago, when I’d have been excited to run out in the rain and cover such a thing. But not yesterday. If they’d had a good political story to chase, maybe. But I left this one to the large crowd of reporters that I was sure was already out there.

One of them was Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press. This video she posted on Twitter reminds me of the thousand little hassles reporters run into in the course of doing their jobs:

This partial clip sort of makes it hard to tell what was really happening. The argument started before she started shooting. Obviously, Meg was a bit upset already by that point. Some will probably watch this and think she’s the aggressor and feel sorry for the school employee, who is clearly out of his depth. Especially the kind of people who despise White House press for getting aggressive when they get their rare shot at getting an answer.

I remember how stuff like this felt. You’re trying to do a job under tough circumstances, and somebody erects a barrier “because he can.” It’s pretty infuriating. You’re like Really? Like this wasn’t already difficult enough for all concerned? Kind of made me glad I left this story to Meg, et al. They seem to have done a fine job without me.

I just have one little complaint, Meg: Turn the phone sideways!

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

Remembering the night Nixon resigned

636277656335461874-Untitled-4

Yeah, I’m a day late with this, but it was some hours-old Tweets I saw this morning that got me to thinking about it:

Then, later in the day, I wondered if I could see that front page again, and sure enough, Google delivered — although a small, low-res image. See the page above. (See how much wider newspaper pages were then?)

It was at the very start of my journalism career, when I was still in school. I worked nights at the long-extinct job of copy boy, although in deference to feminist sensibilities it was by that time called “copy clerk.” Basically, I was an errand boy, learning the business. And at that point in time — the waning days of hot type — the function was essential. In a time when everything was physical instead of digital, everything — news stories, pictures, proofs (and the coffee and meals that everyone in the newsroom had the power to send us for) — had to be carried to each stage of the process by hand. And it was a great way to learn the business. I knew some things that senior editors didn’t know about where things were and how they worked together (mostly, where to get the coffee).

And there were obstacles, and workarounds, that would confound anyone who started in the business just a little later. For instance, if you want to make a two-word headline stretch all the way across the page today, you just click and drag and it’s done. But back then a headline wasn’t ones and zeroes; it was a physical thing, set in heavy metal by a machine that could only make it so big. I think the biggest possible was either 72 points (an inch high) or 96.

So here’s what we did: The managing editor wrote “Nixon Resigns” on a scrap of paper and sent me to the composing room (on the next floor up) to get it set into type as big as we could. Then, we took a high-contrast proof (on slick paper instead of the usual cheap newsprint) of that metal-type hed and shot a picture of it on one of the cameras used to make press plates, which used page-sized negative film. Then we blew that image up to full-page width, and made a proof of that, which I then ran back downstairs to the M.E., so he could see how his headline would look.

This was not something you did every day. We were doing it that night because this was history. The editor was being creative.

When I brought the finished product to him, the M.E. looked upon his headline and pronounced it good.

By the way, here was the scene in the newsroom when Nixon was addressing the nation: A bunch of us crowded around the TV over the M.E.’s desk, and watched and listened. I forget the name of our Washington correspondent. Let’s say it was Clark Kent. Someone in the group wondered aloud where Clark was at that moment. Our gruff metro editor, Angus McEachran, snorted, “Watching it on TV, just like us!” There was some laughter.

Those who want to paint the newspaper business as already a fossil, left behind by TV, might point to that 1974 scene as proof.

But here’s the thing: When the show was over, all these people had to jump into action. I’d be running back and forth to the wire machines with the copy out of Washington. Editors would be editing that copy and putting it onto pages. Reporters would be calling Tennessee pols for reactions, and maybe even doing some man-on-the-street.

And the next morning, people would have a huge, in-depth package of stories about what had happened, explaining every detail and what it meant.

So what? you think. But you’re not thinking hard enough. That morning, that would be the ONLY source of reporting and commentary available to that reader. Maybe they saw the speech the night before, but that was over. There was no 24/7 TV coverage, babbling on endlessly. (And no DVR or even VHS so you could have recorded it and watched again. You saw it when you saw it, and that was it.) There was no Web, no social media. Other newspapers were not available to anyone unless they came in the mail a day or two later. The only source they had that morning for all the details and perspective on this historic event was their local newspaper. Other sources — weekly magazines that came in the mail and such — would be available later. But the newspaper was it on that morning, the one source of information about this huge thing that had happened.

So we had an important role to play for our readers, and I felt important playing the bit part I did. I got some extra copies of that headline proof and took them home. I got together with my soon-to-be wife and some friends and showed these proofs off. I felt like a big shot…

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

Actually, this is NOT The Cotton Pigue mentality. It's The Bog Trotters Band. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

Actually, this is NOT the legendary Cotton Pigue Mentality. It’s The Bog Trotters Band, back in 1937. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

This is a way, way inside joke, but I thought I’d share it as an illustration of how things don’t change much.

Back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when I was working at The Jackson (TN) Sun, a judge in a nearby county had a case before him that seemed designed to reinforce every right-winger’s nightmare stereotype of the Welfare Queen. A poor black woman had a houseful of kids, and a couple of her daughters had several of their own. All told, there were about 20 people in the household, if I remember correctly — all women and children.

I forget why they were before him. What I recall is that this old white guy (he was not much older than I am now, but back then he seemed ancient) decided to lecture these women and tell them they needed to stop having children out of wedlock. The judge’s name was “Cotton” Pigue.

It caused a bit of a sensation in West Tennessee when that was reported, and as you might imagine, while some had a “You tell ’em!” reaction, others were quite critical of the judge having overstepped the bounds of his job description.

We were discussing it in the tiny editorial office of the paper, as I recall, when a woman said something disparaging about how certain people needed to get over this “Cotton Pigue mentality.”

My good friend Richard Crowson, the paper’s editorial cartoonist and the best bluegrass picker I’ve ever known, got excited: That was the perfect name for a Bluegrass band! The Cotton Pigue Mentality! I don’t think he actually ever named any of the groups he played in that, but it was a memorable inspiration.

Anyway, after not having been heard from in years — no albums, no tours — it seems the Mentality has made a comeback. In Tennessee, appropriately enough:

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time

A judge in central Tennessee is hoping to help repeat offenders “make something of themselves” by offering them a highly original and probably unconstitutional deal: reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization operations.

Under a standing order issued by General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days credit toward their jail time if they volunteer for vasectomies or contraceptive implants, as NewsChannel 5 reported Thursday.

The order came down quietly in May, and already dozens of inmates have sought to take advantage of it. Thirty-two women have received implants of the hormone device Nexplanon, and 38 men have signed up to receive vasectomies, according to NewsChannel 5….

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives! I can’t wait for to hear them when they come to town — just for old times’ sake…

The real "Cotton" Pigue.

The real “Cotton” Pigue.

Editing the Declaration of Independence

I spent part of the long holiday weekend rewatching an episode or two of HBO’s John Adams.

Of course, being me, I love the scene that depicts the editing of the Declaration of Independence.

If you’ll recall, Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were appointed as a committee to draft the Declaration. Then, Adams had talked Jefferson into doing the actual writing, citing his skill with the written word and the fact that Adams himself was far too busy (aside from sitting on various committee, Adams was bearing the greatest share of the burden of arguing for independence, while Jefferson never opened his mouth during the debate).

In this scene, Adams and Ben Franklin are getting their first look at what Jefferson has written, and reacting to it, and offering changes. Having been in this situation myself so many thousands of times with writers who sometimes regarded their words as perfect, I enjoyed watching the dynamics.

First observation: Adams starts out by praising Jefferson’s work to the skies — a fitting approach given the document he’s editing, but one that is wildly at odds with my own approach. As Dave Moniz used to say when he worked for me, the highest praise I ever offered of writers’ work was “pretty good.” Maybe I should have tried this approach; it seems to have led to a good result.

Then there is Jefferson’s unnerving passivity through most of the process — an almost autistic lack of emotion. I’ve had writers fly off the handle at my changes, or be philosophically diplomatic about it. But never anyone with this staring, shrugging apathy. Change to “self-evident?” Yeah, whatevs…

Even when Adams says some of it might not be the way he would have said it, but he will still defend every word, Jefferson has no gratitude, but shrugs, “Well, it’s what I believe…”

Nevertheless, Jefferson proves he’s not an automaton when Franklin (being a newspaper editor himself, Ben had a knack for this) finally gets a rise out of him, and Jefferson says, still in that cold-fish voice, “Every single word was precisely chosen. I assure you of that, Dr. Franklin.” To which Franklin, unfazed, essentially says yeah, that may be the case, but you don’t get the final word; we’ve got to get this thing through Congress.

Adams was (in an unaccustomed role for him) cheerleading the document, while Franklin was determined to edit it. Normally, I’m an Adams fan, but in this case, it’s Ben I identified with. You can’t let writers get an exaggerated sense of their own importance. What do they think they are, editors?

Anyway, this is my belated Independence Day post…

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The NYT makes a mistake, and Bryan and I have a spirited discussion about it

I had a dental appointment at 8 this morning, which meant I arrived there uncaffeinated, intending to eat afterward.

To keep from dozing off while the dentist and hygienist were out of the room, I looked at Twitter, and saw this from Bryan:

And I’m like, say what? Has @realdonaldtrump taken over Bryan’s feed? I glanced quickly over the link provided, but couldn’t tell what he was trying to convey by the time people came back into the room and made me open my mouth again.

When I got into my car to leave, I saw I had a couple of direct messages from Bryan, to this effect:

I hope Palin sues the hell out of the NYT.

and:

I mean, if you want “fake news” it’s right there.

Huh? I replied,

You have the advantage of me, sir. As the foremast jacks would say, what are you on about?

I then drove downtown to get some breakfast. And coffee. When I got there, I found the following messages:

The NYT “Editorial Board” wrote a piece about the Scalise shooting. They specifically blame Palin for Loughner shooting Giffords. Explicitly.b3f68215788bf24bfc7cc42223023a42_400x400

However, it has been specifically, demonstrably proven that Loughner had no idea about Palin, AND THAT WAS IN THE NYT back in 2011.

So the accusation in today’s editorial is demonstrably false according to the NYT itself.

Which, to my legal mind, is evidence of actual malice and enough to support a libel claim.

Do Editorial Boards not run things by lawyers on a regular basis? I can’t imagine any lawyer would have let them make this claim in today’s editorial.

… which was lot to take in during one’s first cup. I replied:

Well, I haven’t seen the reference, but obviously, no one intended to make a false claim. No one knew that they were doing so. They would have zero motivation for doing that. And when you don’t know something you’re referring to is problematic, why on earth would you consult a lawyer?

From Bryan:

Just saying, this editorial is completely counterproductive to having both sides come together, not to mention utterly wrong.

And it was exactly what I predicted and exactly why I hoped the shooter wasn’t left-wing.

It’s another example of why lots of folks don’t trust big news outlets.

You can’t be “the paper of record” and get something factually wrong six year later.

Me:

Well, there are two things going on here. There’s the point the NYT is making, and there’s the error that was made in a reference to a different case. Critics see a connection between the two. I don’t.

“You can’t be ‘the paper of record’ and get something factually wrong six year later.” Of COURSE you can. Let’s suppose for a moment the NYT is the best paper in the world, as it believes it is. It would still make errors, regularly. You seem to be assuming omniscience on he part of the editors, and therefor not only intent, but malicious intent. You show me a long profile about this Loughner guy, and I’m taking your word that somewhere down in it, there’s something that negates the reference in that editorial. Then, you seem to assume that everyone who works at the Times, being omniscient, HAD to know that that fact existed, buried in a profile that appeared in the paper SIX YEARS AGO. Do you not see how unlikely your assumptions are?

Bryan:

It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.

Me:

“It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.” That’s 100 percent true. But I fail to see what that assertion has to do with the present case.

Bryan:

I assume the Editors of the NYT are informed about important things reported in their own newspaper. This wasn’t an obscure event.

I don’t think you have to be omniscient to know there was zero evidence linking Loughner to Palin.

Me:

I think our disconnect arises from the differences in our experiences. An attorney has months, sometimes years, to pursue and research anything and everything that might bear upon the case he’s presenting. Try going from concept to publication in half an hour.

Bryan:

Maybe. Might not be the best defense in court, though.

 Me:

The fact that Gifford got shot was not an obscure event. The footnote you refer to most certainly was. I couldn’t have told you the guy’s name was Loughner…

 “Might not be the best defense in court, though.” Actually, it is. Without intent — and if you think about this, you HAVE to see no one would make such a mistake intentionally (and I’m still taking your word that it’s a mistake, since Google isn’t helping me find independent evidence outside of Breitbart et al.) — you can’t have malice.

I then drove to work. By the time I got here, Bryan had written:

I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me, but I think it’s certainly enough to get to a jury and survive a summary judgment motion. If Pailin asked me, I would take the case.

Could be some prize money in it.

And as long as I didn’t have former editorial page editors on my jury, I’d feel pretty good about my chances.

Oh, and related: This editorial is how you get more Trump. If you are someone who is anti-Trump, you should discourage this sort of erroneous editorial. It’s going to make it easy for him to run against the NYT et al. when they continue to make it easy for him to do so with editorials like this.

I’m against this editorial for that reason (it enables Trump), for the reason that it breeds distrust and reinforces existing distrust, and breeds contempt between opposing viewpoints. Literally no good comes from this awful piece.

As you can see, the NYT has now issued a correction, completely retracting their false claim – so you can stop taking my word for it that it was an incorrect claim.

Oh, it it fits into my previous point (a few weeks ago) about the “fake news” being this paradigm: (1) false story trumpeted out from large media source and then repeated by lots of other sources; (2) it’s proven to be factually wrong; (3) retraction/correction is made, but it doesn’t get the same fanfare the original wrong statement did; (4) general public never remembers the correction.

Ok. I’m off my soapbox. I’ll be getting back to some actual legal work now. Cheers.

Now that I was at the office and on my laptop (making typing less laborious), I concluded:

“I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me…” It certainly would if a single person who had a clue about the newspaper business was on the jury. Because the expectation that the editors HAD to know about that point of fact buried in a profile six years ago is one of the wildest things I’ve heard this week.

Bryan, I want to drop this, but every time I get back to Twitter I see multiple assertions I have to address… “This editorial is how you get more Trump.” Yeah, and it would be a bad idea to intentionally publish editorials that contain errors — except no one would be crazy enough to do that! Can’t you see the fundamental flaw in making that point?

As for your complaint about the corrections process, another thing that could only come from a non-journalist (seriously, what is your practical suggestion for an alternative), please examine your words: “false story trumpeted out from large media source.” What “false story?” “Trumpeted how?” One would think that “trumpeting” would at least, at LEAST entail a headline, and to in any way match your indignation here, the headline would have to be large, and would have to say, “Sarah Palin goes around encouraging mass killers.” Instead, this involved an erroneous assertion of fact that was NOT the point of the piece. And your evidence that it was malicious is that there was, once upon a time (six freaking years ago!) there was a lengthy news story that also, deep down, contained something that refuted that fact — as assertion of fact that, just like the current instance, was not the main point being made, or even close to it! It would be outrageous to expect every editor at a paper to remember every HEADLINE that had appeared in the paper in the past six years, much less every single assertion of fact that could be found in every single story!

You know, there’d be a lot fewer arguments like this if, as part of everyone’s civic education, everybody in the country were required to work at a newspaper for a month. It would stop arguments like this before they start…

Of course, my solution is impractical, because to fully get what I’m saying, you’d have to be a senior editor for that month — and you can’t be that without years of experience, experience that would necessarily make the month unnecessary. Here’s the bottom line: To an editor worth his salt, every error is intolerable, and inexcusable, and must never happen again. But of course, it will. And all you can do is correct it. Used to be, you had a whole day to sort things out and make the correction. Now, if you haven’t completely refuted yourself within a couple of hours, the world has a coronary…

Folks, I don’t care what you think of The New York Times, but I’m here to tell you, it is a credible institution — about as credible as you’re likely to find in this sin-stained world.

And its editors — like every editor I’ve ever known or worked with — would rather get a hard punch in the face than make a mistake like that. It’s excruciatingly painful. Any editor I know spends his or her days and sleepless nights worrying about errors like that, and doing everything he or she can to avoid it.

Think for a moment: What in the world do you think would be an editor’s motivation to screw up like that intentionally? I can’t imagine, but maybe you’ll come up with a reason that will surprise me.

Whatever else you come away from this discussion with, I hope you absorb that one point…

One of the toughest questions in journalism (or advertising)

The split-second in question.

The split-second in question.

This intrigued me, because it poses one of the toughest questions I used to deal with as an editor:

In a self-congratulatory ad marking his first 100 days in office, President Trump labels major television networks “fake news.” So CNN is refusing to sell the president airtime to show the commercial.

“CNN requested that the advertiser remove the false graphic that the mainstream media is ‘fake news,’” the cable channel said in a statement. “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false and per policy will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.”…

I’ve been there. But as an editor, rather than as a gatekeeper for ads.

As editorial page editor, a substantial portion of the space I was in charge of was devoted to copy generated by people who didn’t work for me — op-eds, and letters to the editor. We always had a lot of copy to choose from in filling that limited space, and we gave priority to fresh views, and particularly those that disagreed with something we had said.

If we had just criticized someone editorially, and that person asked for some of our space to respond, that response went to the front of the line.

But sometimes, there was a problem. Sometimes in answering us, the writer said things that weren’t true. And we weren’t going to let our limited space be used to say things that weren’t true.

We especially weren’t going to let people use our space to mischaracterize what we had said. We went to a lot of trouble to shape the positions we presented to readers and we agonized over exactly how to present them — we weren’t about to let people claim we’d said something we hadn’t said, and give the lie credence by publishing it on our pages. We wouldn’t let a writer say, “They called me a big, fat idiot” when we had not even implied that the gentleman was big, fat, or any kind of idiot.

Trouble is, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you write X and someone reads Y, no matter how hard you worked to make your point clear. Still, we weren’t going to let people waste our space arguing with Y when no one had said or even suggested Y. Which quite often they wanted to do.

This led to some pretty intense discussions with the writers, and on occasion to an impasse in which the writer withdrew the piece and went around telling anyone who would listen that those jerks at The State refused to publish a dissenting opinion.

Which of course was another lie. We very much wanted alternative, and especially dissenting, opinions. We just weren’t going to allow alternative facts.

Argue all you want with what we said. But don’t waste everyone’s time (and more to the point, our valuable space) arguing with what we did not say.

Not that facts and opinions are always easy to separate. We had some pretty intense arguments among us editors over that. I’d be reading a proof, and stride into the office of the editor who had allowed the piece onto the page and say, “He can’t say this; it’s not true.” And my colleague would say, “It’s an opinion, not an assertion of fact.” And we’d go ’round and ’round, and I’d generally err on the side of letting the reader have his say. And the next day kick myself when another reader would point out that something false had been said on my page, and that we had a sacred duty not to allow that. And I’d be like, Yeah, but he really thinks it’s true, and he and a lot of other people act and vote on that assumption, and if I’m going to educate all readers as to how such people think so that we can all understand each other, they need to be able to present their arguments… And sometimes I’d convince myself, and sometimes not.

Anyway, these kinds of questions are not easy. Telling truth, and making sure what others say on your medium is true, isn’t easy…

Hear Joel Sartore and Photo Ark tonight at Harbison Theater

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I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented people over the course of my career, and no one fits that description better than Joel Sartore.

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Joel Sartore

Joel was a photographer at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon back when I was news editor there, and I knew he was something special then. Part of my job involved deciding what went on the front page, and I had the privilege of using his work a lot. The times I spent with him at the light table peering at negatives through magnifying glasses and discussing them persuaded me that here was an all-around fine journalist, far more than just another shooter.

And he had an incredible eye for exactly the right shot. I’ll post a couple of prints he gave me back in the day when I’m at home. Amazing stuff.

Well, he’s not in Kansas anymore. Not long after my stint in Wichita, Joel started working for National Geographic, and he’s been with them ever since.

Lately, he’s been working on a monumental project called the Photo Ark, which The State described thusly in their story about his appearance in our community tonight:

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is trying to save the planet with his camera….

The project is called Photo Ark, and his goal is to take studio photographs of the roughly 12,000 species in captivity.

“My job, my passion, or what I’m trying to explore and share is the fact that we are throwing away the ark,” Sartore said, adding that he wants “to document as many of the world’s captive species as I can before I die.”

In the past 11 years, he has photographed about 6,500 of these animals. He estimates it will take another 15 years or so to photograph the rest….

So, you know, a herculean task. But Joel’s up to it, I assure you.

He’ll be talking about his work tonight at 7:30 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College.

I hope to see you there…

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If only Spicer were as much fun as the SNL skits

Editor’s note: I wrote most of this early in the week, and never quite finished or posted it. So it may seem a bit dated, but here you go:

I saw the second Sean Spicer skit on SNL over the weekend, and it was funny. But I found myself wondering, OK, I get why they did this gag once. Spicer was way over the top in that first performance on Saturday, Jan. 21. It was a bizarre situation, with Trump sending him out with specific orders to go on the attack with a bunch of silly, obvious lies. But is he still like that? Hasn’t he calmed down?

In other words, is this not overkill? Is the joke still relevant?

Well, how would I know? I work. How would I know what the daily press briefings are like? I’m not one of these people who does nothing but watch cable TV all day (or ever, these days).

So I went back and watched one. And I saw the problem.

If only the actuality was like what Melissa McCarthy was doing. That might be fun to watch. The real thing is not. It’s painful.

Here’s what it’s really like:

… Q    Earlier this week.  You say the — this is in context of Nordstrom and not about what she was counseled about, but about something she said to CNN earlier this week, is that the President doesn’t comment on everything.  And so I want to contrast the President’s repeated statements about Nordstrom with the lack of comments about some other things, including, for example, the attack on a Quebec mosque and other similar environments.  Why is the President — when he chooses to —

MR. SPICER:  Do you — hold on — because you just brought that up.  I literally stand at this podium and opened a briefing a couple days ago about the President expressing his condolences.  I literally opened the briefing about it.  So for you to sit there and say —

Q    I was here.

MR. SPICER:  I know.  So why are you asking why he didn’t do it when I literally stood here and did it?

Q    The President’s statement —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t understand what you’re asking.

Q    Kellyanne’s comments were about that the President doesn’t have time to tweet about everything.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s tweeting about this.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s not tweeting about something else.

MR. SPICER:  I came out here and actually spoke about it and said the President spoke —

Q    I’m talking about the President’s time.

MR. SPICER:  What are you — you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet?  I don’t — that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

Q    I’m talking about an attack on Nordstrom on —

MR. SPICER:  Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next.

Q    — and an attack on people, and you’re equating —

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  You’ve asked your question.  Thank you.

Q    Does that not diminish the language that you’re using?

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Go ahead [to another reporter]…

spicer

It’s not exciting; it’s not funny like throwing a big wad of half-chewed gum across the room, but the very unfunny alienation comes across. So is the fact that there is little communication going on.

The bits where he dismisses reporters with undisguised irritation (“Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next…”) are very uncomfortable to watch. Although maybe the weirdness of the interactions is not as noticeable unless you’ve been  journalist. And of course, if you’re a Trump supporter, this undercurrent of hostility and alienation is just what you want to see. You don’t want to see a professional interaction. You want to see someone giving journalists a hard time.

But if you’re someone who cares about having functional politics, it’s distressing. Government can’t work this way. Trump may think he’s the Tweeter of the world, but bottom line, most people are going to get most of their information about this administration, directly or indirectly, from the people in that room. It helps everybody to have a smooth dialogue going.

And I invite Trumpistas and others who take a dim view of the press to note that the demeanor of the reporters asking questions does not match the stereotype of the howling mob — and is generally more respectful of Spicer than he is of them.

Television has created a misleading impression. A reporter spends a long, frustrating day trying to get a certain question answered. Maybe a lot of that day has has involved trying to get various people on a cell phone while standing in a mob of other frustrated media types. Then, suddenly, the person who can answer the question — possibly the only person on the planet who can answer it — gets out of a car in front of the reporters and walks in into a building, which means you have maybe three or four seconds to get your question answered, and you know that odds are against your even being heard. So yeah, you very urgently and insistently call out your question, desperately trying to be heard over the rest of the gaggle.

And those two seconds when you’re calling out the question, and your competitors are calling out theirs, is all that people who only get their news from television (which they shouldn’t) will see of you trying, against the odds, to do your job.

I’ve had thousands of interactions with newsmakers over the years, and can count on two hands the number of times things got unruly. (Of course, most of that time I was an editor, not a reporter.)

But all that aside — for all my interactions, I’ve only attended a White House press briefing once. But it was at a pretty tense time for the press secretary. It was in 1998. I had gone to Washington to talk to Strom Thurmond in person and try to get an impression of his mental state, since he was declining to meet with our board in that election year. (Yeah, newspapers had money to do stuff like that then.)  And since a South Carolinian, Mike McCurry, was Clinton’s press secretary, I arranged to go by and interview him for a column. The interview was set for after the daily briefing.

On my way in from the airport, I had noted a bunch of TV news trucks outside a federal courthouse, and my cab driver — who was probably from one of those countries Trump would rather people not come from — simply explained in a heavy accent, “Monica Lewinsky.”

The scandal was at its height. And the White House press corps was in no mood for having their questions deflected. There were moments that would fulfill the stereotype of the howling mob, if one didn’t know what was at stake. At one point, the lady next to me jumped up, practically climbing over the seat in front of her, to roar, “Aw. COME ONNN, Mike!” Everyone else around me was doing something similar, but I remember her in particular.

For his part, McCurry smiled disarmingly — sort of a specialty of his — and braved his way through a session in which some of his answers were less than entirely satisfactory. Hence the yelling.

Mike McCurry

Mike McCurry

But before and after the yelling, there was a cordiality and a congeniality that stood in marked contrast to what seemed to run through that Spicer briefing on Feb. 9. At the start of the briefing there was a little ceremony for a member of McCurry’s staff who was leaving for a different job, and the reporters all applauded politely and congratulations were offered. There was real friendliness.

Republicans and other media detractors will say, “Of course it was congenial; it was a room full of liberals.”

But no — the atmosphere in that room (except during the outbreaks of yelling) was more typical of normal interactions between the media and their subjects regardless of party. Normally, there is a mutual recognition of each others’ humanity. A topic I’ve written about quite a few times.

You’ll note that even when the aggressive young woman next to me seemed like she wanted to put her hands around McCurry’s throat and throttle the truth out of him, she still called him “Mike.” Which is normal.

Whereas the interactions between Spicer and the press are not quite normal. And the weirdness seems mostly to be on his side. Of course, if I had his job, trying to sell the world on Trump’s version of events, y’all might find me acting pretty weird, too.

In the end, it’s not funny. And it’s not healthy, either…

Announcing Caskey & Imgrund, LLC

Everyone wish Bryan joy upon the announcement of his new enterprise:

Caskey & Imgrund

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Bryan, I want to congratulate you on your new business and I’m sure you’ll do very well and good luck to you. Especially since your interests don’t conflict with mine. Thank you.

Oh, and next time (and please tell all your lawyer friends this), please send a Word file instead of a PDF, so I can copy and paste the info rather than having to post a picture of it…