WELCOME to the debut of “The Truth Is!”, a blog of reporting and commentary that aims to be informative, thoughtful and provocative. At least initially, the blog will have a strong heartland flavor by virtue of the connection of a number of us to Cowles family journalism. I am former editor of the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages. Another contributor, Michael Gartner, is former editor of the paper; he later served as president of NBC News. Another former Register editor who has agreed to contribute, Geneva Overholser, is director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school of journalism. Followers of the blog will have access also to the work of Herbert Strentz of Des Moines, a close Register and other newspaper watcher who once headed Drake University’s journalism school. Bill Leonard, a longtime Register editorial writer, will add insights.

“The Truth Is!” will be supervised by my daughter, Marcia Wolff, a communications lawyer for 20 years with Arnold and Porter (Washington, D.C.). Invaluable technical assistance in assembling and maintaining the blog is provided by my grandsons Julian Cranberg, a college first-year, and Daniel Wolff, a high school senior.

If you detect a whiff of nepotism in this operation, so be it. All of it is strictly a labor of love. —Gil Cranberg

Thursday, January 31, 2013


The latest numbers show a slowdown in economic activity. As the New York Times phrased the news, “The federal government helped bring the economic recovery to a virtual halt late last year as cuts in military spending and other factors overwhelmed the Federal Reserve’s expanded campaign to stimulate growth.”

Note the phrase “military spending,” which the Times used throughout its story, except when it quoted a source who talked about “defense spending.” The Times is on the right track in disfavoring “defense.” The term subtly, but unmistakably, injects bias into an account. Who can object to defense of the country? Every synonym for the word gives it a favorable connotation.

But the U.S. invasions of Grenada and Iraq assuredly were not acts of defense. Both were acts of aggression, and to cover the spending for both with the mantle of defense is to debase the language.

The press needs to rid itself of the words “defense spending” if only for accuracy’s sake. “Military spending” is a perfectly adequate substitute. Aside from being accurate, it is neutral, without favorable or unfavorable connotations.

Bad habits are hard to break, and liberals as well as conservatives have gotten into the “defense spending“  habit. The other night liberal-leaning Rachel Maddow repeatedly referred to “defense spending” in commenting on the same economic news where the Times shunned the term.

Words matter. Precision in the use of them matters especially. The sooner the press junks “defense spending” when it means to say “military spending” the better off it and the public will be.

The late newspaper columnist Sydney Harris had a feature he called Antics With Semantics. I don’t recall if he ever cited the military-defense bit, but he would have hugely enjoyed recounting how the advocates of a big military sold the country on it by repackaging it as defense.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s decision to not seek another term will deprive the U.S. Senate of a reliable liberal vote. Much depends, of course, on who replaces him.

Until now, Iowa Democrats and Republicans have followed a live-and-let-live policy. Republican Charles Grassley and Harkin have filled the state’s Senate seats without much fuss. It’s as though the parties have tacitly agreed to leave the status quo intact by not making serious efforts to dislodge either incumbent. Whether intentional or serendipitous, the division of the state’s Senate representation has served Iowa well. Grassley and Harkin piled up seniority with each election and earned the state influence it could not have hoped for otherwise.

Grassley is conservative, but not obnoxiously so. Harkin’s liberalism is of the low-key sort. The pair makes kind of an odd Senate couple. The Iowa equilibrium could undergo a drastic change, however, if the right-wing firebrand, Steve King, decides to run for Harkin’s seat. A six-term member of the House, King enjoys making outrageous remarks. The larger audience a Senate seat could offer just might appeal to him.

My own personal favorite to succeed Harkin is Tom Vilsack, President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture. I have no idea whether he would be interested, but he did a fine job as a two-term governor of Iowa and I am confident he would perform well in the Senate. Besides, he is a former next-door Des Moines neighbor of mine.

Iowa politics are in flux. A formerly moderate Republican party has been taken over by rabid right-wing reactionaries who just might regard Tom Harkin’s seat as a prize. If they go all-out to capture it, look for blood over Iowa’s once-lovely landscape.

Monday, January 28, 2013


A January 26 New York Times editorial ("A Court Upholds Republican Chicanery: Using phony Senate sessions, lawmakers tried to keep two federal agencies from operating") sharply criticized a federal appeals court ruling that throws into disarray President Obama’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The recess appointments invalidated by the three-judge court were an attempt by the Obama administration to avoid roadblocks erected by Republican critics of the agencies.

The editorial did not identify the judges. Readers had to plow through nearly to the end of a lengthy Times story about the ruling to learn the name of one of the judges, David B. Sentelle.
The Times did its readers no service by withholding information about the judges who severely clipped the power of the president to fill vacancies. The headline’s use of the term “Republican chicanery” all but invited readers to wonder if the ruling had a political aroma. The Times story stoked that suspicion when it reported that the three judges were “all appointed by Republicans.” Indeed, in 1994 Sentelle figured prominently in the appointment of Kenneth Starr to replace the more moderate Robert Fiske as independent counsel to investigate President Clinton. Starr hounded Clinton through much of his second term.
When judges hide behind their robes to make arguably political decisions, the press should so inform readers. At the very least, the judges who participate in court rulings should be identified. The identification should include tendencies toward partisanship. I shouldn’t have had to dig up Sentelle’s role in harassing a Democratic president; the Times should have done that.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did less well than expected in the January 22 Israeli national election, so he is counted as a loser. Also losing was someone who didn’t even run, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker.

Remnick spent 11 pages of the January 21 issue of his magazine expounding confidently on the chances of Naftali Bennett, a right- wing candidate with ties to the settler movement. Remnick called Bennett and his party, Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), the “central story of this political moment” and reported that “many expect a third-place finish behind Labor, which would be a remarkable achievement; second place is not inconceivable.”
Remnick’s crystal ball was somewhat cloudy. Instead of Bennett being the central story, someone whose name was barely mentioned in the New Yorker piece, Yair Lapid, was. He finished second in the vote and his party, Yesh Atid, became the second largest faction in parliament.
Bennett? His party improved from three seats in the last parliament to 12 seats now, an impressive gain, but not what Remnick’s New Yorker readers were led to expect.
Prophesy is risky business, but for journalists it is irresistible. A good deal of what passes for journalism is not about what actually happened, but what will or is likely to happen. Remnick would be hailed today as genius, or at least as a seer, if he had fastened on Lapid instead of Bennett as the centerpiece for his article. Better luck next time.
Foretelling the future has been a pastime through the ages.  Monarchs had such faith in the predictive powers of soothsayers that no respectable court was without a contingent of the occult to keep their bosses abreast of things. Nowadays, psychics still do a brisk business.
No journalist would dare consult entrails as part of research for a story, but it’s commonplace for journalists to rely on “analysts” to inform them. David Remnick’s foray into fortune telling did not turn out too well, but don’t expect the press to give up entirely on the reading of tea leaves.
I once did an analysis of newspaper content and found that much –too much, in my view – was not fact-based but was speculation about possible or likely outcomes. Pollsters I know emphasize that they are not in the predicting business. Rather, they say, they are presenting a snapshot of events at a particular time.

Journalists are in that business, too. Too bad that they don’t always stick to business.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


A recent NBC News Poll listed ending the war in Iraq as Barack Obama’s signal first-term achievement. It’s safe to assume that the public also would rank the war as the low point of his predecessor’s time in office.

But let’s not dump on Bush alone for the war. There is plenty of blame to share. In fact, Bush is in highly distinguished company. Leading public figures, on both sides of the political aisle, lent their names to the war. Even when the Bush administration insisted on financing the war by credit card, there was no diminution of the gung-ho spirit for war against a far-away country that had not been hostile to us.

Only a single news organization, the Washington bureau of the relatively small Knight-Ridder chain, consistently raised questions about the administration’s case for war. Even some papers in the chain declined to run some of the bureau’s critical dispatches.

All in all, a dispiriting picture. And if there are lessons to be drawn, they almost certainly will not be, because the press has stuck its head in the sand and declined systematic examination of how it botched coverage of the government’s dishonest campaign for an unnecessary war.

I once suggested that an independent and thorough inquiry be made by a team of social scientists to examine how the press could have gotten it so wrong. (http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00261).

The suggestion went nowhere, but it is still worth pursuing, especially when memories of the decision-making are relatively fresh. The least we can gain from a costly and unwarranted war is insight into how to prevent a repetition.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Note:  Michael Gartner delivered these remarks at the recent memorial service for longtime Des Moines Register arts critic Joan Bunke.  Gilbert Cranberg's post "All-Purpose Gem in Des Moines" ,  elsewhere in this blog, tells more about Bunke.

Joan Bunke saved The Des Moines Register.

She never turned in for overtime.

I mean, when WASN’T she working?

During the days, when she was navigating through that mess and maze that was her office?

During the evenings, when she was at a movie or a play or an opera or a museum?

During the nights, when she was home reading and reading and reading?

She probably worked 80 hours a week.

One month of overtime would have sunk the newspaper.

I nominated her for a Pulitzer Prize several times. I called the Pulitzer Prize Board last week to see if they save nomination letters. They don’t, and neither did I. But as I recall, one letter nominated her for the Pulitzer for criticism. I gave the board its choice:

For art.

For movies.

For books.

For music.

For theater.

She deserved five. Every year.

I figure during the 10 years we worked together she wrote more than two million words for the paper.

It would have been more, of course, but she was sparing in her use of adjectives.

In print and in person, she was kind and gentle.

But in print and in person, you knew where she stood.

She always reminded me of Julia Child -- a big and hearty woman who would produce something exquisite out of a total mess. Indeed, Bunke’s office and Child’s kitchen looked a lot alike.

She loved E. B. White and “Charlotte’s Web.” Do you remember the last three sentences of the book, when Wilbur the pig was remembering Charlotte? Here they are:

“She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

And, too, of course, was Joan.


I telephoned my local newspaper the other day to complain about its failure to report on the Florida congressional delegation’s reaction to President Obama’s gun-control proposals. Whether it was cause and effect or simply coincidence, a few days later a story appeared on Page One of the local news section under a prominent head, “Buchanan Is Mum on Gun Limits.” The reasonably detailed story that followed related that the 16th congressional district Republican from Sarasota, Vern Buchanan, told a town meeting of constituents he had convened that he would not answer their questions about his position on gun rights because “I am going to wait until a bill comes to us….I think we need to let this play out.”

Fair enough, except that this is hardly an issue of first impression. What should be done about the gun epidemic in the country has been simmering for years. The recent murder in Connecticut of 20 kindergartners simply made it more costly for politicians to duck the issue.

Surely Buchanan ought to know whether it’s necessary, as the president has urged, to impose reasonable limits on high-capacity ammunition clips that make it so simple for any lunatic to commit mass murder.

Perhaps he is playing for time, hoping that the demand for action cools off. If so, he is presenting a profile in cowardice. Waiting and seeing isn’t leadership. It is instead, politics at its worst.

Florida is not the best place in the country to exhibit independence and courage on firearms. After all, it was not long ago that state lawmakers enacted a law, which the governor signed, that threatens physicians with loss of their licenses for “making a written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient, or by a family member….”

Obviously, this is a place hostile to common sense on guns. All the more reason for Vern Buchanan’s constituents to demand an early end to his mum’s- the-word stance on guns.


The recent murder of 20 kindergarteners and six adults at a Connecticut public school was a national tragedy. At one level, the response has been heartening: Congress may yet be moved to enact some gun-control measures. But the response has been entirely too partisan.

The Obama administration turned not to a bipartisan group of lawmakers to fashion a response, but to his own vice president. If the Republican standard-bearer in the last election, Mitt Romney, had anything to say about the administration’s proposals, it eluded Google’s search engine. In the absence of signs that both parties are determined to work together to prevent a repetition of the Connecticut bloodbath, the Obama gun-control initiative may yet be a victim of politics as usual.

That would compound the Newtown tragedy. It would disillusion millions of the nation’s school kids by telling them that, no matter what disaster should befall them, they can’t count on the nation’s politicians for help. For the nation at large, it would be confirmation that the country’s political system is broken beyond repair.

The leadership of both parties needs to step forward and pledge to put partisan advantage on a back burner until the gun-control issue is resolved. This is no time for politics uber alles. In fact, the best politics is passage of a law that both parties can boast about and claim ownership of.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gilbert Cranberg: A TIME FOR REASON

The New York Times reported recently that the administration had concluded that restrictions on military-style assault weapons “will be exceedingly difficult” to pass through Congress, raising the spectre that an assault weapons ban would not be pursued. However, an assault weapons ban was included in the package of gun control proposals made to Congress. That means that members of Congress will have to go on the record in any up or down vote on the issue.

The newspaper where I live in Florida provides pretty good coverage of the local scene. But I have not seen how the area’s representative in Congress stands on the gun control measures likely to come to a vote soon. Unless the paper puts the congressman on the record promptly, there won’t be time for constituents to influence him.

All of which points up the critical role the press plays in the upcoming decisions on guns in our society. The press needs to cover the issue aggressively. If senators and representatives are evasive, their evasions should be front-page news. Where they stand on the various proposals should be covered fairly, responsibly and in depth.

Nor should the press be bashful about expressing its own views. Newspapers do not run for office. They can afford to antagonize and offend. When an issue is as emotional as gun ownership is, the best antidote is reasoned argument.

The recent mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut was irrationality at its worst. The finest and most fitting memorial both the press and Congress can contribute would be dignified debate about how to respond to the gun violence in our midst.


For the most part, editors operate behind the scenes. They work in anonymity, seldom receiving credit. A recent New York Times obituary of Harvey Shapiro, a poet and former Times editor, recounts that it was Shapiro who was indirectly responsible for "Letter from Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King. Shapiro suggested to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that Dr. King write a piece the next time he was jailed, as he was frequently in those days. As the Times obituary noted, King's resulting letter, written on pieces of toilet paper and margins of newspapers and smuggled out by aides, "endures as one of the canonical texts of the civil rights movement," but Shapiro was unable to persuade his bosses at the Times to publish it. Thus, it did not appear in the Times, but as fame of the letter spread, Shapiro did have the ultimate satisfaction of knowing that he had made the right call. As the country marks Martin Luther King Day, we provide a link here to Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html .


Gene Patterson's death Saturday evening http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/14/us/eugene-c-patterson-editor-and-civil-rights-crusader-dies-at-89.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 leaves a hole in journalism, and a hole in my heart. He was a giant of a civil rights-era editor, whose column after the Birmingham bombing won a Pulitzer Prize and was read live on TV news by Walter Cronkite. (Read the column here: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/gene-patterson-a-flower-for-the-graves/nTt8Q/ ).

I went to see Gene in late November, having heard he was in hospice care. Few I know in our field have thought more lucidly about journalism. What's more, I was confident that, even at age 89, he would be ready to grapple with the future (something I'm attempting to do myself, for a research project). When I arrived at his St. Petersburg, Florida, home, Gene, as always, was fully prepared. He had written up his thoughts in detail. (You can read them here, at the Poynter Institute site http://www.ajc.com/news/news/gene-patterson-a-flower-for-the-graves/nTt8Q/ ).

When, after my visit, I heard about the tragedy in Newtown, I thought immediately of Gene's column after Birmingham. He knew at that moment, he said, that it was an occasion on which even the most hardened souls would at long last be open to the need for change. "Nobody can stomach the idea of little girls being killed in Sunday school," he told me. Surely, I thought in turnm nobody could stand the notion of 20 little children being shot in their classrooms. So I wrote a piece called "Could Newtown Be for Gun Control What Birmingham Was for Civil Rights?" http://mije.org/could-newtown-be-gun-control-what-birmingham-was-civil-rights That's the kind of effect a conversation with Gene would have on you.

Last Thursday, I went back to St. Pete to see Gene. He was still as lucid as could be: Names, dates, full quotations -- they rolled off his tongue. He was full of laughter, of stinging critiques, of warm flattery. But, this time, unlike in November, he was ready to go. “Don't worry”, he told me, “I'll get back to you from the other side. But I won't be around much longer now.” As usual, he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Some court cases have become so embedded in the public’s consciousness that you know immediately from the title what the issue is. Thus, almost everyone identifies Roe v. Wade with abortion. Increasingly, so, too, has “Citizens United” become shorthand for free speech rights of corporations and unions as well as the role of money in politics.

A recent book also could make “Citizens United” synonymous with a Supreme Court ruling that is grievously mistaken. The book, “Too Much Free Speech?” (University of Illinois Press), is by Randall P. Bezanson, a First Amendment scholar at the University of Iowa law school.

Here is Bezanson’s unsparing take on the high court’s 5-4 majority opinion: “… there is good reason to find it logically wanting, historically and textually arid, given to grand and broad statements of law and ultimately dissatisfying. The Court’s opinion never really gets to the substance of the corporate speech issue, instead escaping the need to grapple with text and history and theory by what proved to be a weak and unconvincing expedient of claiming that the decision had already been made in many Supreme Court decisions….With all respect, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Bezanson is not given to overstatement. I know him and his work well, having coauthored two books and several articles with him. He is a careful and painstaking scholar who knows the Supreme Court from the inside, having clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun. If Bezanson denounces the high court ruling in Citizens United as shoddy, as he essentially does, the critique has to be taken seriously.

He could have sensationalized his attack on the ruling by denouncing its reliance on a law student’s work. At one point, the high court’s opinion in Citizens United cited a student’s law review article as support for a particular point. Bezanson noted the reference but didn’t make much of a deal about it. In fact, he praised the student’s effort as “a quite nicely argued piece of scholarship.”

The same can be said for Randall Bezanson’s important book.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


For more than 125 years, universities have been giving “sabbatical leave” to teachers. The goals are to help the teachers become better teachers, to add to the luster of the institution, to further research into areas of keen concern to the public, and to produce broader and better-educated graduates.

Usually, the universities give a teacher full pay for taking off one semester. In Iowa, proposed sabbaticals for teachers at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa must be approved annually by the state Board of Regents. No one can recall the board ever rejecting a request, though the universities themselves turn down some requests before they reach the Board of Regents.

Since virtually all of the universities’ operating funds come from state appropriations or from tuition paid by students or their parents, the sabbaticals really are paid leaves subsidized by the state or the students. Yet few people outside academe ever look at the issues being studied. Some of the sabbaticals are for important study in the physical sciences, research that helps lead to innovations that help explain the world and help students explore that world.

But some seem less urgent. Here’s a batch of the latest approved paid leaves:  

Corey Creekmur, an associate professor of English at the University of Iowa (fiscal 2012 salary: $79,300) will complete his book on “the first full-length study of the representation of the British Raj in popular Indian cinema.”        

Armando Duarte, a professor of dance ($71,500), will “write a book on the choreographic aspects of the renowned and culturally important samba processions of Brazil.”          

Michael Moore, an associate professor of history ($70,200) is writing a book that “explores the gruesome posthumous trial of Pope Formosus in 897.”          

Roland Racevskis, a professor of French and Italian ($92,500), “will prepare a book manuscript on a largely unexplored topic, the significance of material environments for the human experience in works of seventeenth-century French literature. The focus throughout the book is on the urgent question of humanity’s relationship to the nonhuman world....”          

Carol Severino, a professor of rhetoric ($100,744), “will pursue second language writing research,” in which she will “identify and classify word choice errors and their sources in drafts submitted by Chinese students whom she will also interview.” She will also “write a follow-up travel essay to two previous pieces about her encounters with Quichua people and language in Ecuador, focusing on communication failure from word-choice error.”          

Katherine Tachau, professor of history ($105,177) will spend the spring semester completing “the research and writing of a book concerning the interaction of painters and academics in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Paris.”          

Donald Simonson, professor of music ($65,791) at Iowa State University, “will work in several locations during his assignment, including Denmark and Norway, where he will research, write, and compile the Norwegian section of the book, ‘Scandinavian Song: A Guide to Diction and Repertoire.’”          

Maximilian Viatori, associate professor of anthropology ($65,758) at ISU, will travel to Ecuador and Germany, “where he will analyze public discourses of national unification.”

Here are a few from a year ago:

Marybeth C. Stalp is an associate professor of sociology, anthropology and criminology at the University of Northern Iowa -- a university that was going through a financial crisis so severe that the faculty voted “no confidence” in President Ben Allen because he was trying to solve the issue strategically.

Stalp earns $60,000 a year. She spent the spring semester collecting her salary in southern Ireland, conducting “ethnographic research on women’s quilting and knitting efforts.” Quilting is “an important means of autonomy and identity development for midlife women,” the summary of Stalp’s application says, and in her study Stalp said she would focus “on the meaning-making processes in women’s cultural production efforts, examining finished work from the perspective of the maker as well as exploring a more complex definition from within a sociological perspective of what constitutes art.”          

How will this help UNI students and the state in general? “Iowa citizens, and specifically quilters and knitters, can learn about similarities and differences with Irish women.” As for UNI students, “she will infuse her Sociology of Gender and Sociology of Culture classes with this newfound international comparative research, and her Qualitative Methods course will improve with the additional research experiences of this project.”        

Of course.          

Her application also notes that since 2006 “she has given eleven guest quilting lectures to lay audiences.” That’s almost two lectures a year.

Meantime, the University of Iowa’s Scott Schnell, an associate professor of anthropology, said he planned to spend the fall semester in rural Japan studying the “traditional hunters of bear and other animals in the forested mountains of Japan’s interior.” This work will “promote better understanding of Japanese culture,” and “the Japanese case example, whether positive or negative, will inform people’s approaches to similar problems at home in Iowa and will promote interdisciplinarity.” Schnell earns around $70,000 a year.

Professor Schnell’s colleague, Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication Frank Durham, said he would spend the fall semester “analyzing news coverage of partisan news ‘pranks’ by conservative media activists Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe.” The study will ask: “Who controls sourcing, how has the process of cultural meaning production changed, and what does partisanship mean for the news as a site of consensus?” With not a little bit of boasting, Durham says “the study will gain prominence within national professional and scholarly media circles.” Breitbart, incidentally, died the other day. Durham earns around $75,000 a year.

Two years ago, Kimberley Marra, a professor of American Studies at the University of Iowa, was approved for a sabbatical so she could write a chapter of her book, “Fashioning the Thoroughbred Ideal: Show Women and Show Horses on New York Stages, 1865-1930.” This book will be “a cultural study of how human interactions with horses both empowered women and enduringly shaped dominant race, class, gender and sexual ideologies in the period when women entered the sport of riding in large numbers for the first time in the United States.” She will “use this material to enrich her courses in the curriculum of the newly merged units of American Studies and Sport Studies as well as her performance history courses in Theatre Arts.” Marra made $97,240 annually at the time.

Four years ago, the Regents sent University of Iowa associate professor Michael E. Lomax to the Philippines for his sabbatical to study how billiards “has been perceived as an alternate route to upward social mobility among young men” in that country. On his return, according to documents on the Board of Regents Web site, Lomax reported he “examined the Philippine experience in billiards. . . . He conducted an extensive review of the literature on sport and globalization and Philippine history, collected several primary sources on Philippine pool players. . .  He also constructed an analytical framework to conduct oral interviews of Philippine pool players. [Read: talked to some guys.] These activities will promote his research effort to analyze the ways in which the emergence of several Philippine pool players to an elite level contributed significantly to billiards evolving into a global enterprise.” The report does not explain how the study will “contribute to the improvement” of the university, as board policy requires. Lomax at the time made $63,200 a year.

Clearly, these teachers now are better teachers, the institutions now are more lustrous, the public is better informed about these key issues and Iowa's students are broader and better educated because of these sabbaticals.


Michael Moore, the gadfly film maker, has become a big fan of Chuck Hagel, the retired former senator from Nebraska. Hagel is being mentioned as the next Secretary of Defense. Moore likes Hagel because “back in 2007 he went totally crazy and told the truth about our invasion of Iraq.” Moore quoted Hagel as having said, “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We are not there for figs.

Moore barely mentions how Hagel voted on whether to go to war against Iraq. The senator was for the Iraq War Resolution. The resolution was the proverbial blank check for the president “to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” President Bush used the resolution to turn Iraq into a slaughterhouse. To his credit, later, in July 2007, Hagel was one of only three Republican senators who backed Democratic-proposed legislation to require that U.S. troops begin withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days.

The U.S. decision to wage a war of aggression against Iraq was a monumental blunder. To this day, the chief architects of the war, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have not acknowledged responsibility or apologized for misleading the country into an unwarranted war.

Colin Powell, who gave a pro-war speech to the United Nations that was instrumental in swinging U.S. public opinion behind the war, had the decency to admit his mistake. He now refers to his United Nations speech as “infamous.” If Chuck Hagel becomes the next Secretary of Defense, it would be appropriate for him to follow Powell’s lead and make it an early order of business to recant his Iraq War Resolution vote.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The emergence the other day of the Tribune company from bankruptcy took me back to 1999 when I attended, as an observer, the Mid-Year Media Review, a gathering of investors and analysts who follow the communications industry. Media Review meetings are an opportunity for company bigwigs to address trends and developments at their respective businesses.
The gathering was an eye-opener for me because I hadn’t realized what an impressive performer the Tribune was. At the time, it owned newspapers and a flock of broadcast properties in such major markets as Orlando and Baltimore, in addition to its flagship Chicago paper. Soon thereafter it acquired the Los Angeles Times.  The top Tribune executives who made presentations seemed to me to be capable, competent and smart. I concluded, for what it was worth, that the Tribune was a thriving company in good hands poised to do better.
Was I ever mistaken. Enter Sam Zell in 2007, a real-estate investor and self-described “professional opportunist” who bought the company. Also joining the Tribune company, as CEO that year, was Randy Michaels. A recent computer search for Michaels turned up this entry:  “Under Mr. Michaels, The Tribune company was widely reported to have undergone a negative change in atmosphere, with instances of profanity from executives, as well as a controversial private poker party in the Tribune Towers.” In 2010, Michaels was asked by the company’s board of directors to resign. The following year he was picked up for drunken driving.
The fate of Tribune company newspapers and broadcast outlets now is up in the air.  Residents of those communities have a huge stake in the outcome. They cannot simply sit back and allow professional opportunists to do their thing. Newspapers and broadcast outlets are engaged in a public service. The beneficiaries of that service – the public – need to organize and mobilize resources to assure that the public-service mission of the press is regarded as paramount.


January 8 will mark two years since Representative Gabrielle Giffords was grievously injured when she was shot in the head by a deranged gunman in the parking lot of a Tucson area supermarket. Wielding a weapon fed by a high-capacity ammunition clip, the shooter injured 18 others, including a federal judge, who was shot fatally.

It would be nice to report that in the interim, Giffords’s colleagues had done something to prevent future mass shootings. But that would be uncharacteristic of a Congress frightened into submission by gun owners.

Giffords was meeting with constituents when she was attacked. In other words, she was conducting congressional business. That alone is reason for her colleagues in Congress to react.

The horror over Giffords’s shooting has been exceeded by the reaction to the mass murder of kindergartners in Newtown, Connecticut. That atrocity was so extreme Congress may yet be moved to act. In the interim, it should use the anniversary of the Gifford shooting to enact, at the very least, curbs on high-capacity ammunition clips. The clips are accessories to mass murder and have no place in a sane society.

Yes, they are a convenience to target shooters. But the inconvenience of having to reload is a tiny price to pay for getting rid of a device that is a proven menace.

The failure to do anything to curb gun mayhem in the two years since Representative Giffords was maimed is itself irrational. Her assailant probably belongs in a mental institution. It’s ironic that those in a position to prevent more criminally insane acts simply do nothing and hope the public does not hold them accountable.