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

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Health Management Associates, a leading for-profit health-care company, has a great idea for boosting business. The company posts color-coded scorecards near the emergency rooms the outfit operates identifying how well physicians score in admitting patients to the hospital. The object is to admit at least half of the patients over 65. Physicians who hit the target are rewarded with green cards.

I have a better idea: start jailing the for-profit health-care executives who improperly gouge the government. The score cards then would record and tick off, for all to see, each day the guilty executive spends in jail.

The usual penalty for health-care cheating is a fine. That punishes stockholders, not the persons responsible for the cheating, who quite possibly were rewarded with bonuses.

Wikipedia reports that in settlements reached in 2000 and 2002, Columbia/HCA pled guilty to 14 felonies and agreed to a fine of over $600 million in the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history. “Columbia/HCA admitted systematically overcharging the government by claiming marketing costs as reimbursable, by striking illegal deals with home care agencies, and by filing false data about use of hospital space. They also admitted fraudulently billing Medicare and other health programs by inflating the seriousness of diagnoses and to giving doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. They filed false cost reports, fraudulently billing Medicare for home health care workers, and paid kickbacks in the sale of home health agencies and to doctors to refer patients. In addition, they gave doctors ‘loans’ never intending to be repaid, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.”

Some of this surely should have been worth jail time. Instead, the CEO on whose watch most of this occurred left with a fat compensation package that enabled him to run successfully for governor of Florida.

I know a kid who stupidly drove a car for his cousins to rob a convenience store and received a mandatory seven-year prison term. It was his first offense. He should have known better. The white collar types who rob do know better; they know that the chances are slim that they will ever see the inside of a jail cell. If those odds improved, it would not only help even the scales of justice, it would be poetic justice for health care executives who cut corners to fill hospital beds filled prison beds for a change.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gilbert Cranberg: UNCLE SAM, PUSHER

In a few weeks I will have another birthday, no thanks to Uncle Sam, who unwittingly tried to kill me by getting me hooked on tobacco. It happened during my military service in World War II. The government in those days included free cigarettes in rations and put low-cost cartons within easy reach.

Although we were warned against smoking at night in combat, cigarettes were everywhere. Almost all of my buddies smoked, and I almost joined them.

Then I went on a patrol in the Philippines and witnessed a horrifying scene that turned me forever against tobacco. The scene: men in my outfit driven out of their minds by their tobacco craving when their cigarettes ran out.

They were so out of control the lone officer on the patrol had to face them down with a rifle and order them into a line that snaked past the soldier with the last remaining cigarette. Each GI was allowed a single drag on the cigarette. The sight of that line of desperate men getting their fix has stayed with me to this day.

The watchwords in the military were “Never volunteer!” I volunteered for that patrol, and it turned out to be among the best things I ever did. By turning me against smoking, it probably added years to my life.

Nowadays, smoking is on the decline, but an estimted18 percent of adults still smoke. Perhaps they need to experience the frenzy I witnessed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gilbert Cranberg: REVENGE OF THE NERDS

Chris Christie’s lengthy press conference Jan. 9 contained a passage that must have brought back painful memories to anyone who ever attended high school. It was the part where Christie was asked about his ties to David Wildstein, a high school classmate and Christie political appointee who was a central figure in the George Washington Bridge traffic tie-up.

Asked about Wildstein at the press conference, Christie all but said, “David who?” and did his best to distance himself from his appointee . Said Christie, “Well, let me just clear something up. OK, about my childhood friend, David Wildstein . It’s true that I met David Wildstein in 1977 in high school….David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school…. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”

During that period of time Wildstein was crunching numbers as the baseball team’s statistician. In the high school pecking order, few things are lower in status than a statistician, a bespectacled statistician at that. Given the cliquish nature of high school society, it’s likely that a big man on campus like Christie couldn’t possibly have had time for the likes of Wildstein.

Still, he put him on the state payroll and in a position where he could cause grief for the governor. Did he ever! His name is all over e-mails that make it evident that the governor’s office plotted a harebrained political payback against innocent New Jersey commuters by tying them up in traffic. To make matters even more farcical, Wildstein pleaded the Fifth Amendment and is said to be keeping his lip sealed until he is given immunity. That assures long-running embarrassment for the former class president-athlete.

Athletes hold an exalted position in high school culture. They are revered but also resented. It would be interesting to know how many former high school nerds are taking pleasure in watching the jock in the Jersey Statehouse being brought low by one of the class shnooks.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


The lovely history of justice in Iowa is well-documented and often-chronicled. Iowa had its Miss Coger 82 years before the nation had Rosa Parks. Iowa had young Susan Clark 90 years before the nation had Little Rock. The very first case the Iowa Supreme Court decided stopped bounty hunters from spiriting back to Missouri a slave who was buying his freedom on the installment plan -- and ruled that slavery would not exist in Iowa. Then, in 2009, Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled that under the Equal Protection clause of the Iowa Constitution people of the same sex had a constitutional right to marry one another.

That history is something every Iowan should be proud of -- a history that regularly gives life to the state’s great motto, “Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain.”

But every Iowan, too, should be proud of the state’s court system for other reasons as well. Those reasons were brought home last Wednesday when Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual State of the Judiciary speech in the crowded chambers of the House of Representatives in the Capitol, just upstairs from the historic courtroom where the Supreme Court met for more than a century.

Softly, and almost lyrically, Justice Cady talked of compassion for those who find themselves in the court system, of concern for the children caught up in the system -- caught in it by their own misguidance or by the neglect or abuse from their parents -- and of inequality and racial disparity in the system.

He talked of business as well -- about how Iowa within two years will have the first totally paperless court system in the nation, about the supreme court’s travels around the state so that everyone can see the justice system close at hand, about openness and transparency, about experiments with new specialty courts.

But he talked most movingly of justice and fairness and about how Iowa’s courts are working not to sentence young criminals but instead to help young people before they become criminals. He told how “meaningful court intervention guides [delinquent children] towards productive lives as adults” (and, perhaps for the benefit of the Governor, who was sitting behind him, how that saves “taxpayers the cost of paying for future incarceration or treatment of more serious conditions that too often occur without such intervention”).

The “goal of protecting Iowa’s children is within reach,” he said. “We are committed, in every individual case, to break the cycle of juvenile delinquency that leads to broken homes and adult incarceration.”

He talked of his own experience as a young judge 30 years ago, of when he would terminate parental rights and of how he “saw firsthand how addictions can destroy families.” He talked about “the tragic cycle created when destructive conduct by parents is imprinted on children and then repeated when those children become parents.”

The problems are old, he said, but the solutions must be new. Then he talked about the state’s “new and innovative courts” -- drug courts and mental-health courts and family-treatment courts -- and the successes they are having. And he has the statistics to prove it.

“We must give hope to every child,” he said. “Success comes one family, one parent, one child at a time.”

It was a truly remarkable speech by a man who even before he became Chief Justice had left his mark on the court and the state with his eloquence in the Varnum same-sex marriage case, the unanimous decision that reaffirmed the state’s commitment to equality for all and its equal commitment to freedom of worship for all.

That decision showed Chief Justice Cady has a passion for the law. Last week’s speech showed he has a compassion for the people.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been relentless in pursuit of the Chris Christie story. Hardly an evening passes without Maddow pounding on Christie from a fresh angle on how he and his staff inflicted pain on residents of Fort Lee in an apparent payback for the mayor’s refusal to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election as governor.

An angle Maddow has not pursued, nor to my knowledge has anyone in depth, is why documents released by Christie’s office are redacted. (The New York Times has editorialized on the question.)  Blacking out passages usually is done to protect highly sensitive government secrets, so as not to give aid and comfort to an enemy. It’s hard to imagine Christie’s office in possession of that kind of information.

As suspect as the redactions is the clumsy way they were done. Left untouched by the censorship is the highly incriminating statement in an e-mail, “Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee.” There is no way that can be read as anything but a premeditated plan to cause hardship for residents of the community.

Christie has given an expert imitation of being furious at staffers for stupidity and incompetence. The grand prize for both goes to the author of the “time for“ quote and for putting it in an e-mail and leaving it there to be discovered. She has been fired, but she also deserves recognition for honesty.

If Christie wants to truly come clean he will release a redaction-free set of documents, identify who did the redactions and why they were made. That would be unprecedented, but Christie dug himself into an unprecedented hole and made it worse with his antics with redactions.

Friday, January 10, 2014


No need to count the ballots, this year’s award for injured innocence goes by acclamation to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the blame he heaped on his staff in connection with the traffic chaos that endangered lives and inconvenienced thousands in a four-day gridlock deliberately engineered by Christie’s administration. So much contrition is being voiced by Christie that there’s enough left over to apply to next year’s award. And for the year after that.

Christie dug himself into a hole initially by ridiculing and mocking concern for victims of the traffic mess. He thought better of the strategy after callous e-mails by his staff surfaced chortling that it was time for traffic tie-ups in Fort Lee, NJ. Christie’s strategy of distancing himself from the incident by blaming stupidity and incompetence on his staff invites the question: Who put those incompetents on his payroll? You can bet that Christie’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination will be asking variants of that question all the way up to the GOP nominating convention. And if they don’t, the Democrats surely will.

My guess is that Christie’s presidential hopes are doomed, done in as much by the blame-the-staff strategy as anything. Voters dislike incompetence, but they also prize loyalty. By turning so viciously on his staff he is inviting voters to wonder about the character of a person who would save his own political skin at the expense of the little people under him.

As problematic as anything was his gratuitous cruelty to a young woman staffer with whom he said he could no longer bear to be in the same room.

The staffers whose necks are now in a noose mistakenly thought they were doing Christie a favor. It turns out the favor was to voters at large who now know more about Christie than they ever expected.

Thursday, January 9, 2014



From: The Publisher
To: New York Times Editorial Page Staff

Subject: Jan.2 Times editorial, Edward Snowden, whistle-blower--Considering the value of his leaks, he should be offered clemency or a plea bargain

As you know, I do not ordinarily second-guess our editorials. Now and then, I am bothered enough by one of them to want to share my thoughts.

I thought the Snowden editorial was extremely well done. It was deeply reported and gave our readers important background information. The head and subhead accurately summarized the central theme of the piece. Which brings me to the point of this memo: When we say, “Considering the value of his leaks, he should be offered clemency…” we are saying, unmistakably, that the ends justify the means. I am not aware that we have endorsed that proposition so baldly in the past. There are times, perhaps, when the proposition is tenable. I have no doubt that we would have endorsed the assassination of a mass-murdering psychopath like Hitler. Is the case of Snowden in any way comparable? I bring this up solely to suggest that when we endorse, in principle, that the ends justify the means, we should acknowledge to readers, upfront, that is what we are doing and devote some space to explaining what I believe to be a departure from our usual policy.

Please feel free for you and members your staff to discuss this further. Perhaps we can discuss it over lunch, which I will be pleased to host. Let me add that I think you and your staff do a superb job. Best wishes for the New Year.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The folks who publish Guns and Ammo magazine have apologized abjectly for their mistake in running a column suggesting that the Second Amendment is not absolute. The author of the column is getting death threats, and was fired, but how truly penitent is the publication?

I am not aware of any nationwide search for copies of the article so they can be burned and the ashes buried. Nor am I aware of any effort to locate databases with the offending column for them to be expunged.

Readers who happen to be gun enthusiasts are hereby advised to take their blood pressure medication before reading the following words that caused all the commotion: “The fact is all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

If Guns and Ammo is truly contrite, it would banish from its pages all of the words that supported the hateful thought about Second Amendment regulation. Who needs “the” “fact” “is” “all” “rights” “are” “always” “have” “been” “and” “need” “to” “be” anyway? These are mischief words, seemingly innocuous standing alone, but when used in concert with others, can make an ordinarily virile Second Amendment wishy-washy. They deserve to be banished. The moral of the story: When words offend, get rid of them.

It might be awkward editing a magazine with some common words missing. The upside for Guns and Ammo is that when readers encounter blank spaces in place of words, they will be reminded of the magazine’s fealty to their Second Amendment rights.

Beyond that, if Guns and Ammo is really repentant and determined to make amends, it would erase the stain on its reputation by inaugurating a campaign to renumber the Bill of Rights to give the Second Amendment the pre-eminence it deserves. The First Amendment community would object, but the First Amendment has occupied the top spot long enough. It’s time, in fact, long overdue, for the Second Amendment to be venerated by being elevated. Guns and Ammo, go to it!!