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

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I learned from the April 4 New York Times that New Jersey’s largest circulation newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, recently suffered severe newsroom cutbacks.

Here is what I didn’t learn from the Times: How profitable is the Star-Ledger and the chain that owns it?

Nor did the Times report how widespread were the cuts. For example, did they extend to top brass at the company? Did any of the company’s officers suffer a loss in salary or bonuses or was the pain confined to working stiffs in the newsroom?

The Times did not explain the ownership structure of the paper. A Google search discloses that the Newhouse family owns the privately-held publishing company, but the Times did not mention it. Nor did the Times seek comment from any of the Newhouses about the significant cuts at the Star-Ledger, or if it did seek comment, it didn’t say so. What was the reaction of the Newhouses to the evisceration of the newsroom at a significant holding?

All in all, the Times coverage of a major event at a leading newspaper in its own back yard is not what Times readers have come to expect of the paper. What they have come to expect is comprehensive coverage. What they got in this instance was superficial. Here’s hoping it’s no more than an aberration rather than a sign of things to come.

Friday, April 4, 2014


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a terrible week. Fresh from a transparent whitewashing of him by a crew of lawyers of whom he was arguably the client, he flew to Las Vegas and promptly smashed to smithereens his dream of waddling into the White House when in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition he referred to Israel’s occupied territory as “occupied territory.”

A cardinal rule of politics: don’t tell audiences what they don’t want to hear. A roomful of check-writing Jews did not want to hear itself compared to World War II storm-troopers.

In Christie’s defense, he could point out, with some justification, confusion about the nature of the audience. After all, the Venetian Hotel where the speech took place did look Italian. For all he knew, the pilot took a wrong turn and deposited him where it wouldn’t matter much what he said.

To be on the safe side, and to recoup lost ground, Christie should take the advice I offered to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign—namely, get yourself to Israel. There, I suggested, Romney should be circumcised to show his solidarity with the Jewish people. Not only that, he should take his five sons and include them in the deal. It seemed at the time a sure way to win vote-rich New York and Florida. To guarantee a national audience, I suggested that the event be televised.

Alas, that proved the idea’s undoing. In Israel, the thought of a mass televised circumcision was too much for some fussbudget Torah sages.

A solo televised circumcision featuring Christie is another matter, and has advantages he should explore.


Once again the Supreme Court has analogized money to speech and once again it has invalidated a law that limits how much private parties may spend on political campaigns. In so doing, the court’s plurality on April 2, in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, declared, “The government may no more restrict how many causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

The plurality’s analogy of political spending to editorial endorsements is ludicrous. An endorsement does not bear even the faintest whiff of corruption, whereas the role of money in politics assuredly does. It takes colossal nerve, some may call it chutzpah, for judges who may not have ever raised a penny for a political campaign to lecture lawmakers on the subject of money in politics. Instead of showing deference to lawmakers with real-world experience in dealing with the corrosive effects of political fund-raising, the court cuts to ribbons efforts by lawmakers to put even modest controls on a runaway system.

The court concedes that curbs on campaign spending can be justified to prevent corruption, but it defines corruption in the narrowest of terms – donating to a campaign in direct return for a lawmaker’s vote. As was made clear in a lengthy Appendix to Justice Breyer's dissent, “the fact that Members of Congress are intimately involved in the raising of money for the political parties, particularly unlimited nonfederal money donations, creates opportunities for corruption.…[L]arge contributions… provide donors access to federal lawmakers which is a critical ingredient for influencing legislation, and which the Supreme Court has determined constitutes corruption.”

Consider the source is always excellent advice. But increasingly, the identity of the speaker is hidden. Lavish and secret political spending is a toxic combination that puts a for sale sign on too much of the public’s business.

If spending is the same as speech, it follows that, just as more speech is a public good, then the more that is spent on political campaigning, the better. But surely it cannot be healthy for the rich to dominate public discourse. The Supreme Court is on the wrong track in its campaign-spending jurisprudence and needs to correct course.

Gilbert Cranberg: CHRISTIE’S CHARADE

The report issued March 26 by the lawyers for Chris Christie could well be considered worthless. The report, as could have been predicted, absolved Christie of any responsibility for the George Washington Bridge scandal. If the lawyers had found, and reported, any suspect conduct by Christie, they might have lost their licenses to practice law.

That’s because lawyers owe their responsibility to the client. In this case the client is arguably not the taxpayers who paid for the report, but the person who engaged them -- Chris Christie. The reporters who covered the charade Christie staged in the form of a press conference neglected to probe the nature of the relationship between Christie and the authors of the report the press conference ostensibly was called to discuss. Christie browbeat the reporters for the way they phrased questions and he belittled their professionalism; they deserved the scorn he heaped on them, but not for the reasons he cited. Instead, they should have made the obligations owed to Christie by the authors of the report the centerpiece of the press conference questioning.

Christie’s bulldozer tactics worked this time. But more reports are in the wings. Reporters have time to brush up on how not to be intimidated by a bully in the guise of a governor.