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

Monday, February 16, 2015


Brian Williams, George Bush and Richard Cheney each had the same responsibility to report accurately about Iraq to the American people.  Williams misreported a few things, for which he apologized. Nonetheless his career is in tatters and he has been relieved of his job for months at NBC News.

George Bush’s reports about Iraq were NOT harmless. He massively misrepresented the facts, causing immense grief and loss of life. Neither he nor Richard Cheney, his partner in making war in Iraq, ever apologized. Nor did they correct the many lies they told. They were responsible for orchestrating a campaign of torture in conducting the war that brought the country into worldwide disrepute. Nevertheless, they lived happily ever after, country-clubbing, and living lives of comfort and respect laughing all the way to the bank to deposit their government pensions. Neither man spent a moment publicly regretting the catastrophe they caused Iraq.

The glaring contrast in the reactions to Bush-Cheney and Brian Williams is almost beyond belief. There are two words to describe it. The words are shameful and disgusting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I came within inches of being killed by Japanese machine gun fire. The bullets came so close I can still hear the snap of the grass as the rounds passed just above my head.

I did not ever say that a bullet creased my helmet. Though I could well have, given how close I was to Japanese fire. Moving that fire inches closer, through my helmet, would have been a slight exaggeration but it would make a harrowing story better.

I bring this up now for the way NBC news anchor Brian Williams is being crucified for reporting that he was closer to a helicopter under fire in Iraq than he actually was. Williams did not claim bravery under fire. He simply claimed, falsely it turned out, proximity to the incident. It’s as though I had embellished my account of Japanese machine gun fire to make it appear that it was slightly more dangerous than it actually was.

I was drafted and ordered into combat. Brian Williams went voluntarily to a war zone. He deserves credit for that. We can do with less sanctimony and more understanding about the work of a talented journalist.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gilbert Cranberg: THE MYSTERY OF COPCD

Mitt Romney has taken himself out of the 2016 presidential race, or so it seems. Count me among the skeptics. After all, I’m a follower of Harold Ickes, FDR’s Interior Secretary, who observed, “The desire to be president is a disease cured only by embalming fluid”. Note that Romney’s disavowal of an interest of the ’16 race was equivocal. Others have noted that if he really wanted to quit the contest he would have said so in less uncertain terms. Call it the residual effect of Chronic Obsessive Presidential Candidate Disorder (COPCD), the medical community’s shorthand for the condition.

Signs of the condition are unmistakable: the uncontrollable urge to plunge into crowds to manically shake all hands in sight; the fixed insipid grin; the shameless panhandling; the inability to resist a microphone. Romney had a virulent case of COPCD, which is seldom possible to shake cold turkey, as he attempted to do. So, look for a Romney relapse.

More research is needed into the causes and possible cure for COPCD. The possibility that it is familial should be explored. It can hardly be coincidence that several members of the Bush family are afflicted. But if it is genetic, how to explain that some members of the Bush family escaped being ravaged by the disease and seem to be living normal lives?


Brace yourself: The Iowa Straw Poll, endorsed by the State GOP, will return this summer in its role as a quadrennial horror story. Given how the maligned Poll was brought back to life, perhaps Zombie Burgers will be catered in.

The Iowa Straw Poll, which even Republicans admit gouges presidential wannabes for funds for the State Republican Party, was thought — or at least hoped — to be dead. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and others called for the end of the Straw Poll because it is so costly for Republican candidates, because the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann was the Straw Poll winner four years ago, and mostly because the Iowa caucuses had enough credibility problems without the Straw Poll threatening Iowa’s status as a harbinger of presidential election outcomes.

We should have known better. Those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot that no amount of money is too much to throw away in today’s elections; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot how gullible the press is; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead ignored the clout of the religious right in Iowa politics.

This is consistent with political analyst Charlie Cook’s insights on the 2016 presidential campaign made during a visit to Drake University’s Harkin Institute last fall. Cook said American politics is now the “Wild West” with no real controls over campaign spending and no discipline in political parties.

So give a big Yippie-yi-yo-ki-ay and saddle up for the Straw Poll, partners.

The State GOP will again set up the cash registers and ring in the contributions from candidates who, with good reason, think they can buy their way into the presidential race by winning votes in exchange for contributions to the Iowa GOP.

The gullible press will give the Straw Poll all the coverage it needs to be taken seriously because — as reporters will tell you — “We don’t have anything else to do this summer.”

But even without the wild spending in today’s politics and even without a lapdog press, it should have been obvious that the Straw Poll would be resuscitated.

That’s because of the influence of the religious right in the Iowa Republican Party. The message effectively communicated by the Christian conservative Iowa Family Leader organization was “Go ahead and not have the Straw Poll. We’ll do it for you!”

Surely, if the Iowa GOP decided to distance itself from the Iowa Straw Poll, Iowa Family Leader or a similar constituency would have stepped in to meet the demands of the press and the desires of some candidates, and had a poll of its own. In that case the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in would be under its control rather than the establishment GOP.

So much for all the GOP efforts to suggest to independent voters and moderates that the party is not driven by the social agenda of the religious right. So much for Iowa efforts to suggest that the Straw Poll welcomes all GOP candidates and not just those who pander to the religious right.

Small wonder that the governing board of the Iowa GOP had little choice but to continue the Straw Poll. There will be cosmetic changes in token response to those who say the Straw Poll is phony and counter- productive when it comes to informing voters about who is deemed qualified to heal the nation and get about the business of governing. But the Straw Poll will again be won by the best panderer to the religious right, the best gun-slinger in Cook’s Wild West.