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, June 29, 2015


On June 11, 2015 the New York Times devoted a big chunk of its front page and additional space on inside pages to the shortcomings of the bail system. What took so long? 

In 1966 then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy convened a National Conference on bail reform. The conference sparked a relatively brief spurt of interest in bail reform and the enactment of federal bail reform legislation. A number of local judges initiated steps to release criminal suspects on their recognizance rather than require money bail. These judges relied on information they required about the ties of the accused to their communities. 

The interest in bail reform sparked by the 1966 conference proved short-lived. In many cases the reforms were administered by functionaries not particularly motivated to promote pretrial release and the local courts soon reverted to the bad habits that prevailed prior to the national bail conference. It helped to reverse the tide of bail reform that professional bail bondsmen rallied to protect their turf.

The incarceration epidemic that is currently flooding the nation’s jails and prisons has given fresh impetus to bail reform. All too many people in jails are not serving their sentences but are simply awaiting trial for lack of money to pay for bail. This is not only wasteful but makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence. Too many in this country are guilty without a trial for lack of funds.

The space devoted by the New York Times to the inequities of the bail system is a much overdue antidote. The Times should have done this kind of reporting years ago. The press generally has been negligent in reporting on the early stages of criminal proceedings. Usually the most inexperienced reporters are assigned to arraignments where bail is set and attorneys are appointed. These early stages are critical to the judicial system and it’s past time for the press to emphasize them. 

If the press had done its job the short-comings of the bail system would not have languished so long.