Thursday, May 7, 2015


My friend Michael H. Price, who I worked with many years ago at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, posted this provocative early 20th Century cartoon, by socialist editorial cartoonist Art Young, depicting the newspapers of the time as brothels:

With the posting, Mike wrote: "The newspaper racket as a brothel. True enough at the start of the 20th Century, when Art Young published this cartoon, and truer in the Great Here & Now. Exceptions all along, of course, but fewer and fewer exceptions. Too much Bread & Circuses, and nowhere near enough provocative substance."

I really wish I could disagree with Mike, but, frankly, I think the sentiment expressed in this cartoon is just as accurate today -- with newspapers continuing to suffer financial hardships due to declining advertising revenues -- as it probably was then. Perhaps even more so.

I've touched on this topic before, in my Feb. 13, 2015, post "NEWSPAPER ETHICS: MAINTAINING (OR NOT) THE LINE BETWEEN DOLLARS AND SENSE," which you will find still available among my older blog posts.

Many of today's papers have seemingly accorded "scared cow" status to large local advertisers -- who seem to have no qualms about using the weight of their advertising dollars to bully publishers and editors -- and to prominent local people, business leader and particularly vocal groups in their communities who raise objections to certain kinds of content.

Once upon a time, back when newspapers were making higher profits than almost any other industry in the United States, most reputable newspapers took great pride in contending they had no sacred cows.

Prominent among those newspapers was afternoon Louisville Times -- where I took my first, post-college reporting job in 1970 -- and its morning sister publication, The Louisville Courier-Journal. But even then and even there, the "no sacred cows" contention wasn't exactly true as I learned when I wrote a story about Democrat Louisville Mayor Dr. Harvey I. Sloane not paying several years worth of a state tax (the exact title of which I can no longer recall) that applied only to those who, like Sloane, were extremely wealthy.

I knew Sloane was good friends with the also very wealthy Bingham family, owners of the papers at the time, who had thrown their full and the newspaper's full support behind his bid to become mayor.

By the time I turned in the story to the city desk the evening before it was to be published in the next afternoon's paper, I had all of my facts confirmed and double checked and even had the mayor acknowledging that he'd "overlooked" the payments due under the tax and his promise that he would immediately make good on what he owed.  My editors and I figured that with all of this nailed down, the cozy relationship between the Binghams and the mayor wouldn't matter when it came to publishing a story about him being significantly delinquent -- we're talking many tens of thousands for dollars delinquent (over the intervening 40 some years I can't recall the exact amount, but I think is was something like $72,000 and change) -- in the payment of any rightfully owed tax.

We were wrong.

When my story was published in the day's first edition, it appeared stripped six-columns across the top of the front page under a large headline that said something like "Mayor fails to pay $72,000 in taxes."

When copies of the first edition hit Publisher Barry Bingham Jr.'s desk, our managing editor, apparently got a call from Barry Jr. raising cain over the story.

As a result, in the day's second edition, the story was moved to the bottom of the page, with the same headline. But that apparently didn't salve Barry Jr.'s state of pisstivity. He didn't want the story on Page 1, period. In addition, Bingham contended that the story was minimalized by my high-up sentence explaining that the particular tax Sloane owed only applied to the very wealthy.

So, by the day's final edition, the story had been moved to a page deep inside the local section under the headline "Mayor fails to pay obscure tax."

As a reporter and then editor at other newspapers where I worked throughout most of the rest of my more than 44 year career, I encountered similar experiences, even though most of those papers also took great pride in saying they had no sacred cows.

Of course, I did enjoy and number of instances where advertisers or prominent individuals and/or business leaders were told that their dollars or their influence were not going to interfere with the publication of valid news stories.

One such instance occurred while I was assistant managing editor for news and projects at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in connection with the Bell Helicopter series that went on to win the 1985 Public Service Pulitzer Prize. The series dealt with a design flaw in some of the helicopters that Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter built for the U.S. military. In the five-day series, Washington Bureau Reporter Mark Thompson revealed the design flaw -- which led to an in-flight phenomenon called "mast bumping" -- had caused the deaths of nearly 250 service men between 1973 and 1984 and that it had gone uncorrected even after Bell's chief attorney brought it to the attention of company executives in 1979 and recommended the problem be fixed immediately.

The series, which began its five-day run on Sunday, March 25, 1984. enraged Jack Horner, president of Bell, which was the city's single largest employer. On Monday morning the furious Horner called to speak to Publisher Phil Meek, who was out of town. So he settled for screaming over the phone at Executive Editor Jack Tinsley, demanding the series be immediately halted, that the people responsible for it be immediately fired and that a top-of-the-front-page apology to Bell Helicopter be published across six-columns of the Tuesday paper, or else.

Tinsley called me -- as the editor responsible for overseeing those who produced and did the primary editing on the series and for actually putting it in the paper -- into his office. Frankly, I fully expected to be fired.

However, Tinsley told me he had reached Phil Meek by phone and informed him of Horner's demands.

"I asked him what I should tell Horner and Phil told me to tell Horner to go fuck himself. So, that's pretty much what I did," Tinsley told me. Although, by that afternoon, all of our single-copy sales boxes on Bell property had been ripped up and tossed outside the plant gates and a group of Bell employees had begun picketing outside the newspaper, the series continued and my job, Thompson's job and job of State Editor Roland Lindsey, who directly oversaw Thompson, were safe. Here is a link to the stories that were part of the series, which I still think is one of the finest examples of quality American journalism:

Considering the financial condition of most newspapers, I wonder how many of today's publishers would come up with that sort of response to livid complaints from an important advertiser, business leader or heavy hitting employer.

I fear the answer is not very many.

Certainly, during the waning years before my retirement as editor of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and departure from the newspaper business, I experienced several incidents in which important local advertisers where allowed to directly browbeat me, call me unethical and irresponsible and even accuse me or one or more of my reporters of taking payoffs during meetings called to let them bitch about things published in the newspaper that they didn't like.

And, as I communicate with editor and reporter friends who still are employed at other newspapers around the country, I hear more and more tales of such incidents in which outside influencers are allowed to successfully interfere with what gets published in their papers. The main reason usually being cited is fear of lost advertising revenue. The consequence, valid and important news stories with, as my friend Mike Price put it, "provocative substance" -- and even online comments from readers on some stories that do get published -- are being thwarted.

The result: As more of these sorts of things happens, readers lose faith and trust in their newspaper, which loses relevance for them. And we all know what happens when people no longer feel their newspaper is relevant in their lives.



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Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Although I sometimes lapse into the belief that just because I spent more than 44 years in the newspaper business I had pretty much seen it all, there are still occurrences almost daily in the news that befuddle and amaze me.

Such is the case with today's latest "revelation" regarding last weekend's shooting incident in Garland, Texas, in which two home-grown, wannabe, Islamic terrorists got themselves killed in a botched attempt to wreak Charlie Hebdo style mayhem.

So, let's see if I have this right.

According to CNN (and other media outlets), ISIS is claiming "credit" for the two assault-weapon-wielding nincompoops who -- after wounding a security guard at an ill-advised “Draw Mohammed” cartoon contest in Garland put on by a group whose only purpose is to hate and inflame all Muslims -- got themselves killed by a sharp-shooting traffic cop armed with only a pistol?

Seems to me that ISIS should be running from the blame/credit for this one, especially since it's questionable whether anyone in the Islamic terrorist organization had ever even heard of the two fools before they got themselves dispatched to collect on their virgins.

In case you haven't already seen it, here is the link to CNN's report on the claim of "credit":

For what it's worth, I think that in this story, CNN does a reasonably good job of trying to not play into the "we're all gonna die at the hands of Islamic terrorists" hysteria. However, I shudder to think how this is being handled by Fox News, which specializes in ginning up fear of everything. Despite my better judgment, I guess that, out of morbid curiosity, I am going to have to check on how Fox is playing this latest "development" and how far back into their "news report" it pushes Mike Huckabee's announcement that he is launching yet another costly and futile bid for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination in an already overcrowded field.

To me, the bigger question in all of the latest media buzz over the two Garland moron "Muslim martyrs" is how in the world did the FBI lose track of them, especially since it had been keeping tabs on at least one of the two, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, since apparently at least 2011 when he was arrested and convicted on federal charges of making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism.

According to various news reports over the past few days, Simpson had recently been posting all sorts whacked out tweets on Twitter that one would expect just might seem suspicious to the FBI. I suspect, of course, that when it comes to tracking head cases like Simpson, the FBI has its hands more than full.

Getting back to the issue of who really deserves the "credit" for the Garland attack, it seems to me that Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of the far-right-wing, Islamic hate group the American Freedom Defense Initiative -- which organized the contest for artists to draw demeaning cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad -- are a pair of good candidates. It's hard to believe that Geller and Spencer didn't have a clue that such an "event" might be the equivalent of tossing a can of gasoline onto a burning fire.

Although to most American's Geller has, at least until now, been a fairly obscure figure outside of far-right-wing circles, the Garland attack has propelled her into some prominence. A May 4, CNN opinion piece by Haroon Mohgul turned an interesting spotlight on her and her hateful stand against all Muslims. Here is the link to that report:

Although there seems to be lots of blame -- or "credit," if you want to call it that -- to be shared for the Garland attack, it's fortunate that the only people to die were the two men most deserving of being sent off to their just rewards.



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Thursday, April 30, 2015


As I approached this day, April 15, 2015, the second anniversary of my retirement after nearly 12 years as editor of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and at the end of a more than 44-year career in the newspaper business, a flood of disjointed memories has been washing over me -- many wonderful and others not so much.

Over the past two years, the thing that has surprised me most is that I haven't really missed the job nearly as much as I thought I would. This impresses me as quite odd since I always regarded newspapering as more of a way of life than just a job. It was, at least for most of my career, something that you invested yourself in even though you knew that no matter how much you loved a newspaper, it would never love you back, and that as places to work, all newspapers sucked, but many sucked much worse than others.

Before I retired, I used to frequently say the once I did step out of the business I expected to die within three months from lack of stress.

Well, here it is, two years later, and I'm still here and what remains of the business for me is my memories, weird highlights of which have been almost magically washing over me since Tuesday.

It think that what sparked my Magical Mystical Memory Tour was a photo that popped up Tuesday on my Facebook timeline under the heading (oddly enough) of "Your Memories." It was a post I had put up on April 28, 2013, two days before my retirement. The post consisted of a photo of my barren-looking office at The Monitor after I had carted off about eight to 10 boxes of my personal stuff and a cutline. Here is what I had written:

"The only personal possessions now remaining in my office at The Monitor are my Monitor coffee mug, a few packets of sweet n low and what remains in the bottom of a Coffeemate container. Oh yeah, and 11 years and nine months of mostly great memories."

And, here's the photo:

Then, several hours later on Tuesday, the wonderfully witty Michael H. Price, who had been a feature writer and reasonably renowned film critic at The Fort Worth Star-Telegram before, during and after my tenure there -- first as business editor, then assistant managing editor-news and projects and finally night managing editor -- put up a Facebook post that drew comments from a number of former Starlegram staffers, many of them also named "Mike" or "Michael."

That immediately brought to mind the fact that will I was at the Star-Telegram, I was impressed at the overabundance of Mikes in the news department. There was not only Mike Price, but also, to name just a few, Mike Perry, Mike Strickland, Mike Gerst, Mike Norman. Here a Mike, there a Mike, everywhere a Mike, Mike.

I recalled thinking the if I walked into the newsroom and screamed "MIKE," more that half of the guys would look up, including even Sports Editor Jimmy Walker, who may not have been a "Mike" but sure as hell wouldn't want to miss out on a share of anything good that might be coming the way of the Mikes.

That was the first of the disjointed memories that have been coming not so much as long, drawn out episodes, but rather as quick and sometimes, often downright weird, snapshots of a more than 44 year career of doing something I truly loved.

Here is just small fraction of the other career recollections that have been rumbling in my head since Tuesday:

In another Star-Telegram memory, I recalled a mid-April 1985 afternoon huddled in the paper's small "wire room" with Executive Editor Jack Tinsley, Assistant Executive Editor Phil Record and several others as our news service teletypes clickety clacked away while we nervously awaited word on the winners of that year's Pulitzer Prizes.

Although the winners are supposed to be secret until actually announced by the Pulitzer Board, there always seems to be leaks. Two days before, I had been informed by two "sources" that Star-Telegram Washington Correspondent Mark Thompson was to be awarded the Investigative Reporting Pulitzer for his series revealing that at least 250 U.S. service men had lost their lives due to a design flaw in Bell helicopters built in Fort Worth for the military.

I was more nervous than any of the other assembled editors because I had relayed the information from my sources to Publisher Phil Meek, who had enough faith in what I'd told him to set in motion a plan for a celebration costing thousands of dollars.

That morning, however, I got calls from both sources who regretted to inform me they had learned that the Investigative Pulitzer would go to reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer, NOT to Thompson. I decided to not pass THAT information along, opting to be fired after the announcement rather than earlier in the day.

As it turned out, my sources were right, Thompson didn't win the Investigative Reporting Pulitzer. Instead, The Star-Telegram was awarded the 1985 Public Service Pulitzer, journalism's highest and most prestigious award. The celebration -- which might be better described as a gala with two live bands, loads of catered eats and hundreds of bottles of champagne -- went off as scheduled and I kept my job as assistant managing editor for news and projects. What's more, I was left suspecting that Phil Meek may have had better sources than mine.

Another memory that reared up was from my tenure as metro editor at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. This one from a Monday in 1978, the day after we published a Sunday tabloid special section called "North Mississippi Justice," a massive investigative undertaking spearheaded by reporter Rick Tulsky, who later -- as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer -- won the 1987 Investigative Reporting Pulitzer. The special section provided a very detailed, in-depth look into the circumstances surrounding the unsolved murders of numerous African-American men in North Mississippi and the Ku Klux Klan's apparent involvement in many of them.

The Monday following Sunday's publication of the special section, I started getting the "how-dare-you" phone calls, lots of them, from irate white readers. All of whom were upset not about the murders, but about the fact the we had exposed the racist reasons behind their having gone unsolved for years. Finally, after probably answering at least 100 calls, I had had it. The next call was from an ignorant (there, I said it) sounding woman with a very heavy Mississippi drawl. It went something like this:

CALLER: I'm tired of this, y'all are turnin' this into nothin' but an (n-word) paper. Nothin' but stories about (n-words) and pictures of (n-words). Everywhere I look nothin' but (n-words). Y'all ain't become nothin' but a bunch of (n-word) lovers.
ME: Ma'am, sorry but I really don't care to listen to this any longer.
ME: Well, because I'm black.
CALLER: (After a protracted pause) Oh, uhhhh...I'm sorry (Click).

I never knew whether she was sorry for what she had said, or sorry for me because she thought I was black.

That memory churned up another, somewhat related recollection, of the mind games I was sometimes forced to play with then Clarion-Ledger owners Robert Hederman Sr., who was publisher, and Thomas Hederman, who carried the title editor-in-chief. Both, though well educated (Tom even had a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University), were inveterate racists who would from time to time call me downstairs to their offices to grouse at me over the number stories and, in particular, the number photos we published regarding "minorities" engaged in something other than criminal activity. I think they liked to use the word "minorities" to pretend to themselves that they weren't really racists. Typically, I would just nod my head, say "I understand" and then go back upstairs to continue ignoring with they said.

However, after one particularly brutal downstairs session, I decide to put an end to such discussions which I knew were bogus because it was quite obvious to any objective person that the paper still ran far more stories about and photos of white people than black. So, after being drubbed while I remained silent for at least 30 minutes, I finally spoke up. "I guess what you're saying is that number stories and photos we publish dealing with white and black people should reflect the racial demographics of the city?"

Mr. Bob and Mr. Tom -- as they were referred to, in Southern fashion, by every newspaper employee -- readily agreed that that was precisely what the wanted..."to be fair." Apparently, they did not realize the Jackson's population was, at that point, somewhere between 48 and 49 percent African American.

I promised them that I would do a thorough study of the paper's story and photo coverage whites and blacks compared to the local demographics and get back to them on Monday of the following week.

That weekend, I took home two months worth of newspapers to perform an extensive story and photo count with the help of a brand new bottle of Wild Turkey 101.

First thing Monday morning I went downstairs to inform Mr. Bob and Mr. Tom of the results of my perusal of the two months of papers. They listened intently and smiled as I informed them that contrary to prior beliefs, during that period just barely 30 percent of the stories and photos the paper had published dealt primarily with black people.

I concluded my presentation saying: "It appears -- in accordance with what you told me last week that you wanted the story and photo content to be more representative of the city's demographic breakdown, which is now about 49 percent black to 51 percent white -- that we need to work harder to increase our number of stories about and photos of our black residents."

Mr. Bob quickly responded saying: "Uh, uh, no, no, that's all right. I think we just need to proceed as we have been doing."

I went back upstairs and never again heard another word from either of them regarding our percentage of white to black coverage.

Of course, when you're hit with a flood of memories, some are of embarrassing moments. During my career, one of the most embarrassing moments came on the night, in 2003, we started up the new, very expensive,"state-of-the-art" Goss press installed at The Monitor's new, more than 100,000 square-foot building.

Although neither the newspaper's then General Manager Stephan Wingert, who over saw the construction from start to finish and is now publisher, or then Publisher Olaf Frandsen had at that point ever been party to the installation and start up of a new press. I had. While I was there, new presses were installed at The Clarion-Ledger, at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and at The Morning News in Florence, S.C.

I learned from experience all three of those installations that, no matter what, when you first try to kick those new presses into high gear, SOMETHING is invariably going to go wrong. Therefore, it's usually a good idea to run them for a couple of nights putting out the paper before you make a big public announcement and invite a bunch of local dignitaries in for the GRAND start up.

I passed that information along to Stephan and Olaf, who carefully listened to what I had to say and then ignored the advice, relying instead on assurances from the still on-site Goss technicians who anticipated that things would go smoothly and glitch free right from the git go.

Boy, were they wrong.

The night -- after a large, ill-advised front-page story in that morning's paper proudly announced that the next morning's edition would be printed on the much-heralded new press -- the monster was fired up to produce the actual run of the paper for the very first time. Our beautiful new, totally computerized, state-of-the-art press room was crammed full of local muckety-mucks, one of whom was even accorded the honor of pressing the start button.

At first things went fine with the presses running at slow speed and everyone was all smiles and back slaps. But as the speed began to pick up, the web breaks started happening and the Goss techs started tinkering. It seemed like the more they tinkered, the worst things got.

As it turned out, the first edition of The Monitor, printed on that much-heralded new press didn't get delivered to readers' homes until well after 3 p.m. There wasn't a steak big enough to soothe that newspaper black eye.

Oops, told ya so.

Another, personally more embarrassing moment came while I was editor of The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., involving a political endorsement I was obliged to write for a candidate for the Lincoln Land Community College board of trustees. At the time, the newspaper was owned by now defunct Copley Newspapers, all of which were required to endorse only Republican candidates -- so much for the "liberal media" myth. Although I make no bones, particularly now, about being a lifelong Democrat and liberal, it was sometimes not too awful having to endorse some Illinois Republicans like former Congressmen Ray LaHood and his predecessor Bob Michel, both of whom were good, moderate politicians. LaHood went on to serve as President Barack Obama's first Secretary of Transportation.

However, the Republican candidate for the Lincoln Land board of trustee was not cut from the same cloth as Michel and Hood. At this point I no longer remember his name, but he was an assistant director of the state Department of Human Services.

To be honest, under most circumstances I would not have been all that upset about being force to endorse a community college board of trustees candidate who I probably wouldn't vote for on a bet because, frankly, that was an elected position I really didn't care that much about.

However, in this instance, the circumstances were anything but normal. In this case, the GOP candidate was under federal indictment for directing millions of dollars in state contracts from his department to a computer services company operated by his wife that did not properly perform the work as specified in those contracts but still collected the money. At first I spoke out against endorsing him but was finally forced to do so by SJ-R Publisher Jack Clark. It was not one of my prouder moments in journalism.

Fortunately, the candidate was convicted and went to prison before he could take his seat on the community college board of trustee.

I think ever newspaper probably gets more than it's share of callers who are mad. I don't mean readers who are angry and want to take the paper to task for something that appeared in that day's edition. I mean mad, nuts, borderline or certifiably insane. People who live their lives in some bizarre alternate universe of their own making.

For many of us working at The Louisville Courier-Journal & Times in the mid-70s, one of the most familiar telephone wackos was a woman known to us only as "Dixie." For some reason, a lot of her calls used to find their way to me. Over time, Dixie apparently decided we were pals, maybe because I usually tried to be polite and listen to her at least for a little while before saying I had to go and maybe also because I once made the mistake of giving her my name.

Dixie was never nasty or threatening. Instead, she was almost always frantic because "they" were after her because of the "secrets" only she knew. Mostly she called when she was sure that "they" were hiding under her house waiting to either grab her when she came out or were trying to saw their way up through her floor. "They" also sometimes sent her secret, threatening messages over the country music station she listened to regularly.

At the time I was getting the frequent calls from Dixie, I was the county government reporter for The Louisville Times, the now-defunct afternoon edition of the sister papers.

One afternoon when I was working feverishly to finish writing a rather complex breaking news story for our final edition I got a call from Dixie who said she was at they very moment receiving one of those radio messages from "them" and she wanted me to hear it for myself. I told her as politely as I could that I really didn't have time to listen to the message because I was trying to meet a deadline, but she would have none of my excuses. She turned the radio up full blast and put her telephone receiver down next to it.

"Please, Dixie, hang up the phone and call me later when we can talk," I screamed into my receiver. But, it was no use, she couldn't hear me over the radio. So, I hung up on her and waited a few minutes make a much need call to a source on my story, but when I did, instead of getting a ring tone, all I heard was Dixie radio still blasting away at maximum volume. This was back in the days before you got an automatic disconnect a second or so after hanging up your receiver. After picking up the phone several more times in an effort to place my critical call only to find the music still blaring, I finally moved to the desk of one of my fellow reporters who was out in the field, made my call and finished writing my story. For the rest of the day, I kept picking up my phone receiver only to find the music still playing. It wasn't until sometime after 4 p.m. that Dixie finally returned to her senses and hung up on her end. I was pissed.

The next morning, I called a police detective friend to see what I could do about Dixie. I told him, without naming her, that I was getting phone calls from a head case and related what she had done to me the day before. He asked if I felt that she was a threat. I told him no, and explained that she mainly called seeking help to protect her from the people hiding under her house waiting to harm her.

"Ah, sounds like Dixie," my detective friend said.

"Yeah, that's her name, Dixie. How did you know that," I replied.

"We get calls from her, too, coming into the Detective Bureau. She's harmless. We usually just let her talk for a few minutes and then promise that we'll send someone out to check on those guys under the house. That usually satisfies her for a while,"  my detective friend told me.

"We accord her more courtesy than we might to other crazy callers because of what she's been through," he added.

He went on to explain that Dixie had been one of the Bataan nurses who was captured by the Japanese after our besieged, beleaguered, starving and nearly out of ammunition troops finally had to surrender the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines at the start of World War II. He said that she and the other nurses were interned in prisoner of war camps in the Philippines where many of them were beaten and raped. Dixie, along with many of the other nurses, was eventually transferred to Japan where she was interned until VJ Day, he said.

"We're the battling bastard of Bataan, no mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, no pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn, nobody gives a damn" -- Frank Hewlett, 1942.

After that, every time I got a call from Dixie,  I treated her with renewed respect, listened for a few minutes to what she had to say and then promised I would call the police department and have them send someone to her house to scare away the men hiding under it. That always seemed to satisfy her and we'd hang up on good terms.

As I sit here now, thinking about Dixie and the dreadful memories she must have had, I'm getting depressed.

But, my recollections of her, also make me grateful for the multitude of mostly wonderful memories I have of my more than 44-year newspaper career.



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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


I think every newspaper editor has his or her pet peeves. Certainly, it seems that all of them that I've ever worked with did.

For the late Bob Crumpler -- my wonderful, curmudgeonly, legendary city editor at The Louisville Times back in the early '70s -- it was the usage (or more accurately the improper usage) of the word "presently" as in a sentence something like this: "The city council is presently considering and ordinance that would..."

If you used "presently" in that manner, Crump, a stickler on English language usage, would call you to come to the city desk and, as you stood there before him, publicly embarrass you by quite accurately pointing out that the word "presently" was not a proper substitute for "currently" or "now" since in "proper English" its first definition essentially is "soon to."

He would then go on to further embarrass the miscreant by snarly pointing out that if you meant the city council was at this time considering "an ordinance that would...", you were not only being incorrect to use the word "presently," but were also employing unnecessary verbiage if you used either "now" or "currently" since that is implied by merely writing "the city council is considering and ordinance that would..."

Crumpler's very public pointing out of these sorts of "egregious" errors -- a method that would drive into apoplectic shock today's newspaper HR people, who've contributed so much in recent decades to destroying such pointed newsroom learning experiences -- ensured that the offending reporter never again made THAT particular mistake.

For my very first editor in the mid-60s, John Anderson, managing editor of the New Albany (Ind.) Tribune, a major pet peeve was usage of the word "last" when what you really should have used was "past," as in: "At its last meeting, the city council..." When you committed that error, Anderson would call you to his desk and inquire: "Are you saying here that there will never be another city council meeting?" Touche.

As anyone who ever worked with me will readily confirm, I had a few pet peeves of my own, including those I acquired from Anderson, Crumpler and other editors I worked for before suddenly finding myself sitting in the city editor's chair.

One of my biggest pet peeves -- and something that still drives me nuts when I see it almost two years after I retired and last set foot in a newsroom -- is what I always referred to as "who-that-which confusion" (or, more informally, "who dat witch"). The improper usage of the words "who, that and which."

Rather than go into the complex details of what, in this instance, is the proper word to use when, let me refer you to very good and simple explanation on website of when to use who, that or which. Here is the appropriate link:

Unfortunately, when to use who, that, or which is something that most spell check programs -- particularly the Microsoft Word version seemingly used by most newspapers -- not only won't help you with, but may also make you an innocent of. I've found, for instance, that the Microsoft Word's spell check, which is the only one I've ever used, almost invariably automatically changes a properly used "who" into an improperly used "that."

As disturbing as the word usage pet peeves may be, let's be very honest and acknowledge that most ordinary readers have become so lackadaisical about the English language that they generally go unnoticed by all except cranky English teachers and grumpy editors. Other than making a reporter and his or her news outlet look a bit stupid and ill educated, these errors don't really do any potentially serious damage.

That, however, is not the case with what I regard as one of my biggest journalistic pet peeves and one that was always hammered home with particular ferocity by both Crumpler and Anderson -- convicting, in print or on camera, someone who has merely been arrested or charged in connection with a crime.

The system of justice in the United States is based on the principle that any person accused of any crime -- including even the most heinous of offenses -- is presumed innocent until he or she either pleads or is found guilty by a judge or jury.

All too often, however, that presumption of innocence can effectively be stripped away by the wording used in stories that report an arrest.

Take, for example, this lead from a story posted Apr. 26, 2015, on, the website for TV station KGBT, based in Harlingen, Texas:

"Officers arrested a 49-year-old man who was wanted for inappropriately touching a six-year-old girl, when he attempted to enter the United States on Friday." Here is the link to the full story:

The story, based on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection press release, goes on to name Mario Martin Vasquez of Corpus Christi as the person arrested.

Because of the way it is worded, this lead, essentially, convicts Vasquez without benefit of a trial by stating that he "was wanted FOR inappropriately touching..."

He was, in fact, and it SHOULD have been more accurately and appropriately written this way, "wanted ON CHARGES of inappropriately touching a six-year-old girl."

Granted, there are few criminal offenses considered more heinous than child sexual molestation, but those accused of such offense -- and any other criminal offense -- are entitled to the presumption of innocence that is stripped away from Vasquez by the thoughtless choice of wording in this lead.

Unfortunately, this sort of lapse in good journalistic practices can be found all around the nation on a daily basis in both the print and electronic news outlets.

To preserve the presumption of innocence and to be fair and accurate in their reporting, the media -- print or electronic -- need to be more cautious about the way stories are worded when reporting on suspects being arrested or sought in connection with crimes of all sorts.

This is Journalism 101 stuff.

Simply put, in arrest stories or even stories where someone is being sought in connection with a crime, the accused should be "arrested (or sought) on charge of" or "arrested (or sought) in connection with," but never "arrested (or sought) for."

Not only is this the fair, accurate and proper way write these sorts of stories, but -- as any media lawyer will readily tell you -- it also offers the news outlet a strong measure of protection if the person accused is ultimately found innocent of the charge or charges and decides to attempt, in our increasingly more litigious climate, to file a libel suit.



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Saturday, April 18, 2015



My old school, Indiana University, is honoring one of the best loved products of its School of Journalism -- legendary World War II combat correspondent Ernie Pyle, the GI's most beloved reporter.

Seventy years ago today, April 18, 1945, Ernie, then 45, was killed in combat on the Japanese held, Pacific island of Ie Shima and around the world hundreds of thousands of ordinary GIs and their families mourned his passing.

Here is the link to what the Indiana University website has to say today about today's celebration of Ernie's life:

Ernie's way of covering the war was vastly different than many -- if not most -- of his fellow war correspondents who spent much of their time courting favor with and covering generals and only occasionally putting themselves into serious danger by accompanying front-line combat troops.

Unlike them, Ernie, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944, spent most of his time on the front lines, facing all of the same risks as the men he was writing about in his straight-forward, simplistic style that so many GIs and their families back home could easily relate to. His intimate understanding of and ability to convey the hopes and fears of those men in combat earned him the title of the "Dogface's Correspondent." He was, perhaps, the first truly "embedded" combat journalist.

Long before I started my journalism training at IU's School of Journalism at Ernie Pyle Hall on the campus in Bloomington, Ind., I was well aware of Ernie and what he meant to the WWII combat soldier. My father -- an Army infantry veteran of some 300 days of combat in North Africa, Sicily and Europe during World War II -- had been among those GIs who so revered Ernie, whose columns appeared in more than 500 papers during the war.

By the time I returned to IU in 1966, after failing out in 1962 and enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Ernie was already one of my journalism heroes.

Here's what President Harry Truman had to say about Ernie: "No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen."

There is a tale that I heard many years ago regarding Ernie and another well-known WWII war correspondent, Robert Ruark, who many of their media colleagues regarded as the best writer among them and who went on to write such great novels as Something of Value. Just how true it is, I can't say, but it does speak well to why Ernie became to ordinary soldiers and their families the most beloved among all the war correspondents. And, of course, we all know that the only difference between a journalism tale and a fairy tale is that a fairy tale starts out "once upon a time" and a journalism tale starts out "no shit, this is the truth."

Supposedly, according to the tale, Ruark and a group of fellow correspondents were gathered in a favorite London watering hole after it was announced that Ernie, who was on the front lines at the time, had won his 1944 Pulitzer. According to the tale, the other correspondents were commiserating with Ruark saying that he, not Pyle, should have won the Pulitzer because he (Ruark) was the far better writer. However, according to the tale, Ruark silenced them saying that Ernie deserved the Pulitzer more because he was, in fact, the best of all the war correspondents.

According to the tale, Ruark said something like this: "I write the way all of you and everyone else WISHES they could write. Ernie, on the other hand, writes the way ordinary people think THEY write and that's what makes him great."




There is lots of additional reading on Ernie Pyle available online and in libraries. However, for a quite good synopsis on Ernie's life, here is what Wikipedia has to say about him:


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Friday, April 10, 2015


The April 4 shooting death of Walter Scott Jr. by police officer Michael T. Slager in North Charleston, S.C., has captured the attention of the nation and the world since a bystander's video of the tragic incident surfaced.

As is so often the case when local incidents like this go national and international, print and electronic journalists from all over the world have descended on the Charleston area, swooping in to pick up on a sensationally horrendous event. All that most people outside of South Carolina -- and, more specifically, outside the Charleston metropolitan area -- probably have read or seen in the way of coverage of this story has been by these "outside" media outlets.

Unfortunately, what those outside of South Carolina have not seen is the coverage of the incident being provided by Charleston's daily newspaper, The Post and Courier, and that is truly a shame because the newspaper's coverage of this tragedy has, thus far, been an excellent example of American journalism at its finest.

Here are two of The Post and Courier's front pages dealing with the incident. The first is from Wednesday, April 8, the morning following Officer Slager was arrest on murder charges in connection with Scott's death and after prosecutors and police officials had carefully gone over the bystander's video of the shooting. The second is from this morning, April 10, and focuses on the national impact of this case in the wake of numerous other incidents -- such as the shooting death on August 9, 2014, of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. -- in which white police officers have shot and killed African-American "suspects."

To say the very least, The Post and Courier's coverage has been riveting, but that's almost automatic with an an event this sensational. It's the sort of incident that virtually any daily newspaper worth its salt should be able to cover well.

However, The Post and Courier's coverage has been so much more than just good. It has been exhaustive and exemplary.

Under the leadership of Editor Mitch Pugh -- who I think has been, since taking over the paper a little over two years ago, proving himself to be one of the nation's finest young newspaper editors -- The Post and Courier has been providing the sort of thorough, in-depth coverage that no national medium could hope to equal, covering every possible angle and nuance of this incident which is so tragic on virtually every level.

The paper, as should be the case for every local paper covering a local indicent that becomes a national story, has remained far out in front of every new development. It has produced a multitude of stories, every one of them well-balanced, unbiased, and fair and all of them well-written, well-edited and impossible to not read.

Beyond that, the coverage has also been courageous. I say this as someone who served for more than three years as the editor of a South Carolina daily newspaper -- The Morning News in Florence, S.C. -- and is well aware of the racial divide that still very much exists in the state where the American Civil War began.

From my own experiences as the editor of newspapers both in South Carolina and Mississippi, I am pretty certain that Pugh and his staff likely are being deluged daily with calls, letters, emails, Facebook post and Tweets -- many of which go well beyond just ugly -- from angry members of both the white and black communities alleging that the coverage has been unfair to one side or the other. That's what happens when a newspaper engages in the straightforward, evenhanded and vital coverage that has so far been the hallmark of The Post and Courier's handling of this story.

For those truly interested in following what I am sure will continue to be the best coverage available of this major story, I highly recommend that you do yourself a favor and go to The Post and Courier's website:

My hat's off to Editor Mitch Pugh and his entire news staff. After nearly a week of hard work covering this story, they must all be running on raw adrenalin, but it's clear from their stories, photos and page designs that neither their minds nor their desire to give the community they service the best possible coverage have been fogged by the doubtlessly long hours and effort they are putting in. In my estimation, what they have done so far should be a worthy contender for a local reporting or even possibly a public service -- depending on how their coverage continues to progress once the current furor dies down -- Pulitzer Prize.


NOTE: For the sake of transparency, let me say that although Mitch Pugh and I are Facebook friends and he worked for a while at the State Journal-Register, in Springfield, Ill., but after I left my position as editor there, we have never actually met. However, his wife, Peri Gonulsen Pugh, who is originally from Springfield, is the daughter of long-time family friends Aydin Gonulsen and Mimi Gonulsen. She even served for a summer as a nanny for our twin daughters. None of that, however, comes into play in my admiration for the job that Mitch and his staff are doing with this story.


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Thursday, April 2, 2015


On Tuesday morning, March 31, The Indianapolis Star took the unusual step of boldly running as its full front page an editorial condemning Indiana's new, so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

The paper demanded that Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled General Assembly move immediately to fix the new law, which -- despite the governor's contentions to the contrary -- encourages, enables and legalizes discrimination, particularly against gays (please see my March 31 blog post "INDY STAR DEMANDS HOOSIER LAWMAKERS FIX THE 'MESS' THEY'VE MADE WITH ANTI-GAY LAW).

Here is another look at that March 31 front page:

I am certain this gutsy action on the part of The Star's editors and publisher drew a lot of swift and angry response, particularly from nearly berserk, "Christian" religious zealots.

Likewise, I am sure it also garnered considerable grateful and positive response from among the state's many millions of fair-minded citizens who have been horrified by the new law and the damage it has already done to their state's image and economy.

One such grateful response came in the form of a letter to the editor written by the brother of troubled Vietnam Veteran who died of AIDS 30 years ago. The letter is not only sad and touching, but also uplifting. And I think it serves as proof that there is still a place for print newspapers in American life, particularly when they have the courage to unmistakably stand up for what is right and just.

Here is the text of that letter:

   "On Tuesday, I did what I never do. I walked my dog down to our local market and bought a copy of The Indianapolis Star. In fact, I bought two copies. The reason: the "Fix This Now" emblazoned on the front page.
   With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.
   At the grave I opened The Star. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.
   And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to The Star. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to The Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.

   Nick Crews, Plainfield"

As someone who grew up in Indiana and is a veteran of the Vietnam era, I share Nick Crew's pain and grief. I also share his gratitude to The Star for its straightforward, clear and concise editorial. As the retired editor of daily newspapers, I also understand the courage it took for the folks at The Star to not only take this stand, but to give it the sort of play it truly deserved.


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As always, your thoughts and/or comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


The Indianapolis Star today boldly went where newspapers rarely go.

Under the headline "FIX THIS NOW," the newspaper published a full-front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly to move immediately to undo the damage that has been done to the state's reputation and the already evident damage to the state's economy caused by Indiana's newly adopted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The placement, the content and the clarity of the editorial can leave no doubt in anyone's mind where the newspaper stands. Here is a link to the well-written, easy to understand editorial:

The law -- which, despite statements to the contrary by Gov. Pence and the other key Republican lawmakers in the state who pushed for its passage -- encourages, enables and legalizes discrimination against gay people under the thin guise of protecting business owners' rights to refuse them services based on the religious beliefs of those business owners. Simply put, the law endorses bigotry and, to my way of thinking, is a total violation of the intent -- if not the specific wording -- of the federal government's Civil Rights Act of 1965 which bans all forms of discrimination.

Almost immediately after Pence signed the RFRA into law on March 26, the Hoosier state found itself the focal point of a storm of controversy and protests that have gone far beyond the outcries of just the LGBT community.

Businesses such as Walmart, Apple and Salesforce and, even more importantly, the homegrown, Indianapolis-based pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly lodged strong condemnations of the new law. Saleforce, a large and growing cloud computing company, even put some serious teeth in its protest by immediately cancelling all of it's already scheduled events in Indiana.

Other national organizations, such as AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees), condemned the law and began cancelling conventions and other events scheduled in the state -- particularly in Indianapolis which stands to suffer millions of dollars worth of economic damage. AFSCME immediately withdrew its national Women's Conference which was scheduled to take place in Indianapolis this year and said the event will be moved to another state where is members need not worry about being discriminated against. In a statement released shortly after Pence sign the law, Lee Saunders, the union's president, said "This un-American law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated."

A wide variety of entertainers cancelled show they'd scheduled in the Hoosier state and even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, briefly considered moving the men's basketball Final Four which is to take place in the city this weekend. Although NCAA officials decided it would not really be feasible to try the move the Final Four location on such short notice, they did threaten to not only decline to schedule future events in the state, but also to move the national headquarter elsewhere.

Then, yesterday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who had spoken out against the law numerous times before its passage and warned of the adverse impact it would have on the state's reputation and economy, came out with his strongest public condemnation of it. Here is a link to the coverage of Ballard's press conference by the NBC affiliate Indianapolis TV station WTHR, Channel 13:

This morning's Indianapolis Star front page is the perfect punctuation point for what Ballard had to say yesterday.

The editorial opens saying:

"We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history.

And much is at stake.

Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers.

All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.

The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created.
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage."

The editorial goes on to demand in no uncertain terms that the governor and state lawmakers move to immediately shore up the damage by passing a state law "to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity." The editorial says that such a human rights law, which would be similar to an Indianapolis city ordinance adopted a decade ago, could coexist with the RFRA, making an obviously contentious and drawn out attempt to repeal it unnecessary.

"Only bold action -- action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens -- will be enough to reverse the damage," the editorial contends.

In closing, the editorial states:

"We urge Gov. Pence and lawmakers to stop clinging to arguments about whether RFRA really does what critics fear; to stop clinging to ideology or personal preferences; to focus instead on fixing this.

Governor, Indiana is in a state of crisis. It is worse than you seem to understand.

You must act with courage and wisdom. You must lead us forward now. You must ensure that all Hoosiers have strong protections against discrimination.

The laws can co-exist. And so can we."

As someone who grew up in Indiana and is giving serious thought to moving back there when my wife, Gail, joins me in retirement, I thank and commend The Indianapolis Star for it's strong and well-reasoned stand against discrimination in any form.

And, as the retired editor of daily newspapers, I fully understand the courage it took for the Star's editors and publisher to write and/or approve this strong stand and to defy convention by making it the paper's full front page under a straight forward, no-nonsense headline.


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As always, your thoughts and/or comments are welcomed.

Friday, March 20, 2015


OK, I'll admit it right at the outset -- I aggressively avoid watching Fox News. I also avoid, but to a lesser degree, watching much of what's on MSNBC.

I guess I am one of those old-fashioned U.S. journalists/editors who just can't grow accustomed to a supposedly "professional" news organization engaging almost exclusively in point-of-view "news" reporting and presentation.

So, to find out what's going on those two networks, I pretty much rely on some of the websites that I trust and regularly visit, one of which is, the website for Media Matters for America, my favorite site for watchdogging and being enraged over what Fox News is doing.

In the two years that I've been writing this blog, I have seldom referred to Media Matters or made mention of the things for which it criticizes Fox News. In large part, that has been because, after all these years, few of the outrageous things that are "reported" by or discussed on Fox News truly surprise me anymore. This is because I realize everything they do and say comes strictly from a right-wing perspective and, as I have freely acknowledged before, I consider myself a liberal.

However, Media Matters yesterday (Thursday, March 19, 2015) reported on something that came up on the Fox program "Outnumbered," that I find so disturbing that I just have to say something.

I was frankly flabbergasted to learn that the show's hosts spent a segment of their program on March 19 actually urging people to NOT vote. This was done in response to President Barrack Obama's recent speech in Cleveland in which he said it would be "transformative" if every eligible voter in the United States actually turned out to cast his or her ballot. Here is Media Matters' link to that Fox "Outnumbered" segment:

Although there has been a rush by some media outlets -- particularly Fox -- to twist what the president said into him calling for "mandatory voting," that's not what he did.

What he DID do was mention that in numerous countries, voting is mandatory and then went on to say that in the United States "it would be transformative if everybody voted" as a means of countering the wave of corporate and billionaire dollars that have flowed into political coffers in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. That action by SCOTUS lifted the limits on campaign contributions made by corporations and individuals -- a decision that has left many, including me, feeling that elections in this country are now basically a commodity for sale.

From a personal standpoint, I would be just as opposed to any effort to make voting mandatory as I am to the Citizens United decision, neither of which is what democracy is all about.

I do, however, believe that it is every U.S. citizens responsibility and duty to vote because the right to vote is what has kept our democracy in tact for more than two centuries and is the key to its continuation.

Throughout my career as the editor of a daily newspaper in several different cities, I wrote an editorial for every election calling on people to get out and vote, pointing that the anyone who doesn't do so essentially surrenders his or her right to later bitch about the results of that election or about those who are elected. I was not alone in this. Every other editor I knew wrote, or had their editorial writers write, similar editorials for every election because we all realized that voting is an important part of maintaining freedom of the press.

This is why I am particularly dismayed that the nitwits (yeah, there, I said it) on "Outnumbered" had the audacity to suggest that people not vote. OK, to be more specific, they quite lamely called for people who are "not engaged" to not vote. Sorry, but that is not the answer -- especially since I suspect that what they really mean is that anyone who is not "engaged" in believing what Fox News wants them to believe and might not cast a vote that has the Fox News seal of approval should not vote.

If Fox was a what I would describe -- in my old-fashioned ways and thought mode -- as a valid news organization, those hosts of "Outnumbered" would have urged people, regardless of their political persuasion, to become engaged, to learn what the issues are and where candidates stood on them and then get their lazy, apathetic butts to the polls and vote for the candidates who best represent their interests.

In my view, to urge anything else is thoroughly and blatantly un-American.


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Thursday, March 5, 2015


On the bottom right hand corner of Page 3B in this morning's edition of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and on the newspaper's website,, is a story that should be garnering a lot more local media attention than it apparently has so far.

The story involves Alexander Correa, 23, of Edinburg, one of McAllen's numerous neighboring cities, who, on Monday morning, plowed into the back of a school bus with, according to the newspaper report, 10 students on board. Fortunately, no students were injured.

If that was all there was to the story, it, frankly, wouldn't be all that big of a deal. Accidents in which there are no injuries, even ones involving school buses, happen everyday and most go without so much as a passing mention in the media.

But this accident was not that simple because police ended up arresting Correa on charges of driving while intoxicated -- his sixth such charge in less than two years, the paper reported. Here is the link to the story posted at 7:16 p.m. on Wednesday on The Monitor's website:

The story was reported earlier in the day by the area's English-language Fox affiliate TV station KXFV, which even had video of Correa's arraignment in Edinburg Municipal Court before Judge Terry Palacios. Here is a link to that report:

To their credit, The Monitor and KXFV were, as of 8:30 CST this morning (Thursday, Mar. 5, 2015), the only area news outlets reporting this story.

I suspect that by the end of the day, this could wind up being the news story that is the most talked about by Rio Grande Valley residence once the news departments at the area's other English-language TV stations -- KRGV, KGBT and KVEO -- finally get around to looking at The Monitor's Page 3B and KXFV's website and begin playing catch up.

I hope that all of the local media take out after this story the way they should and don't -- as is so often the case here and in far too many other communities around the nation -- just let it drop until Correa's trial, which may or may not be covered live by any of the local media outlets.

My old friend, Bill Marimow, editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, alerted me to a story his paper published in September that could serve as a great guide for Rio Grande Valley media to follow if they want to do a high impact followup story on this accident. The Inky story deals with Pennsylvania's pretty abysmal record for keeping repeat drunk drivers off the roads. Here is the link:

Hopefully, The Monitor, or one or all of the TV stations, will very quickly follow up by giving the details of Correa's other five DWI cases, one of which was dismissed and the other four of which are yet to be adjudicated. The Monitor's and KXFV's reports mentioned the other cases but gave no details regarding when they occurred,  where they occurred, what was involved or where exactly they stand in the judicial process.

Beyond that, there are still many questions to be answered with regard to this incident, which I am still rather surprised was not played at least on the front of the Valley & State (B) section of The Monitor.

I think the question that will be most on the minds of those area residents who take note of the story is why in the world Correa, with five prior DWI arrests, continues to have driving privileges. That's an important question that must be put to the area law enforcement agencies that have arrested him and to the judges and prosecutors who are handling, or in the past have handled, the cases against him.

Jeff Allen Lindau, who commented on the story on The Monitor's website quite rightfully and fairly said, "the media could probably trace the reasons this person is still driving and hasn't been convicted on any of his previous 5 charges of DWI. The question is will they get to the bottom and expose it?"

In another comment on the story, Lindau said: "All one has to do is research DWI's in Hidalgo County and you'll see our county has one of the highest rates of DWI incidents with one of the state's lowest rates for prosecuting DWI offenders. The local media half heartedly has looked into these numbers in the past but never fully held the DA's office accountable." Although he is substantially correct, Lindau failed to mention that the area's judges who handle drunk driving cases should perhaps be held even more accountable than area prosecutors since, in the final analysis, it is up to them to determine the punishments handed out to first- and multiple-time DWI offenders.

Lindau is also on point with his offhanded bash at the local media for only "half heartedly" looking into the drunk-driving issue in the Rio Grande Valley, where it seems to be a serious problem considering the number stories on DWI accidents, many involving multiple injuries and fatalities, that are reported here every year by The Monitor and area TV stations.

As much as I hate to admit it, even I have to plead guilty to Lindau's charge of media half-hearted reporting on the area's drunk driving problem.

There were several times during my nearly 12 years as editor of The Monitor -- usually after a particularly horrendous DWI accident -- that I considered having my reporters launch a full-scale examination into how drunk driving cases are handled, or mishandled, in the Rio Grande Valley, but failed, for whatever excuse, to not follow up on.

In retrospect, I consider myself particularly remiss in not having done so since I had considerable experience with such projects at papers where I had previously worked. As the courts reporter for The Louisville (Ky.) Times in the early 70s I produced a several-day series of stories on lenient handling of DWI cases by judges in the area's municipal courts. As managing editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.; and later The Cincinnati Post; and then as editor of The State Journal-Register, in Springfield, Ill., I directed examinations of how drunk-driving cases were handled by the courts and even identified the top 10 to 20 repeat DWI offenders in those cities. In fact, our drunk-driving series at The State Journal-Register resulted in me being invited to speak at that year's national convention of Mother Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) in Washington, D.C.

I urge my former area media colleagues to not follow my lead. Don't let this opportunity to take a serious look at how the many drunk driving cases are handled by the judicial systems in the Rio Grande Valley. Let this case be the impetus for an in-depth look into the issue by one or all of our area media outlets because lives are at stake and law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial feet should and must be held to the fire and repeat offenders, in particular, need to be exposed and prevented from killing themselves and/or innocent potential victims.

Thanks to the expansion of computerized record keeping by area courts, the task should be much easier now than it was in the past, when reporters had to go through the tedious task of reviewing hundreds of pages of sometimes handwritten court dockets to identify and track such cases. That's the upside.

The downside is that due to the fees public agencies are allowed to collect under Texas law, accessing those records could cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars -- a factor that has put a serious crimp in investigative reporting by all but the state largest newspapers and television stations.

That considered The Monitor and one or more of the local TV stations might want to think about joining forces to not only devote the sort of reportorial resources need to produce a meaningful and game-changing examination of the issue, but also to share and defray the costs of the undertaking. As leery as I am of the concept (see my Feb. 13, 2015 post "NEWSPAPER ETHICS: MAINTAINING (OR NOT) THE LINE BETWEEN DOLLARS AND SENSE) this might just be one of those rare instances when one or more media outlets might consider seeking crowdfunding from readers and/or viewers to help finance a project that is -- or certainly should be -- a matter of significant public concern.


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