Sport

We have reached the time of year when we face crises galore, when many people become passionate about trivial events, when one’s emotions are strained, where hard feelings are generated and superiority is established, when detailed analysis of events dominates much of the public discussion and arguments—even fisticuffs—are motivated by events that in reality have only passing impact on our daily lives.

It’s World Series time in baseball. College football fans are starting to evaluate the value of life on the basis of bowl eligibility.  Pro football fans bemoan the one misplay that dooms the home team or keeps a Super Bowl dream alive.  Pro basketball and hockey fans already are agonizing over or exulting about the puck or the ball that barely missed the net—or got into it at the last second.   College basketball fans soon will cheer the home team in its quest for the post-season or demonstrate their hate for a traditional rival.  In fact, Missouri has (be still my beating heart!) played Kansas in a basketball game!

This is the time of year when games don’t end when the clock or the innings or the quarters run out.  It’s a time when we forget these are only games that have their most meaning during the time they are played. The world will not be more peaceful and safe because they were played.  Homeless people will still live in boxes or in doorways.  Children will still starve and die in desperate circumstances.

We were reminded of those sentiments recently when we re-discovered one of our favorite sports books that puts all of this in perspective.   It’s Heywood Hale Broun’s Tumultuous Merriment, which came out in 1979, a memoir of the decade he spent as a “color commentator” for CBS Sports.  A better word probably is “essayist.”   He was, in our memory, the sports counterpart to Charles Kuralt, the other CBS correspondent on the road. He was the fellow with the great moustache and the colorful sport coat who always saw sports with more perceptive eyes that did not focus on the final outcome.

If you remember him and/or you have some qualms about the value of sports in general and big-time sport in particular, you might want to search out a copy of this book.

Broun began his book with a definition of “sport” from Samuel Johnson’s eighteen-century dictionary: Play; diversion; games; frolick and tumultuous merriment and then asks, “Who now, save an occasional small child, regards sport as diversion or as tumultuous merriment? How much frolick is there in the Ohio State-Michigan game, the modern Olympics, the Little League championship of a crossroads country town?”

He says it is “somber tosh” to explain play as a way to serve wish-fulfillment, or a way to work off hostility, or a way to burn off excess energy, or something that “builds character, creates a healthy moral climate, builds bonds of fellowship, and gives a chance to earn big money with the pros.”

Coaches, he wrote, dare not admit they are just teaching a diversion.  To avoid being paid like English professors, they must “pose as saviors of youth, muscular alchemists who can take the base metal of bad boys and produce golden lads, saints who can block and shoot baskets.”

“It is to our discredit that we swallow all this stuff,” he wrote.  And he had no patience with those who cited the Duke of Wellington’s contention that the Battle of Waterloo had been won  on the playing fields of Eton.  Better, he argued, to remember what the Duke said as he watched troops whose preparation for war had consisted of playing rugby and cricket: “I don’t know if they frighten Napoleon, but by God, they frighten me!”

Broun charges our games “ruthlessly” root fun out of our games “lest it soften our fiber.”  But he says fun need not disappear as the stakes increase and tension grows.  After all, he says, our games are not open heart surgery—where there is real tension and the stakes are really high.

“We are only grotesque when we apply the standards suitable to the gladiator to our Little League children,” he wrote. “It is unfair to make them the surrogates of our flab-shackled daydreams.”

He did not begrudge the high salaries paid to the professionals by the corporations that own their teams but he finds the talk of money turns the athlete and his agent into dullards and he wonders why he even cares whether they win or lose.   Broun said he could get the same kind of behavior at a sales convention.

“After all, one game is not really more important than another in the cosmic scheme of things,” he wrote. “But it’s wonderful fun to pretend and we all have expended a lot of pretense on the Super Bowls, the World Series, the Triple Crown and football games like Yale-Harvard, Oho State-Michigan, or Texas-Oklahoma.”

Broun notes that “small children, more than their elders, demand a structure of immutable rules in their games” regardless of where the games are played. The rules are made up to fit the circumstances, but the rules must be followed.  And that, he says, is why we are fascinated by games. “They are the only activities of life where the rules are, metaphorically or actually, written on the top of the box.”  Life, on the other hand, is a place where the rules quickly can change for a participant, which is why we find relief to “escape into the small, known, well-defined structure of a game.”

“We agree, for the time we play it at least, to its importance, and everything else is lost in the shadows behind the sidelines,” he wrote.  Cheating only thrusts the participant back into the uncertainty of the real world.  “If winning is overwhelmingly important, and is the only reason for playing, we must break the ‘rule’ if no one is looking, or bend it if someone is.”

Broun discovered a game that he thought represented the purity that “sport” in its truest form should be while covering a story at the D. D. Palmer College of Chiropracty in Davenport, Iowa: Rugby.  Perhaps, he reasoned, the game’s lack of the “war game precision” of football that left spectators unable to have strategic discussions about why a team won or lost, and who was responsible, is why rugby has never caught on here. “What rugby does provide,” he wrote, “is an immense amount of pleasure to its players…The air is always filled with fiercely happy cries as the packed scrum into which the ball is dropped dissolves into a thirty-man whirlpool.

“For all the talk of American coaches about team effort, it is possible in sports like football and baseball to put the blame for a loss on an individual, the man who struck out with the bases loaded, dropped a fly ball in the ninth, couldn’t hold a pass, missed a crucial kick. In true team sports like rugby this finger-pointing is a lot more difficult, which is why I found the players at Palmer, scab-nosed to a man, full of good cheer after bashing about on a cold and muddy day.”

He reminds us:

“The actual importance of the contest is immaterial to both spectators and players once the period of magic has begun.  The level of excitement is subconsciously chosen by those present and after a time exists beyond their control…All of us should play as if life and honor depended on it, and all of us should cheer as if it were Lucifer State versus Angel U. in the arena; but at game’s end all of us should recognize that paradise was neither won nor lost. None of us should emulate those middle-aged men who stare glumly into the bottom of a highball glass when they think of a shot that failed to drop in the last second of some long-ago basketball game…

“Let it not be said, although I’m afraid it will, that young men are preparing for a stern world where mistakes are not forgotten, and that they should have a stern preparation for that world.

Sport is a preparation for more sport and not a businessmen’s ROTC…You can’t tackle economics or block logistics.

“Boys and girls, men and women, can all be distorted by the philosophies that use games to grotesque ends…A coach is not a priest. Games are not life. There is no authority save the Rule, which all players have agreed on, and there is no fun like playing a game for the sake of a game.”

Broun died in 2001.  He was 83.

We’re not sure if his words are any more useful or meaningful in shaping the world of sport and the public’s attitude toward it today than they were in 1979.  Or even whether there is some wisdom in them for the game of politics.

But then again, “There is no authority save the Rule,” and we risk a lot when we decide on or off the playing field that The Rule is expendable.

(Photo credits: paulikreport.com)

Heywood Hale Broun, Tumultuous Merriment, New York, Richard Marek Publishers, 1979

Journalism I

It’s not as if we haven’t been called names before. It’s not the first time that those in power wish reporters weren’t telling people what they’re really up to.  Or thinking about.

Criticisms or attacks from those who wish we weren’t so bothersome to them are not new nor will they ever go away. And what they say about us is sometimes not nearly so scathing as some of the things we say about ourselves.

We have accumulated through the years some of the noble things said about our profession and some of the criticisms leveled at it, internally and externally.  From time to time we will share them with you because we know that journalists have responsibilities and obligations of which they need at times to be reminded. We live in a world of kicks in the butt and occasional pats on the head and we are glad to toil in a nation that allows, if not encourages, both.  Here is a sample of the things said about those of us who do a job that is essential, regardless of whether you agree with what we say and write.

“Controversy? You can’t be any kind of reporter worthy of the name and avoid controversy completely. You can’t be a good reporter and not be fairly regularly involved in some kind of controversy. And I don’t think you can be a great reporter and avoid controversy very often, because one of the roles a good journalist plays is to tell the tough truths as well as the easy truths. And the tough truths will lead you to controversy, and even a search for the tough truths will cost you something. Please don’t make this play or read as any complaint, it’s trying to explain this goes with the territory if you’re a journalist of integrity. That if you start out a journalist or if you reach a point in journalism where you say, ‘Listen, I’m just not going not touch anything that could possibly be controversial,’ then you ought to get out.”

—Dan Rather, Staff, May 5, 2001

“If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist.”

—Norman Mailer, The Snark Handbook

“I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust. I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism. I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.”

—Walter Williams, founder of the nation’s first School of Journalism at the University of Missouri (1908), The Journalist’s Creed (partial)

“Journalism is unlike any other craft. It most closely resembles show business. There’s an undeniable element of ego in journalism, and an equally undeniable element of self-sacrifice. Performers know the show must go on. Journalists know the paper has to come out on time.”

—Donald L. Ferguson, Opportunities in Journalism Careers

“It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles.”

—G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross

“There is a line I would often share when I was a newspaper reporter talking to people who complained that we only reported ‘bad news.’ I would tell them: ‘It’s not news when a plane lands safely.’ And it’s not. ‘Everybody lived happily ever after’ is a great ending, but if they lived happily the whole time you wouldn’t bother reading.”

—Rick Polito, newhope360, January 20, 2016

 

“There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism.  By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

—Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, 1891.

Citizens do not think through the meaning of a free press.  Too many regard it merely as a profitable privilege of publishers, instead of the right of all the people and the chief institution of representative government.  A free press is that privilege of citizenship which makes governmental dictatorship impossible.  When editors fight for the liberty to speak and write, they fight for the greatest of all human rights under government.  He is not thoughtful who cannot see that democracy cannot exist except through the maintenance of a channel through which information can flow freely from the center of government to all the people and through which praise and criticism can flow freely from the people to the center.

—American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1938

So the journalist, the reporter, flourishes in this climate of scorn and principle. And your correspondent cannot think of anything he would rather be doing with his life than living in that climate.

We’ll let you inside that climate from time to time in the future.

 

0000

no one cares

An extraordinary writer has written an extraordinary book you should read, especially if you are in a public policy position, particularly if that position involves holding public purse strings.

He begins his book bluntly: “This is the book I promised myself I would never write. And promised my wife as well.”

Why?

“I have kept that promise for a decade—since our younger son, Kevin, hanged himself in our basement, a week before his twenty-first birthday in July 2005, after struggling for three years with schizophrenia.”

Then, three years later, his eldest son, Dean, developed symptoms of schizophrenia, too.

Several weeks ago, while driving to Columbia to do some research at the State Historical Society, I heard Ron Powers being interviewed on National Public Radio about this book. I knew instantly I had to read it:  no one cares about crazy people, which draws its title from a “ghastly” remark made in 2010 by a campaign aide to Scott Walker, who was running for Governor of Wisconsin.  Even the lower-case print used on the cover and title page is a message.  Crazy people are lower-case people, ones we prefer to ignore, ones easy to lose.

It should be explained that Ron and I have been friends most of our lives although that friendship became strained for reasons that are now clear from reading his book, a circumstance that might not be unusual when friends do not realize the cumulative effects of life circumstances upon other friends.  If you’re not familiar with him, Google him.  He’s a Hannibal native. Look at the long list of his books. Read about his Pulitzer Prize and his career with Charles Kuralt on the CBS Sunday Morning show.

Early in his book, Ron writes of an experience he had in a Vermont legislative committee hearing (He lives in Vermont) that equals one of the most vivid memories I have of covering thousands of hours of committee meetings in four decades as a statehouse reporter.  I recall a father testifying in one of the committee rooms on the first floor of the Missouri Capitol about this state’s inadequate services for the mentally ill.   He recited the struggles of his son whose deteriorating mental health eventually led the son into crime and then to state prison.  The point the father made that day should have been disturbing to anyone facing him from the committee table: the only place his son could receive treatment for his mental disease was in a prison.

Ron and his wife, Honoree, had gone to the lovely, small, Vermont Capitol in Montpelier in January, 2014 to testify about whether mental patients should be institutionalized against their will when their conditions reach certain levels of desperation and danger, or whether such action violates the individual’s civil liberties and exposes them to questionable drug therapies perceived by some as being prescribed by doctors who receive financial rewards from “Big Pharma” for prescribing those drugs.  We’ve heard the same arguments here. He heard people such as the father I had listened to here in Missouri.

Just three weeks after the Powerses attended that hearing came the revelation of the callous pronouncement from the Walker aide.  And that’s when Ron began to re-think his vow about not writing the book, reconsidering his desire to protect the privacy of his sons, and reconsidering his feelings that he did not want to exploit them.  I am glad that he made the difficult decision to write it after that hearing jolted him out of his introspection and into what he realized is “a simple and self-evident and morally insupportable truth: Too many of the mentally ill in our country live under conditions of atrocity.”

The book is not just a recounting of his family’s personal journey.  It also is an excellent journalistic recounting of the way societies have treated the mentally ill for centuries. Early in his book, Ron writes, “For centuries those who have been struck by madness have always had their own cruel nomenclature to bear, names intended to separate them out, divide us from them: lunatics, imbeciles, loonies, dips, weirdos, wackos, schizos, psychos, freaks, morons, nutcases, nutjobs, wingnuts, cranks.  The mad one, then, is something between a clown and a demon.  Unless that mad one is a gift of God made flesh.”

Such as a child.

Ron mixes the deeply-personal narrative of his family’s eventual shift from one of being normal, proud parents of gifted sons to a deepening search for hoped normality in the face of increasing and inescapable reality, with perceptive accounts of the years of society’s shifting thought on mental illness and the coining of the phrase “schizophrenia” by Eugen Bleuler in 1908.  Ron demonstrates his extensive journalistic story-telling skills to track the attitudes toward mental illness from the days of  demons and shamans; from Hippocrates to today’s researchers; from Bedlam, the first madhouse dating to 1247, to today’s asylums; from Sigmund Freud, Dorothea Dix, and Charles Darwin, to the disciples of Eugenics, and to Julian Jaynes’ Twentieth Century thoughts on the origins of madness—and research and policies in the forty-years since then, including mental illness deniers such as L. Ron Hubbard and Thomas Szasz..  It was mortifying to read that one Albert Priddy, the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, was a strong advocate of eugenics and a leader of the effort to defend the Virginia Sterilization Act.  It is only slightly comforting that his name does not show up on our particular branch of the family tree.

His writing on the deinstitutionalization movement started in a Ronald Reagan-signed law while Governor of California, the effects of which remain obvious to those will but see, is damning.  Ron calls the Lanterman-Petris-Short act “the national gold standard for clueless, destructive government interference in the interest of mentally ill people.” And he offers studies showing that our prisons have become the largest treatment facilities for those with mental illness since the national adoption of the act’s philosophy.

Ron doesn’t want you to “enjoy” the book—and you won’t.  But read it anyway. FEEL his book.  Have the courage and the empathy to read it from beginning to end including the preface, especially if you deal with public policy—particularly health and mental health issues and budget issues.

Too rarely, I asked legislative committee chairmen and women how they could listen to real people plead for the kind of help that only government can provide and then ignore the humanity behind those pleas.  The answers always were basically, “Well, we only have so much money.”  In recent years, their successors have moved to assure the state will have even less.

It is sad that so much of the process of government—at all levels—and citizen participation in a society that is greater than the one behind our front doors seems to look only at dollars and not at the real people next door or across the street. National and international health studies indicate one in four of us experience, or will experience, some kind of mental illness. All of us know someone who is one of those. But it’s okay to see the face of only one person—George Washington, whose benign gaze greets us on the front of the dollar bill.

This is a book of humanity that every health and mental health committee member in every state legislature should read.  It’s a book ALL of us should read.  We should be uncomfortable throughout it, and after it.

Thank you, Ron and Honoree, for your courage and your strength with this book.  We hope others can draw courage and strength of their own to see people, not just dollars.

Story-tellin’

One of the great things about being a journalist is the stories people tell you, often stories that aren’t exactly “news,” but are interesting enough that you file them away to tell to others later. In my case, I used to have in the newsroom several boxes carrying the ghoulish label, “Prospective Death Box.”  Through the years my staff and I put recordings of interviews, speeches, and events into that box so we would dig them out and play parts of them back in our coverage of the death of a prominent person or the anniversary of an important event.

Some of those recordings are, as far as I know, the only preserved telling of a story, the only known recording of an event, the only sample of someone’s now-stilled voice.

One of those recordings is of the only man ever to serve three terms as State Treasurer.  He did it in the days when the Treasurer could not succeed himself, which makes his service even more remarkable.

M. E. Morris was a Dadeville native—southwest Missouri’s Dade County—who founded in 1928 the People’s Bank in Miller. He was elected to the Missouri House for the first of his two terms in 1932, after which he became the CEO of the Trenton National Bank. He left the bank in 1945 to become Commissioner of the state Division of Finance.

When the 1945 Constitution created a new agency for collecting taxes, the Department of Revenue, Morris became the first Director of Revenue for Missouri, serving under Governor Phil Donnelly.  This was in the days when Governors could not succeed themselves and therefore keep patronage-appointed department heads so when Donnelly left office, Morris ran for and was elected State Treasurer for the first time.  He could not succeed himself but fortunately Donnelly decided he wanted to be Governor again, so when Donnelly became Governor a second time, Morris became Revenue Director again.  When  Donnelly’s second term ended, Morris ran for Treasurer and won a second term.  The Revenue Director while Morris was in his second term was Milton Carpenter who became the state Treasurer in 1961, at which point, Morris replaced Carpenter as Revenue Director under Governor John Dalton.  When Carpenter’s term ran out, Morris ran again, and won a third term as state treasurer.

He retired from state government after almost 25 years as either revenue director or state treasurer, a pretty remarkable career that few people recognize.

Name recognition is important in politics and M. E. Morris felt he had a leg up on any candidate.   Although known as M. E. to the press, and “Monty” to friends, his real name, you see, was MOUNT ETNA Morris.

On March 23, 1984, a little more than four years before he died, I went to his home in Jefferson City to interview him for my book about Thomas Hart Benton.  The interview was pretty frustrating because Morris had little information to offer and furthermore spoke in a slow, low, halting voice and provided no useful details.  At the end, however, I asked him to explain how he got the name “Mount Etna.”  I listened back and transcribed it. And here, from his lips to my ears, from my keyboard to your eyes, is what he told me:

“Seems there was a Welsh captain on a ship, sailing ship, of course, back in the Mediterranean back in the old days, and he was off the coast of Sicily.  A storm came up and he was about to lose his ship, did lose his bearings.  Mount Etna was in eruption at that time, there on the coast of Sicily there.  So he got his bearings from the stream of lava flying up over there.  Got his bearings and saved his ship.  So when he got back home, his first boy baby, he named him Mount Etna.  That name has been in our family for many years.

“And I know about four or five Mount Etna Morrises are buried in south Missouri there.  That’s where they finally hung up.  In fact I sent a check this morning to the old Morris Cemetery down in the county just this morning.  They’re getting ready for Decoration Day down there. 

“My grandmother’s name was Mount Etna Morris.  That’s where the name originated.  It’s a good story.  And as far as I know it’s a true story because there’s been some Mount Etna Morrises in the past.  I know where four of them are buried. 

“I told that story many times in campaign speeches just so they would remember it.”  

Let’s face it, if you’re a voter and you go into the booth aren’t you more likely to remember a man named for a volcano than somebody named Smith, Or Jones, or whatever?

Mr. Morris died in 1988, at the age of 87.  I doubt there are many recordings of his voice, let along many, or any other, recordings of the story of his name.

I intend to donate these recordings to the audio history collection of the State Historical Society.

———————–

As I was writing the book about the art of the Capitol, it dawned on me late in the process that I had not written about the three paintings in the Senate Lounge of Senators A. Clifford Jones, Richard Webster, and Michael Kinney.  In writing the story of Kinney, I recalled that I had on tape a fascinating story about him that Webster had told me.

Michael Kinney served 56 years in the state senate, longer than any legislator in the nation served in one chamber of any state legislature.  He was a Democrat from the rough and tumble “Kerry Patch” Irish neighborhood of St. Louis once dominated by two Irish gangs, the Hogans and Egan’s Rats, a group that’s been described as “the first full-time gangsters to make regular headlines.”   He succeeded his brother, Thomas, an Irish tavern-keeper known as “Snake,” who handled the political issues for the gang before he died in 1912 during his second term in the Senate.

Michael served until he lost a primary bid for re-election in 1968.  He seldom spoke in the Senate and when he did his voice was so soft that many of his colleagues could not hear him in those days before there was a public address system. But his seniority and his knowledge of Senate procedure gave him great power throughout his career.

He sponsored many bills that became laws in his career, the one that is his most visible legacy being the one that created the state cancer hospital in Columbia.  For most of three decades he was part of a Senate triumvirate that exerted enormous influence.  He, Senators Michael E. Casey of Kansas City, who served from 1909-1944 after serving six years in the House, and Senator Joseph Brogan of St. Louis, who was in the Senate from 1909 until his death in 1940, were Presidents pro Tem four times among them and chaired powerful committees throughout their careers.  The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said Casey “was the spellbinder of the group…Brogan..was the witty, nimble floor fighter, while Senator Kinney was the subtle, behind-the-scenes diplomat, string-puller and compromiser.”

Senator Webster, who was from Carthage, was in the House before moving across the rotunda to the other chamber.  He remembered when he and Kinney were on a conference committee of House and Senate members working on a compromise of a bill that had passed both chambers in different form and Webster—then in the House—was complaining about Governor Forrest Smith.  Kinney told him, “I’ve told every House member and every Senate member that’s arrived on the scene and got mad at whoever the Governor was, ‘He’s just a Governor.  Those fellows come and go.’”

Webster remembered that Kinney sat on a high stool in his office at 7 a.m. each day of the legislative session, stripped to his waist with a table cloth wrapped around his neck while his grandson-in-law, State Auditor Haskell Holman, shave him.  Kinney sat with his back to the open door.

“If you looked, you’d see a bullet hole in his back, “Webster told me.  It was a scar that Webster said remained from an assassination attempt during an Irish gang war.  Kinney was shot four times—in the chest, both arms, and in the jaw—in 1924.  He later identified a police photograph of a recaptured escaped mental patient as the man who shot him.  But there was considerable doubt even then that Kinney told the truth.  Although suspicions lingered for decades that his near-assassination was part of the heated rivalry between the Rats, of which Kinney remained a part, and the rival Hogans, Kinney never commented about the issue publicly.” 

Privately, though, according to Webster, he did talk about it.  And Webster told me about one of those conversations in the privacy of Kinney’s office.

“Someone would say, ‘Senator, do you remember a fellow named Jimmy O’Brien?’  And he would say, ‘Jimmy O’Brien.  He was a nice fellow.  Whatever happened to him?’”

“Well, what had happened to him was that Mike Kinney could never identify his assailant although his assailant was about three or four feet from him when he fired the shot.  But a month later, Jimmy O’Brien did rise to the surface of the Mississippi River.”   

There is, as far as I know, no other telling of that story except for the version Richard Webster related on tape to me that day.

Another case of the journalist collecting the first draft of history.

——————

I have in my tape library several hours of Senate floor debate in which one of the greatest Ozark story tellers ever to serve in the legislature embarked on some of his long, windy expositions on some subject that might or might not be related to the issue at hand.  There is no doubt that many of the stories Danny Staples told were pure fabrications or old jokes recycled for the moment.  But many of his stories came straight from his early life as the son of a grocery-store owner in rural southeast Missouri.

In March, 2002, the Senate was working on an election reform bill triggered by some of the big problems at the polls in St. Louis in 2000.  Staples launched into a story that was not particularly original except in the telling.

“I’m not going to say what country it was because I don’t think the statute of limitations have run out yet. But I can remember full well an old boy that was a sheriff down in one of the southeast counties.  And this young, handsome, debonair, good-lookin’ candidate was running against the incumbent state senator down there.  And the old retired official down there had named his successor and they came in and they both liked this young, handsome, debonair good-lookin’ fellow that was running the incumbent.

“One night it was raining, two days before the election, and the old man and the boy, his protégé, were out in one of those famous Civil War cemeteries down there in southeast Missouri.  One of them had a flashlight; the other one had a legal pad and a pen. And they were taking names off the Civil War cemetery headstones, been there since 1865.

“They were voting absentee ballots for this young, handsome, debonair challenger of this old retiring state senator. 

“And…the old official that was retiring had the flashlight and he was looking at a headstone there in the middle of the night and it was weather-beaten; it was worn from the hail, from the wind, from freezing rain, and the atmosphere.  And the young official that replaced the old official looked at him and said, ‘Hey. Pop, we can’t get the name off this headstone.  It’s been worn out. It’s no longer legible.  Let’s move over to the next one.’  The old man looked at the boy, and he says, ‘Cubby, this man has got just as much right to vote as this man.’’   

“That’s the way you run an honest election.”

Staples told the Senate after that, “You don’t need laws on the books to protect the innocent.  We only need laws on the books to protect those that would be corrupt and greedy and grafty in the greatest society in the world, and that’s the electoral process.”  I have read the transcript of that remark time and again and I’ll be darned if I can figure out the logic in it.

Staples usually tipped off his storytelling by asking a Senator who was handling a bill, ‘Would be interested to know, Senator….” Even if the Senator was NOT interested, Staples would proceed to inform him—and everybody else.

He decided to tell another story during this particular debate but the other senator—Doyle Childers who later became director of the Department of Natural Resources under Matt Blunt—answered “No, Senator, at this moment I’m not interested to know that, but thank you Senator.” At which point Staples stopped trying to debate and just asked to speak on the bill.

“Mr. President, it comes to my remembrance and my recollection now that they had another election in southeast Missouri…One day down in southeast Missouri, the day after the election, this man about fifty years old was sitting on the courthouse steps.  He was crying.  Tears rolling down his face.  A business partner of his walked by and he said, ‘What’s wrong?  Has there been a tragedy?’  He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Yesterday was election day.’  He said, ‘My daddy’s been dead for nine years.  He come home and voted yesterday, didn’t even stop to see momma and I.’” 

(The Senate dissolved into laughter for several seconds on both sides of the aisle.)..

Staples went on:  “Now, I’ve won ten elections and lost one.  There was never voter fraud in the 20th Senatorial District.  Oh, sometimes we Democrats voted on Tuesday, sent out a press release, the Republicans would vote on Wednesday.  But the polls weren’t open on Wednesday as you well know. So the Democrats always won.”

Term limits finally got Danny Staples—one of the many egregious shortcomings of that misguided concept that relies on public apathy and civic irresponsibility for its support—after twenty years in the Senate preceded by six years in the House.  Not long after he was forced out of office, Danny Staples and his wife were getting ready for a trip.  He had taken the family motor home to town to get it all cleaned up and fueled up.  He drove it home and dropped dead of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. The legislature has been far too serious since he left.

We journalists not only get to witness events as they unfold and capture the stories that people tell in that process, the journalist also comes across long-forgotten stories in the course of our curiosity. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this last story but I filed it away, knowing I’d have a chance to tell it to somebody sometime. And son-of-a-gun, here is that opportunity.

Missouri history has LOT of wonderful animal stories.  Here’s one.

Many years ago I knew the first three-time Speaker of the House.  He served in the 1930s, was the Speaker for three of his four terms, and one night my longtime friend Clyde Lear and I sat down with him after dinner and recorded him telling some stories.   He told us about a day that the House and the Senate met together to see a special guest who was multi-lingual, including Morse Code, and apparently was clairvoyant to boot.

His name was Jim. Jim the Wonder Dog.  Folklorist and folk song-teller Bob Dyer wrote a song about “Jim, Jim, Wonderful Jim.  Never was a dog smarter than him.” At least not according to Bob Dyer.

Former House Speaker John G. Christy, who later was Mayor of Jefferson City for twelve years, recalled that there was no way Jim’s owner, Sam VanArsdale, could have given the dog any signals that day in the House of Representatives when—during an informal joint session—he was told in Morse Code to find the man known as the “Beau Brummel of the House.”   Jim trotted down the main aisle, paused, then turned in and wound his way through a row of desks and put his paw on the leg of a state representative who WAS known as the Beau Brummel of the House.  He was also told to find the sponsor of the horse racing bill, and he picked that man out from the crowd in the House Chamber.  That’s another story I recorded more than 35 years ago.

I love the way Bob Dyer concluded his song about Jim:

“So the next time you hear about man’s best friend,

            Think about that wonderful dog named Jim.

            And remember,

            Dogs can be just as smart as some humans are….dumb.”  

God gave people one mouth and two ears for a reason. Journalists are blessed by working in a profession that relies on that statement and having the tools to capture the stories that prove its truth.

 

Jerry

We’ve lost a good guy named Jerry Nachtigal. 

Those of us who have spent a lot of time covering state government might be excused if we think of Jerry as the last of his kind, a press secretary who recognized that his job was to be an enabler, not a roadblock. 

Jerry was Mel Carnahan’s spokesman.  He was the one who made the official announcement that terrible night almost seventeen years ago that his boss and two others had been killed in a plane crash. Governor Carnahan, his son Randy, and the governor’s chief aide, Chris Sifford died in that crash.  Chris had been Jerry’s predecessor as the governor’s press guy.  

Jerry stayed on as Roger Wilson’s spokesman during Wilson’s two-month governorship.  And he remained in the position for a while for Bob Holden.  He always dealt with the press with high professionalism.  This reporter cannot recall ever having a cross word with him. If we needed a comment from Governor Carnahan, he always tried to connect us with him or at least was able to tell us what the governor was thinking—we recall several times when the governor had gone to Washington or somewhere else to conduct state business and Jerry always made sure we could get a long-distance call by the governor from the airport before takeoff on the return flight.

It helped that Jerry had spent almost two decades working for the Associated Press in Kansas City and Springfield as well as in Phoenix.  Unlike too many of his successors throughout state government, he knew the press and how it operates.  And he worked for a governor who was open about his actions and who was unafraid to explain and defend them. 

Jerry was a native of South Dakota and the state eventually drew him back to it, first to be a spokesman for an unsuccessful candidate for governor and then as a spokesman for Citibank in Sioux Falls.   When he died, he was the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs.  He was a respected community leader, a trustee of the South Dakota State University foundation (he was a graduate of the school), a board member of the Sioux Falls YMCA, and a board member of the South Dakota Banking Association. He also ran most of Citi’s philanthropic efforts in the state. 

The CEO of the Sioux Falls YMCA was quoted in Jerry’s obituary saying Jerry was a powerful corporate executive but didn’t lord it over anyone. “He was just down to earth, great communicator, always open to talking about things…someone who believed in giving back.”

He and his family were the South Dakota State University Family of the Year in 2005.  He bled blue and yellow as he watched the Jackrabbits basketball and football games.  And there was some purple, too, for his Minnesota Vikings.  He loved baseball, particularly the Twins, he fished; he hunted; he looked at birds.  He once said that everybody in family but him and the dog played tennis—but he was one of the top leaders in efforts to build a major indoor tennis facility in Sioux Falls so people could play in the months when, as he noted, South Dakota is frozen. 

Cancer claimed him at the age of 57.  He leaves his wife, three children, and other family members.

We appreciated him and respected him when he was with us at the Capitol. That was, unfortunately, a far different time.  The press and the public here have not been served as well since he went back to South Dakota. 

He was a good man.  We are lucky to have been able to work with him.  And grateful that we did.

God forbid that I should become so much a party man…

The hardest part of doing research in the newspaper library of the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia is staying on task. Every newspaper is full of distractions.  While scouring The Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser looking for something about the Missouri legislature in 1830, this newspaper archaeologist came across a couple of letters reprinted from the Jackson Gazette in Tennessee.  Reading letters such as these reminds us of the elegant style of expression and courtesy that was common in many letters of the time.  And more.

Getting a contract to print the federal laws was important in the early days of newspapering. It was a basic income when newspapers were small operations in small frontier towns. When the Gazette was notified by Secretary of State Martin Van Buren that its contract would be given to a rival paper, the editor asked his congressman to change Van Buren’s mind—even though the newspaper losing the contract had been a strong opponent of the Congressman. But like all things governmental, you can be against it until you need it.

The congressman told Van Buren his constituent learned “without knowing why or wherefore, the printing of the laws of the United States have been taken from him and bestowed upon another.”  He felt “authorized to enter my protest against the manner in which your authority has been exercised.” He was not going to compare the merits of the two editors involved. “No, sir,” he said, “I should blush to find myself drawing distinctions upon mere party grounds. If I were to do so, I should be compelled to approve your choice.”  The defrocked editor had not supported him while the new publisher had, but fairness was more important than partisanship:  “The editor upon whom you have conferred the trust has been uniformly my friend, and to him I acknowledge myself under many political obligations.  But to witness so uncertain a state of things is to weaken the confidence of the citizen in his government, or the consistency of those who administer it.

“For corruption and crime, or for either, an officer should be removed.  But, Sir, is the doctrine to be established that for either a former or an anticipated difference of opinion, a man is to be proscribed?  If so, the triumph of virtue is wholly doubtful and the range of favoritism may be made as wide as the universe.

“Sir, I had supposed that before you would make material changes in my district, you would, according to custom, condescend to consult me.  I surely have more opportunities of understanding the interests of the people of the Western District of Tennessee than yourself; I hope that I am sufficiently devoted to those interests not to misrepresent them.”

He complained the losing editor had been the first editor in the town and was a great friend of President Jackson, who the Congressman considered a “firm and undeviating friend.” He considered Van Buren’s actions a “great interference” in his district.

He wrote to the Jackson Gazette editor two days later, March 5, 1830, that he heard of the change “with great astonishment” and he had not written his critical letter to Van Buren to gain favor with the editor.  “It is because I wish justice done to every man and under all circumstances.”  But he doubted he would get a response.

The Congressman was a firm Jacksonian.  “I have fought under his command—and am proud to own that he has been my commander. I have loved him, and in the sincerity of my heart I say that I still love him; but to be compelled to love everyone who, for purposes of aggrandizement pretend to rally round the ‘Jackson Standard’ is what I can never submit to.”

He underlined that profession by saying, “I am a party man in the true sense of the word; but God forbid that I should ever become so much a party man as obsequiously to stoop to answer a Party purpose.”

He assured the editor he had nothing to do with Van Buren’s “unjustifiable business” of taking away the printing contract.  “I am indignant at seeing a set of men, whether in elevated or humble status, pursuing with such madness the very course of intolerance and proscription which they have so long and so loudly (and as they informed me so justly) condemned elsewhere.”

We don’t know if the Gazette ever got the government printing contract back, but later that year it changed names and eventually merged with another paper that winked out well before the end of the decade.

The Congressman’s career reflected his antipathy to being a “party man.” Despite his professed affection for Jackson in his letter, he had become an ANTI-Jacksonian Democrat by the time he was elected to his second term, during which he was dealing with the editor at home. He had lost his bid for a third term in the months before the correspondence but two years later was elected to his third and final term before being defeated in a bid for a fourth.

Exactly six years to the day Congressman David Crockett wrote of wishing for “justice done to every man and under all circumstances” and who proclaimed he would not accept demands to be a “party man,” nor would he support those who pursued intolerance after “so long and so loudly” opposing it, he watched from the fortified San Antonio de Valero mission as Santa Anna’s massive army moved into position for an attack.  The courageous former congressman died the next morning, 181 years ago today.

The press gang

The Capitol Press Corps swells when the legislature is in session when news organizations that cover government from a distance the rest of the year reopen their press rooms on the fifth floor for the duration or add employees at the capitol or a few months. In the off-session times, the on-site “gang” is smaller.

We use the word “gang” because the headline for this column is the same headline used by the Cole County Democrat, a weekly version of the daily Democrat, on January 3, 1907 when it told readers about the reporters who were arriving in town for the session that year.  The article was written, of course, by a member of the press corps, probably the guy from the Post whose name does not appear on the list, and it is clear there was good-natured camaraderie involved in what was then a pretty competitive bunch.  But the days of two-newspaper towns are pretty much gone—Columbia being the only one in Missouri that comes to mind.

This, though, is the “press gang” of 1907 as the article put it:

+++++++

As usual the best newspaper men in the State are here to cover the legislature.  They are selected because excellent qualifications are required for the positions.  Men who have been tried and not found wanting—men who never betray a confidence and above all tell the truth.

The Star and Times of Kansas city will be represented by Walter Evans, who with the probable exception of Charlie Oldham of this city, is the best posted man in the state on Missouri politics.  He will be assisted by Claud Johnson, a very clever writer, but not well posted in politics.

The Kansas City Post will be represented by Will Williams, a most capable man, who represented the St. Joseph Gazette at the last session.  Harry Edwards of this city will represent the Kansas City Journal. His ability as a writer needs no comment, as it is well known here. The St. Joseph News-Press will again be represented by the “Kid” reporter, but as he is young in years so he is old in experience and that is Bert G. Voorhees. This is the third general assembly that Voorhees has covered for the St. Joseph News-Press, which in itself stamps him as a most excellent reporter.

Rev. Ben Deering represents the St. Joseph Gazette this year.

Jos. J. McAuliffe will, of course, represent the Post-Dispatch. Joe is one of the newspaper men who has the happy faculty of both getting the news and writing.  Joe has been coming here to legislatures and on special work for the Lord only knows how long, and each time he comes he makes more friends and “binds those he has with bands of steel.”  He will be assisted by Curtis Betts, who has lived with us long enough for us to be glad he is here and to hope that he shall always live in Jefferson City.

The Star Chronicle will be represented by W. H. Quigley, who made a name for himself two years ago by his energies and reliable work on the St. Louis Chronicle, while the St. Louis Globe-Democrat will be represented by our own Sam Kellar, the immortal “S. K.” Nuf said.

The Republic will be represented by Chas. B. Oldham, who knows more politicians and political stories than any other writer in Missouri.  Tom Masterson said to be one of the police reporters in St. Louis will be associated with Mr. Oldham in the Republic work.

These men and the members of the legislature are to be our guests for the winter; let’s show them a good time.

+++++++

We don’t know if Ben Deering really was a minister although there are some contemporary accounts from that era of a minister by that name in St. Louis and in Indiana.

Joseph McAuliffe is the reporter who stirred up the great legislative Baking Powder Scandal of 1903 that forced a Lieutenant Governor out of office and led to the indictments of four state senators for bribery.

A photograph in the press room showing Governor Donnelly meeting with the press corps in his office (this was before Warren Hearnes turned the Governor’s Waiting Room into The Office) includes Curtis Betts, still on the job in about 1947.  Also in the picture, by the way, is Bob Holliway, who arrived on the scene a few years after this 1907 article was written, and who spent time in the Cole County jail in 1917 when he would not reveal who on a county grand jury had told him a series of indictments would be issued against the former Commissioner of the Permanent Seat of Government (the equivalent of today’s Commissioner of Administration) who was indicted but never convicted for selling state-owned coal to other state officials or private citizens.

Today’s press corps is far different but no less committed than these jolly fellows of 1907 to telling readers, viewers, and listeners important things those citizens should know about what their elected legislators and state officials are up to. It’s a harder job than it was then because of the pressures technology puts on them in the form of constant minute-by-minute deadlines. And today, as then, some of the things they write are resented by those they write about—although their stories are unlikely to land them in jail. But the press corps remains an important link between citizens and those they elect to make the laws and regulations. It’s too bad there aren’t more of them.

Erasing History in the Missouri House

The daily journals kept by the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate are bare-bones records of their proceedings.  Eloquence and folly voiced during floor debate have no place in them.  This is not, after all, Congress, where the daily Congressional Record captures every word, even words never spoken (Members are allowed to “revise and expand” their remarks).

Reading the Missouri legislature’s journals reveals some things, though.  The journals tell us that the order of procedure used today are pretty much the very same order of procedure used in our earliest legislative sessions.  There is an official structure to the making of laws that is honored every day.  Titles of bills and texts of amendments give us some indication of the thinking of the participants and thus an indication of the standards of Missouri society through time.  Resolutions, too, reflect often contemporary issues, events, and causes.   Only in recent years have debates been archived by, among others, the Secretary of State.

Today, however, we are going to tell you about a House Journal that does not reflect what happened that day because the House deliberately erased the record.   It was an extraordinary event.  We cannot say it was unprecedented because it will take someone with weeks or months of time we do not have to learn if it was.

We go back to Sunday night, January 25, 1903, when the young firebrand temperance-promoting preacher at the Christian Church about four blocks down East Main Street (Capital Avenue today) charged city officials and the people of Jefferson City had allowed Jefferson City to have a lower moral standard than any other small city in Missouri. Crayton S. Brooks charged the arrival of legislators that month had not helped.  His sermon caused great unrest in the capital city and a week of give-and-take in the local press kept the issue hot.  Legislators watched events with interest.

Now let’s look at the House Journal:

—-

TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, February 3, 1903. House met pursuant to adjournment. Speaker Whitecotton in the chair. Prayer by the Chaplain. Journal of yesterday read and approved. Mr. Kirkham offered the following joint resolution, which was read and adopted: JOINT RESOLUTION. Whereas. Hon. Dorsey W. Shackietord, Congressman from the Eighth Missouri district, has introduced into the National House 0f Representatives a bill to create a national park at the famous Ha-Ha-Tonka region, in Camden county, Missouri; and Whereas, Lake Ha-Ha-Tonka, and the Niangua river, adjacent thereto, with the surrounding natural scenery and phenomena, have been pronounced by scientists and naturalists the most interesting and beautiful spot on earth; now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of this House, the Senate concurring therein, that the same should be preserved to the people for all time as a national park, and to that end, we urgently request our Senators and Representatives in the National Congress to co-operate with Congressman Shackleford in his efforts to secure the passage of said bill; and be it further Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions, duly authenticated, be forwarded to each or our Senators and Representatives at Washington.

Mr. Dolan presented a communication from the “Brotherhood of Daily Life,” condemning the passage of any legislation discriminating between the races; Which was read and referred to Committee on Railroads and Internal Improvements. Mr. Dolan presented a petition from the citizens of Jackson county to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to minors; Which was read and referred to Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.

—-

But that’s not what happened at all when the House came into session that day.

The legislature in those days designated an official newspaper that would publish and bind the official journals at the end of the session.  It wasn’t that difficult at the end because the paper also published the daily journals and all the editors had to do at the end of the session was take all of that type that had been saved and print the bound volumes.

The House Journal for Tuesday February 3 had been published by the Jefferson City State Tribune on January 4 before the House approved the journal for the official record. THIS is what the journal said in the newspaper:

—-

TWENTIETH DAY—Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1903  (the newspaper had the date wrong)

House met pursuant to adjournment, Speaker Whitecotton in the chair.

Prayer by ________,

On motion of Mr. OFFICER, further reading of the House Journal was dispensed with.

MR COLDEN introduced the following resolution concerning the removal of the state capitol:

“Whereas, the pulpit and the press, the two recognized regulators of public morals and the public conscience, condemn Jefferson City, the seat of government of the state of Missouri, as a place where gambling, vice and immorality flourish without protest from the citizens or the officers of the law; and

“Whereas the seat of government was located at its present site in the days of stage coach and steamboat, and is without adequate railway facilities, and is unreasonably inaccessible to a majority of the people of the state, and is further unable to furnish ample accommodations for a capital city; and

“Whereas, the state of Missouri is practically out of debt and will soon be compelled to erect a new capitol commensurate to the needs of the state; therefore be it

“Resolved, That the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Permanent Seat of Government be and is hereby instructed to prepare a joint and concurrent resolution, providing for the removal of the capitol to some point at or near one of the great railway centers of the state, to be determined by a commission to be appointed by the Governor, and to be submitted to the qualified voters at the next general election of the state of Missouri.”

Mr. TICHACEK offered an amendment naming St. Louis as the place to be selected as the railway center named in the resolution.

Mr. GARDNER offered an amendment to the resolution as follows:

“That said commissioners specially consider the practicability of using the buildings to be constructed by Missouri on the World’s Fair site for capitol purposes.”

Mr. WILLIAMS offered an amendment, providing for one million dollars to be raised by the city of St. Louis.

Resolution, with all amendments, was adopted.

—-

The reaction from Jefferson City was immediate, strong, and pointed.  The State Tribune immediately editorialized, “After all Jefferson City is not such a bad place to live in….Jefferson City has the best streets and sidewalks, the best telephone system, the best railway station; one of the best county court houses in the state. Its waterworks and sewerage are unsurpassed.”

The competing Cole County Democrat the next day dismissed Colden’s effort as a “Scare-Crow Resolution,” saying it was “gotten up to scare the people of Jefferson City” and was not taken seriously by any of the representatives who voted for it.

The State Tribune argued that St. Louis was hardly the place to move the capitol if the lawmakers’ aim was to go somewhere lacking in “intemperance, gambling and licentiousness…cheap theatres or other places of seductive character” to lure them from the paths of rectitude.

Representative Colden was beating a fast retreat by Thursday.  “Just a joke,” he proclaimed.  “I am surprised by the seriousness of the people of Jefferson City on the capital removal proposition,” he said.  In fact, he fully supported Reverend Brooks.   So did Lieutenant Governor John A. Lee, the President of the state senate, who said he would not favor moving the seat of government away.

Then on Monday afternoon, February 9, Colden brought his resolution back to the House, noting city officials had taken action, that the charges made against the city had been hurtful, and that his resolution had accomplished its purpose. He moved that his resolution be expunged from the journal.  Another representative moved that the resolution and all of the amendments be expunged.  The House voted 55-16 to do that.

The Journal for that day contains no reference to that discussion or to that vote.

And that is why the original journal for February 3, 1903 indicates Representative Colden never offered a resolution. Nobody offered any amendments to a resolution, and no resolution on removing the seat of state government to St. Louis ever passed.  And since the official journal for February 3 says no such thing ever occurred, the Journal for February 9 contains no record of the House expunging something that never happened—but did.

We know these things happened because the newspaper published them.  And only because the newspaper published them.

We never saw anything like this happen in all our years of covering the legislature.  We hope it is never repeated.  Thanks to a newspaper, the historical record is clear even if the official record is not. That’s why we have a free press with which you can agree or disagree.  But as long as we have media that is free to record events that become history, we will know.  And in knowing we will remain free.

Some campaign irreverence helps

A day after the first Hillary and Donnie Show, a friend passed along an article from The Onion dated June 2, 2004.  The headline read:

Poll: Many Americans Still Unsure Whom to Vote Against

The Onion, for the uninitiated, is a satirical newspaper that turns conventional reporting upside down or inside out.  And its irreverence focuses on the absurdity of living life too seriously—which we as citizens, and citizens as candidates, tend to do in campaigns.

The Onion told us in 2004 that a Gallup Poll showed six percent of Americans were not sure whether to vote against Bush or to vote against Kerry.

According to the poll, 46 percent of the registered voters surveyed would vote against Bush if the election were held tomorrow, while 45 percent said they were ready to vote against Kerry. Factoring in the 2 percent margin of error, the two candidates are essentially deadlocked in the race to determine which candidate American doesn’t support.

The article’s deadpan approach also turned the scenario this way:

“The two major parties face a tough struggle,” Harmon said. “As the election approaches, both must convince undecided voters that the opposing party’s candidate is worse than their own. As both parties take more moderate positions in an election year, it’s getting harder to convince citizens that there’s a reason to get out there and vote against anyone.

The traditional press would have told readers and listeners that the survey showed Bush and Kerry locked in a statistical dead heat with six percent undecided. Real serious, sober reporting.

We looked to see what The Onion had to say after Monday night’s debate. Here’s its take:

…A Gallup report released this morning revealed that hopeless resignation has received a substantial bump in the polls. “Our real-time polling data from last night’s presidential debate showed a clear trend, with hopeless resignation charting higher and higher as the evening progressed—it really seemed to resonate with viewers,” said Gallup spokesperson Sarah Langley, who noted that hopeless resignation’s current surge far surpassed the boost it experienced following the conventions, spiking to the highest level of the election cycle. “Last night was easily the biggest moment of the campaign season for hopeless resignation, and I think most Americans recognized that. Clearly, many voters who were on the fence were convinced by what they saw in the debate.” Langley added that if current trends continue, hopeless resignation is likely to reach a historic high in the polls by Election Day.

It’s funny because it’s true, isn’t it?  As the Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web” column puts it, “Life Imitates Onion.”

Relax folks. Laughing at ourselves a little bit will help as we plummet toward election day in November.

 

Trumpvention week

We’re going to spend some time today kind of talking inside baseball stuff.

The Missourinet has sent our Director of News Services, Ashley Byrd, to Cleveland for a week to see if chaos does, indeed, erupt and to report on the Missouri delegation’s role in the most unusual national political convention the Missourinet has ever covered.

Ashley is based at the Learfield News Division nerve center in Jefferson City. She oversees all of our networks in Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Carolina.

Covering national political conventions has been an essential part of the existence of the Msisourinet since we sent Jeff Smith (now a retired Northwest Airlines VP in Minneapolis) and Chuck Morris (who now is a Christian radio host in California) to the conventions in 1976. The Missourinet was formed to fill a void in broadcast reporting in Missouri—covering state government. And covering Missouri’s delegation to the national conventions remains part of that purpose. Our delegations have had their ups and downs as far as influence at conventions, but the Missourinet has always felt it’s important for the people of this state hear about Missouri’s participation in the process.

It’s been quite a while since Missourians expressed their preference for the Republican candidates—it was March. To refresh your memory: There were a lot of candidates still on the ballot then although some already had thrown in the towel. Trump got 40.844% of the vote. Ted Cruz got 40.634. John Kasich got 10.099 and the rest picked up the crumbs that fell off the table.

The list of convention speakers released this weekend includes no names from Missouri. And don’t look for the Missouri delegation on your teevee. The seating chart shows a center section of delegates from New York, Florida, and Tennessee. In the first right-hand section (looking at the stage), Missouri is behind Wisconsin, South Carolina, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island and apparently a few seats might be across the aisle in an area occupied by Georgia, North Carolina,

and American Samoa.

Cleveland, we hear, is kind of nervous about this whole business, partly because of the turmoil that Trump creates and partly because of recent incidents of mass violence. Almost two square miles of downtown Cleveland is considered an event zone that has security restrictions. And things are really tight in the convention center neighborhood. Our reporters dealt with the security hassles at conventions four years ago and indications are that Cleveland is going to be even tighter. But we’d rather have our reporters covering the news than being an unfortunate part of the news in Cleveland.

Be watching the Missourinet social media pages and the webpage all week for Ashley’s updates and listening to your Missourinet affiliates station’s newscasts.                                                                                                                             —

We’ll be waiting for a report on a tap-dance at the convention that could make Riverdance seem like a box-step.   One of the speakers is Ted Cruz, who in Indianapolis on March 3 called Trump “utterly amoral” a “narcissist,” a “serial philanderer,” and “a pathological liar.”   Trump used his Cruz designation of “Lyin’ Ted” several times during the campaign, including during a debate in May.

If you call a guy a liar who has called you a liar, should anybody believe anything good you say about each other later?

We wonder if the convention band will play a tune from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I:

When the last little star has left the sky,

Shall we still be together

With our arms around each other

And shall you be my new romance?

On the clear understanding

That this kind of thing can happen,

Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

Shall we Dance?

—–

We did see one report from a Wall Street Journal reporter that RNC folks have gotten real busy at the last minute replacing signs in the convention center reading “White elevators.”   Such signs don’t play well, given some of the comments from the party’s presumptive nominee, of course.   We’ve been in a lot of convention centers and we know they’re often marked for different zones for the convenience of attendees which leads us to wonder—because we are left without some information that might have been included in the story—whether there are blue elevators or green elevators or other color elevators in other zones of the building.

Some folks might think the elevator brouhaha is a matter of over-sensitivity. But accidental or not, they’re also seen as signs of the times at the Trumpvention.

—-

We need to mention here that Mike Lear, who was one of those convention reporters four years ago, has joined the staff of the information office of the Missouri House of Representatives. Mike’s last day at the Missourinet was Friday. The House Information Office where he starts working this week is non-partisan. Republicans and Democrats seem to think they each need to have their partisan voices separate from the information office and are spending taxpayer money to pay people to make sure you know the two parties don’t like each other.

Mike was with us for about five years. We brought him in after long-time Managing Editor Brent Martin was promoted to the news directorship of our network in Nebraska. Mike was an outstanding reporter for us and he was great to work with. We spent a lot of late hours in our Capitol newsroom during legislative sessions, putting together our stories for the next morning after the Senators and Representatives had left for the day.   Mike was our food-scrounger. He was the one who knew where to find the leftover food from dinners brought in to feed House committee members.   Yes, we wound up eating a lot of food provided by lobbyists but we never knew which lobbyist had done the committees favors each night so we never worried about showing any preference for any cause of issue—other than making sure we didn’t go hungry.

The Capitol Press Corps has lost a good reporter. But his wife and five daughters will be gaining a husband and father with more time to spend with them because he’ll be working more regular hours and will have weekends and holidays off.

—–

Taking over Mike’s slot in the Missourinet newsroom is Brian Hauswirth. Brian is a newsie through and through. We’ve known him for several years from days when he was in local radio in Jefferson City and Moberly and respected his work in both places. He’s been the Assignment Editor at KMIZ-TV in Columbia for the last few years, hungering for a chance to get back to face-to-face reporting.

three generations

The other night, at a going-away gathering for Mike at Prison Brews, we asked affiliate relations director Mike Cady to get a picture of the three generations of Missourinet leaders. That’s Brian on the left, Mike in the middle, and your correspondent on the right. We hope it’s a long time before a four-generation picture is taken.