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.


Donnie and the press

(An Elton John tune has been going through your observer’s mind for the last few days)

Donald Trump doesn’t like reporters. “You know my opinion of the press—very low,” he said at a recent press conference. “The media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met,” he has said. “Seventy-five percent is absolutely dishonest, absolute scum, scum,” he has proclaimed.

“The media frankly is made up of people—in many cases, not in all cases—who are not good people,” he said. “I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever known…I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest.”

Just to set the tone of this entry early, let it be known that this observer is proud to have been “scum” for more than a half-century. It is, believe it or not, a strange badge of honor given by people such as Donald Trump to carry the label of not being “good people.”

One might be tempted to respond, “That’s true. Of course, do not forget that people are known for the company that they keep. And guess who we’ve been keeping company with.”   But that would be snarky and unprofessional and will be left unsaid.

Trump’s attitude means we are doing our jobs. And people like Donald Trump don’t believe we should do our jobs, which is questioning the honesty and credibility of people such as Donald Trump.

Trump seems to think his characterizations of the press will (a) make his followers love him even more without reservation and (b) intimidate the press.   We don’t know if any of his most loyal adherents will ever be bothered by the things they are learning from those of us whom Trump despises but we do know that efforts to intimidate the press don’t work. Good reporters don’t back off, especially when people such as Trump have no responses to their questions beyond name-calling.

Trump has threatened to change libel laws if he’s elected President so he can sue reporters more easily. He regularly ignores the fact that he is not running for dictator, but is running for an office that is only one-third of government and that he cannot by himself determine what the law is.

One thing journalists know above all else about libel law is that truth is an absolute defense. That standard is terribly unwelcome to people such as Donald Trump who seem to think truth should be defined as whatever falls from their lips.

What triggered the newest broadside was solid reporting by David Farenthold of the Washington Post. You recall Trump bragged in January at an event he held when he skipped an Iowa Caucus debate that he had raised six million dollars for veterans’ groups in one hour, including one-million dollars he personally donated.

He lied.

He and his campaign have now admitted, in fact, that the total amount raised in the last five months is not six million dollars but 5.6, even with the million dollars Trump finally did contribute—late last month.

The Post did a lot of spade work to discover only half of that amount had been distributed to veterans’ groups by early May. And Trump had NOT contributed one-million dollars in January. He wrote a check May 24th, the day more distributions were made—after Farenthold started asking questions that Trump’s people either refused to answer or tried to squirm out of answering. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks retorted, “If the media spent half as much time highlighting the work of these groups and how our veterans have been so mistreated, rather than trying to disparage Mr. Trump’s generosity for a totally unsolicited gesture for which he had no obligation, we would all be better for it.”

The response is a cheap and completely unoriginal one that is not uncommon when reporters start pressing candidates for the truth. Attack the questioner for asking the question. Ms. Hicks conveniently ignores the reams of stories that have been written about mistreatment of veterans, whether by the VA or even in Arlington National Cemetery, and more reams of stories written every year about the work of local and national veterans’ organizations. Mr. Trump’s “generosity” was not expressed in January, when he said it was, but was only expressed (for lack of a better word) in May after Farenthold started asking questions and others started picking up the story. An “unsolicited gesture for which he had no obligation” is a curious phrase, certainly. Was it an “unsolicited gesture” or was it a well-staged event to take the spotlight away from a debate he dodged with his opponents? Is there no obligation when one says in January that he has contributed one-million dollars—but he hadn’t?

There is every indication that questions about Trump’s character (and Hillary Clinton’s character as well) will only intensify, not because the press has a vendetta against them (some undoubtedly do, as some undoubtedly are apologists) but because the stakes are high and the spotlight must be harsh.

So let’s be clear. To Donald Trump, fair press coverage is any coverage that lets him spout, unchallenged, anything that he says as gospel.   Those who don’t believe that is the role of the press are “scum.”

Forty years ago, when the Arab oil embargo drove up energy prices and inflation was leading to home loan rates of almost twenty percent, Joe Teasdale won the Missouri governorship by promising to lower utility rates and fire the Public Service Commission, which sets the rates for state-regulated utilities. He knew it was economically impossible to lower utility rates and legally impossible to fire the members of the PSC. But it was a populist message that resonated just enough for him to get into office. He referred to those of us in the Capitol press corps who had questioned him repeatedly on the issue as “jaded.”

At his first press conference after his election, he found himself facing several Capitol reporters wearing pins reading “Jaded J. C. Reporter.” It was a pin reporters were proud to wear and some of those reporters, now long gone from the Capitol, still have those pins.

Perhaps it’s time the reporters covering the Trump campaign started wearing pins with the word “scum” on them.   It would be an honor to have one.

And it would be a message to the man on the stage that name-calling will not stop fact-checking, and will not give a free pass to demagoguery.