Monthly Archives: March 2009

Those nice letters in today’s paper

I’m loving me some letters to the editor today. I thank my (ex-)colleagues for running them. The thing I like about them aside from the nice things they say about me, is that they represent a nice cross-section of readers — or as good a sample as you can get with just one day’s letters. A brief overview:

  • Harriet Hutto remembers our friendship starting differently from the way I do. She says it started with an e-mail response she wrote to me. She’s probably right. But I particularly remember getting to know her when she became the most persistently loyal reader I know. She lives on a rural route in the Holly Hill area, and it was one of those routes that was so rural, and had so few subscribers on it, that the paper dropped it. She refused to do without her paper, and she began a quest that involved me, Kathy Moreland in the publisher’s department, and Eddie Roof in circulation, trying to find a creative way to get her paper to her. Here’s what we came up with at one point: A friend who lived several miles away was on a route we were keeping. Harriet got the friend to put up a second box, and Harriet’s paper was delivered there — and she drove over and got it every morning. Anyway, Harriet has over the years written some of the most fascinating e-mails chronicling life in rural South Carolina. She is a talented, and prolific, writer, and a dear lady. Oh, and FYI, she’s Sen. Brad Hutto’s mother.
  • The night of the first presidential debate, I hung around to meet the panel that the newsroom had put together to react. It had been another long day, and I was tired. Since it was a newsroom deal, I felt sort of like a fifth wheel. I sort of justified my being there by passing out a bunch of “State in ’08” coffee mugs. And now, I see this nice letter from James Frost, saying he was glad to meet me that night — that it was, in fact, an honor. Likewise, Mr. Frost. I’m glad I showed up.
  • Jim Stiver was an honors college adviser over at USC in the mid-90s when my oldest daughter started there. As I recall, he interviewed her for a scholarship. I learned that he was an ardent libertarian, and that he had mentioned to my daughter that he was familiar with my work. (She said he asked her a question — “What is the difference between anarchy and chaos?” I forget what my daughter said, but I remember what I told her I would have said: “About five seconds.”) Uh-oh, I thought. My poor child will never get that scholarship. But she did. And that testifies to what a fair-minded man Prof. Stiver is.
  • Milly Hough is the communications director at the SC Arts Commission. I don’t know what to say to someone who says I was the “conscience” of the paper. Feels like a heavy burden I’ve just put down. I do truly appreciate it, though.
  • When I read this proof on Friday, my red pen struck at Nancy Padgett saying, “I always knew that he was going to end up voting Republican.” But I let it go. Nancy meant it kindly. It’s SO demonstrably untrue (my count shows that we endorsed slightly more Democrats than Republicans in the years I headed the editorial board), and to me insulting (the idea that I would identify with either of those execrable factions appals me), that I was going to protest it to me colleagues. (Of course, they would have told me that I had no say, that I had to recuse myself, but I was going to protest it all the same.) But the thing is that I knew from years of correspondence with her that this was what she truly believed — she’s one of those Democrats who, if you endorse a Republican once at any point in time, you are a Republican, and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary has no effect — and that she was only saying it to dramatize her kind intentions toward me. And besides, the following letter was a nice counterpoint to it…
  • Once, early in my friendship with Bud Ferillo, I was a guest for dinner at his home, and I was pretty impressed by his study. Wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling, nothing but pictures of prominent Democrats, national and state, and remembrances of past Democratic campaigns. It was a shrine to his party. So I figured, if readers see that Bud Ferillo of all people, expresses his “deepest appreciation for the causes and hopes we have shared,” readers will probably take Nancy’s kindly-intended error with a grain of salt. So I left it alone, and did not protest.
  • I’m particularly pleased by Carole Holloway’s anecdote about my playing phone tag with her until I reached her at 8 p.m. on a Friday when she had a complaint. It pleased me because I know that in recent years — as my staff shrank, and it became harder and harder to get the simplest things done in the course of the day — there have been too many people I failed to get back to. At least, that’s how I remember it. We tend to remember our failings; or I do. I don’t remember everything about my conversation with her, but what I probably said is this: I appreciate that you care so much about what I do for a living that you don’t want less of it. But I ask you to consider, if you don’t like having fewer editorial pages being put out by fewer people, how do you think I like it? Do you think I would give you less if it were in my power to give you more? Just to be clear, I would not. My whole career has been about doing more, doing a better job than I did the day before. And now I can’t. I’m sorry, and touched, that you don’t like it. But I like it far less. Or something like that. I’ve said things like that a lot in recent years. I felt every cutback like it was coming out of my hide, but I also fully understood the horrific bind that my industry was in, with the advertising revenue base melting under our feet. And I understand it now that I’ve lost my job. Of course, understanding doesn’t make it any better. The awful thing is, there’s no one to blame — and no one who might put it to rights if only you complain passionately enough. It’s just the world changing.

Sanford presumes to speak for us

You don't want that stimulus. Really. Take my word for it. Now put it down, right this minute...

You don't want that stimulus. Really. Take my word for it. Now put it down, right this minute...

My Wall Street Journal subscription The State paid for has expired — I got the third notice recently — but the last few editions are still coming. So it is that I had the privilege of being appalled at this op-ed headline:

Why South Carolina Doesn’t Want ‘Stimulus’

So you see, it’s not just our governor who keeps embarrassing us with his antics who doesn’t want the stimulus. Seems that we don’t want it, either. Did you know you didn’t want it? Came as a big shock to me, I can tell you.

Of course, the piece was written by Mark Sanford. And you know, it raises the scary possibility that he actually and truly believes that “South Carolina,” defined by him, doesn’t want the stimulus. Which means that he is only talking to, and listening to, that slice of our state that is crazy enough to agree with him that we should not get to stimulate our economy with a stimulus that we will be paying for.

This was beyond ridiculous when it was just Mark Sanford doing his solo act, his Horatio at the bridge, his boy standing on the burning deck. Trying to include us in his bizarre behavior takes this to a whole new level of absurdity. I liked it better when he was trying to dramatize his lonely specialness. This claim that he speaks for the multitude is most unsavory.

Getting paid to have a blast: Working with Robert


Editorial Page Editor
REMEMBER “The Dick Van Dyke Show”? For you younger folks, it was about a guy named Rob Petrie, the head writer for a fictional variety show (and if you’re too young to know what a “variety show” is, go look it up) called “The Alan Brady Show.”

There were these wonderful scenes of Rob and his colleagues at work, writing comedy sketches — a process that involved a lot of bouncing around the office, acting out and collaborative improvisation. Morey Amsterdam’s frenetic character would jump up and say something like, “OK, so Alan walks into the room…” and the other two would throw in various wild things until they made each other laugh, and the skit would take shape. It looked like the most fun a person could possibly get paid for having.

That’s what it’s been like working with my friend Robert Ariail over the past 15 years. Just like that.

Robert would come into my office after the other editors and I were done with our morning meeting (Robert doesn’t do meetings), usually with several sketches. Sometimes he’d come with nothing, but that was unusual. I’d react to the sketches, maybe suggesting dialogue changes, maybe an entirely different approach. Robert pays me the compliment of saying I think like a cartoonist. And I do. I have everything it takes — except the talent.

Robert has truckloads of that. He can sketch an idea as quickly as you can describe it, and many of those initial sketches could be published as they are. But was he satisfied? No way. He might go through 10 versions in the course of the day, coming back to my office several times to seek further feedback. This was fine, although more often than not, his first instincts were the best. He would refine, and it would get better and better, but he usually had it nailed from the start.

As you know, Robert and I are both leaving the paper. Today is our last day. Such is the state of our industry. So much for getting paid to have fun, for a collaboration that almost daily, for years on end, had both of us laughing like a couple of hyenas on nitrous oxide. How many people get to do that for even one day? We’ve had 15 years, and for that I feel blessed.

But it hasn’t been just about fun. What Robert has done has mattered, to South Carolina and the nation (which is why he’s won every national award except the Pulitzer, and he’s been a finalist for that twice). Robert can pack more punch into a cartoon than I can get into a hundred columns. There’s just something about a funny picture with a point.

That’s why the prestigious Calhoun Lecture Series at the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University had Robert deliver the last talk of the term, just last week. He spoke of the history of cartooning in general, and at The State in particular. Among other things, he told this story:

Robert is the second cartoonist actually to be employed (rather than contributing on a freelance basis) by the paper. During the 1910 gubernatorial campaign, the first one did a cartoon on the race-baiting populist Cole Blease. It was hard-hitting. The surviving Gonzales brothers (original editor N.G. Gonzales had been gunned down five years earlier) didn’t see the cartoon before it appeared in the paper. The cartoon was seen as so harsh that it was widely believed to have helped Mr. Blease win the election, by causing voters to feel sorry for him. The Gonzales brothers apparently decided that having a cartoonist was a risky thing, because they never hired another one.

In fact, the position remained vacant until Robert filled it in 1984. Before he started, he was interviewed by the late Ben Morris, then the publisher, who just had one thing to tell Robert: “Don’t surprise me.” It wasn’t until Robert read the history later that he understood the reference.

Here’s hoping cartoonists aren’t like comets. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 74 years for another one to streak across the sky.

Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. After all, Robert will still be around. He has a new Web site, — just being set up as I write this — where he will post new cartoons, and where you can find links to his old ones. And he will still be syndicated nationally, which provides him with a monetary incentive to keep ’em coming.

Beyond that, I’m happy to have reason to believe Robert will be just fine.

You see, Robert is not my first close cartoonist friend. Richard Crowson and I were at Memphis State University together in the early ’70s. The first column I wrote for the editorial page of the journalism department lab paper was illustrated by a Crowson cartoon. After college, he and I worked together for a decade at The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun. After I became news editor at the much-larger paper in Wichita, Kansas, in 1985, I persuaded Richard to pull up roots and join me out West.

So imagine how I felt when The Wichita Eagle laid Richard off six months ago — for the same reasons Robert and I are leaving The State. I was so torn up about it that I didn’t call Richard to talk about it until two days ago. And guess what? He’s happy as a clam. “For me personally, the layoff has just been great,” he said as he was driving to a recording session (he’s the finest bluegrass musician I’ve ever known). “I don’t have any money, but… how do you put a value on peace of mind?” He doesn’t miss the daily pressure one bit.

And after all my worrying. Robert’s, too. We knew he was not long for this newspaper. Sadly (for me), it has cast a pall over our daily brainstorming sessions, sometimes making me impatient and crabby — although Robert kept cranking out wonderful cartoons anyway.

But the past few days, since the news broke, have been great. With the pressure off, the old fun has returned. That may sound odd, but it’s true.

And this is the way I’m going to remember it.

Robert and I will still collaborate at every opportunity. Find his future work at My new address is


‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?’

Just had to smile when I saw a release a few minutes ago from a company that does “pet health insurance.” Smiling not at the company, but at the association it brought to mind.

It made me think of Martin Blank, the professional assassin, rehearsing what he would say to people at his 10th high school reunion: “Hi… I’m a pet psychiatrist. Yeah, yeah. I sell couch insurance…” He goes on to say (if this guy I’m linking to quoted it right; I don’t have the DVD on me at the moment:

“… Mm-hmm. And I — and I test-market positive thinking. I lead a weekend men’s group, we specialize in ritual killings. Yeah, you look great! God, yeah! Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you? Hi, I’m Martin Blank, you remember me? I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, and I’d blow your head off if someone paid me enough.”

Not that I’m being the least bit critical; at least these people have jobs. In fact, speaking of John Cusack, I started quoting him completely unintentionally the other night when I was telling one of my kids in all seriousness the things that I would probably not do in my future pursuit. I said something like, “You don’t want to ask me to sell anything…” and my daughter, having my genes, immediately started laughing and quoting,

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

Well, I had to laugh, too, because I guess what I said did sound sort of like that. Maybe I should be a little less picky than Lloyd Dobler, though, under the circumstances. What do you think.

A previous column about Robert Ariail

At the moment, I’m supposed to be writing a column for tomorrow’s paper about the departure from the paper of my dear friend Robert Ariail. I haven’t started that column yet. (Don’t tell Cindi; she’ll be in here beating me about the head and shoulders with a pica pole.)

Anyway, in the process of fixin’ to write that column, I looked back at this old one I wrote about him, back when he had a show of his work going on over at the State Museum, in 1998.

I share it with you while I set to work on the new one:

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, March 15, 1998
Author: BRAD WARTHEN , Editorial Page Editor
The top five editorial cartoonists working today are Pat Oliphant, Robert Ariail . . . and I forget the other three. Based on the reams of syndicated cartoons we get, Robert Ariail throws away more good ideas in a day than other cartoonists publish in a week.

The State is lucky to have him. So is South Carolina.

And so am I. I get to supervise Robert , and that’s one of the best parts of my job. Actually, “supervise” isn’t exactly the word, since Robert is a guy who very much does his own thing. Instead, call what I do “vicarious participation in the creative process.” I get to be a close observer of the creation of really wonderful cartoons, at least five days a week. It’s the next best thing to having talent of your own.

But please, please don’t tell him I said any of that. Robert doesn’t need building up right now. What he needs is a good swift kick to the ego. Not that he has a swollen head yet. Robert ‘s still as unassuming as ever. But that can’t last, not at this rate.

To start with, you’re going to see his face on billboards around town. That’s not too bad; several of his colleagues will have the same experience. But with Robert , billboards are just the beginning.

Starting last week, Robert has been syndicated by United Media, which means cartoons that first appear in The State now go to more than 600 newspapers around the country.

Later this month, Robert will be the guest of honor for a do at the State Museum. This fete will have several purposes – celebrating his syndication, benefiting the museum (at $25 a pop) and kicking off a show of his cartoons.

And then there’s the national award – strike that, international award – that Robert just learned he has won. But I can’t tell you about that because it hasn’t been announced.

I can tell you that it isn’t a Pulitzer. A Pulitzer is about all he hasn’t won. The cardboard box in his office in which he keeps such things already contains a National Headliner Award, a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and two Green Eyeshade Awards (a mere regional prize). But still no Pulitzer. That’s about all I’ve got to cling to, my one hope for keeping the boy down on the farm.

And even with the Pulitzer, he’s come frighteningly close recently. In 1995, he was one of the three announced finalists. In 1996, according to a source on the jury, he was in the top six – which is closer than it sounds, since in the final stage the judges rejected the three finalists and went to the next three for their winner.

In 1997, I took desperate action to reverse this trend. Here’s the approach I took in the cover letter for his entry:

OK, folks, I’m beginning to lose patience with this process. Every year, Robert Ariail , arguably the best editorial cartoonist working in America today, submits a stellar Pulitzer entry. Every year, I write him a nice, respectful cover letter listing his virtues.

And every year, he ALMOST makes it. (But) every year, he ends up a bridesmaid. And if you think your cousin Ethel looked bad in a bridesmaid’s dress, you should see Robert .

I told Robert that being obnoxious and making stupid jokes would get the judges’ attention. He bought it. And my plan worked. In 1997, he didn’t get so much as a nod from the Pulitzer folks.

Why do I have to do all of this myself? You people could help. But no – everywhere I go, people have to go on about how they love that Robert Ariail . Even people who hate everything else on the pages have to throw him bouquets: “All of you scum-sucking Yankee Northern ‘Knight-Rider’ carpetbagger pinkos should go back where you came from (which in my case would be Marlboro County, but never mind). However, I find Ariail ‘s cartoons delightful.”

What are you people trying to do – run him off? How much more of this can one poor boy take without getting the idea that he’s too big to hang with us local yokels? Sure, he was born here, and his family’s here, but what’s all that in the glare of the bright lights?

People are always asking what it’s like to work with Robert Ariail . I’ll tell you: It’s a lot of fun, and I want to keep on doing it.

Every morning when he comes into my office to pitch cartoon ideas, we end up laughing like a couple of hyenas on nitrous oxide. People outside my office think we’re not working. Come to think of it, maybe I’m not. But Robert is. And is that fair?

Once, a colleague of mine at another paper, who fancied himself a great wit, asked Dave Barry why he got to write a fun, syndicated column and be the toast of the nation while the rest of us have to stay in the trenches putting out the paper every day. Dave just said, “Talent,” then jetted off to meet his next batch of admiring peasants.

Is this what you want to see happen with Robert Ariail ? I should hope not. So do something about it. What? I don’t know. Go to his show at the State Museum next month and make cutting remarks. It’s not much, maybe, but every little bit helps the cause.

You can write to Mr. Warthen at warthen or at P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202.

And no, that address doesn’t work any more. Once I get it up and running, my new e-mail address will be, by the way.

Today’s column, other stuff on my new blog

FYI, today's column — the long-promised one about Gresham Barrett (a perfectly pedestrian column that didn't deserve such a buildup, but at least it technically fulfills the promise) is to be found on my new blog,

Also, I've posted a nice (I think) note I got from the governor, which I hope you will help me decipher…

What’s the governor saying to me?

The governor's note.

The governor's note.

This is embarrassing. The governor, for all I say about him, is a classy guy, gently reared, and given to sending gracious, hand-written notes — the surest sign that a person’s mama brought him up right.

But when he does this, I always have trouble deciphering the message. As you know, he had already called me about my departure, and couldn’t have been nicer. I’m assuming this was sent after my Sunday column, which mentioned that call — without sugar-coating what I think of the job he’s done as governor.

I’ve made note of this in the past when he’s written to me, and some of y’all thought it was tacky of me to post it, but I’m perfectly sincere here. I’m not trying to be mean, or anything. I want to know what he said. Is it “Good luck?” “Good grief?” “God gives?” Or what?

Help me out here, folks. (Here’s hoping the comment function is working on this new blog.

Barrett says he’d bring people together

GRESHAM Barrett was a very busy man Wednesday, what with hearings on the issue of the hour in Washington — AIG. The matter of what that “too-big-to-fail” insurer did with the billions we sent it occupied most of his day.
But I kept hammering on his staff — I’ve promised my readers, twice, to do a column on the Republican congressman’s candidacy for governor, and with Friday being my last day on the job, I’m about out of time — so he called me right after 5 p.m., and this column is the result. (So blame any inadequacies in this column on me and my hurry, not the congressman.)
While he’s been on the scene for a while — in the Legislature for six years, representing the 3rd District in Congress since his election in 2002 — I haven’t gotten to know him as well as some of the other candidates and potential candidates, such as fellow Republican Attorney General Henry McMaster and Democratic S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
I had already written what little I knew on my blog: He was critical (although not as harshly as Speaker Bobby Harrell was) four years ago about the job Gov. Mark Sanford had done on economic development; he was an early supporter of Fred Thompson for the GOP presidential nomination; he’s a big fan of nuclear power (the Savannah River Site is in his district); he voted against the TARP bailout, before he voted for it (which adds to his angst over AIG); he was dubbed one of the 10 “Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill” by The Hill (which frankly I just can’t see, but that’s me).
Rep. Barrett helped me fill in some blanks Wednesday evening.
Some quick bio: He was born and raised in Westminster, S.C., and grew up working in his father’s hardware store, where local farmers would gather on Friday evenings to talk over the issues of the day. His first job was “coal bucket boy.” He would go on to command his company at The Citadel. He served four-and-a-half years in the Army, reaching the rank of captain. He has no combat experience, but learned a lot about leadership in field artillery at Fort Hood. He joined his father’s business after the Army, and ran it from 1993 to 2006. He and his wife, a first-grade schoolteacher, have three children of high school and college age.
Asked to name his biggest accomplishment in the Legislature or Congress, he cited “helping lead the fight” to ban partial-birth abortion in South Carolina. That’s his “crowning achievement” thus far, “absolutely, without a doubt.”
So what would he want to accomplish as governor? So far, he’s light on details — he plans to enlist experts from various fields in developing white papers on a wide range of issues — but he wants to focus on three areas:

  • The economy. He wants to create jobs and economic opportunity, so our children and grandchildren don’t have to leave the state to find those things. He says this involves not just recruiting new industry, but also helping existing businesses grow, and changing tax policy. “Too many in Washington, D.C., think government is the answer, and it’s not,” he said. “It’s creating an environment where people are the answer; where you empower people.”
  • Energy. Aside from nuclear (he cites Duke Power’s planned $10 billion investment in a new plant in Cherokee County as economic development that can’t be beat), he talks about opportunities in biofuels. He said switchgrass for fuel could be grown on dormant tobacco land in the impoverished I-95 corridor. He also pointed to tree waste from loblolly pines, “and the good Lord has blessed us with that.”
  • Education. He advocates, somewhat vaguely, “creating a 21st century environment that educates everybody” with “a holistic approach” from K-12 to higher education. What does that look like? He cited the forthcoming white papers.

After mentioning those as the three main planks of his platform, he added a fourth: government restructuring. That was pleasing to me as a longtime fierce advocate of that very thing, but he startled me when he added, “Governor Sanford has done a fantastic job on government restructuring.” When I asked just where the governor had done this fantastic job, he said “I think he has brought up a lot of issues.”
The congressman was studiously careful, here and elsewhere, to avoid criticizing the incumbent of his party — directly, that is. But he did draw a rather clear contrast when he said:
“One of my strengths is working with people, is having a personal relationship with people…. I think my leadership style is bringing people together .æ.æ. putting them in a room and saying hey, guys, now here’s our ideas and here’s what I want. I want to get to the 35-yard line, and I understand that you want to get to the 20. But let’s do this: Let’s figure out what we can do to move South Carolina … (to the) 25. Let’s open the door … and next time, let’s get to the 30.”
He was too polite to say so, but that would be a change at our State House.
The reason I was all in a sweat to write this column now — a follow-up to a piece I did on Sen. Sheheen after he announced — is that it is critical that we start thinking hard (harder, more wisely, than we have in the past) about who our next governor is going to be, and the more scrutiny on these candidates the better. I’ll continue to follow this race from my new blog, and my colleagues here at The State will be all over it as well, I’m sure.
So I urge you to start paying attention, and please don’t stop until we have elected a governor who will do what this one has not, and help lead South Carolina to be everything it can be. You, and your children, deserve that.

For a copy of the congressman’s statement at the AIG hearing, video from that hearing and more, go to my new blog,

Check out

There's not much there — the new blog is just taking its first, teetering, baby steps — but I urge you to go check out, and watch it grow.

I will no longer be doing THIS blog after Friday, so if you want to continue the conversation, you'll have to go there. Again, that address is:

And I promise, there will be much more to see there soon…

More on Gresham Barrett

Still trying to figure out this new blog. But as will be promised in my Thursday column, here are the congressman’s opening comments from the AIG hearing:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. Last fall, President Bush asked for my help to avoid a total collapse of our economy – a collapse that would have pushed our country into even greater economic peril. Back home, small business owners and major corporations, called me to let me know that if we did not take extraordinary steps in those extraordinary times that many of the employers my constituents rely on would be forced to close their doors for good.

“Now, it disappoints me to see that some of the very companies who requested taxpayer assistance have failed to change their pattern of irresponsible decision-making which undoubtedly contributed to the current economic crisis. The Bush administration, and then Chairman of the New York Fed, Timothy Geithner, mismanaged the implementation of this program and the Obama administration, while assuring us that they knew exactly what was going on and how monies were being spent, have failed to bring about the necessary reforms and safeguards to protect the American taxpayers.

“Panel, we need to figure out our exit strategy, how taxpayers are going to be paid back, and when we can end this toxic relationship with AIG.”

And here’s a link to video from the hearing, in case the imbed above doesn’t work. (Not very exciting video, is it?)

The blog is dead; long live the blog

Welcome, folks. After Friday, there will be no Brad Warthen’s Blog (or no new entries, anyway). It will be replaced by this, the much spiffier Or at least, it WILL be spiffier when I have time to prettify it a bit. It is very much under construction now. But it’s a start.

Video: A brief history of cartooning at The State

Robert Ariail delivered a lecture last Thursday night, as part of the prestigious Calhoun Lecture Series at the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson U. It was about the history of cartooning in general, and at The State in particular.

Today, he dropped by my office to share an anecdote that he told up in Clemson, one which seems particularly apropos to share today, the day the news came out that his career at The State is coming to an end.

It's about the only other cartoonist The State ever actually employed full-time, back in the days of the Gonzales brothers, and why it took 74 years for the paper to hire one
after its first experience.

Cindi’s very kind words today (and Bob’s last week)

Don't know if you saw Cindi Scoppe's very touching column about me today. I pass on the link in case you missed it.

It means even more to me than you might think because, as she notes, she's not the sort to butter up the boss (certainly not one who's leaving), or anybody else. Cindi refers to herself as the "designated mean bitch" around here, which of course is entirely (or almost entirely) inaccurate. I prefer to think of her as tough-minded, which is what makes her one of the best in the business.

I'll tell you a little anecdote — Cindi was the first person (and just about the only one) to welcome me my first day on the job here. As Gordon Hirsch (a frequent commenter here) informed me, I was regarded as the "Knight-Ridder spy" because I was the first editor to come from another KR paper. It didn't matter that I had left Wichita the way Lot left Sodom. It was a lousy working situation, and I never looked back. But many here were convinced I was the corporate guy, so I got a lot of suspicious looks. (When I explained to Gordon how ridiculous it was, he shook his head and said none of that mattered. Far as scuttlebutt was concerned, I was the spy, so I might as well get used to it.) But Cindi, all of 23 years old at the time, strides through that cloud of suspicion right up to me, sticks out her hand and makes it clear that she, for one, was glad to have me here.

So it's fitting that she should bid me a public farewell. She didn't care who knew she was glad to meet me, and isn't a bit shy to let folks know she's sorry to see me go. And I've appreciated it both times.

While I'm thanking people, I have to apologize because in all the craziness of last week, I never got around to thanking Bob McAlister for the kind words that he wrote on his blog, which we published as an online-only column (online-only because we had recently run a column of his in the paper, so he was under our "30-day" guideline).

Bob, as I recall, regarded me a good deal more warily than Cindi, upon first meeting me. He was the communications chief — later chief of staff — for Gov. Carroll Campbell. It was his duty to be suspicious. But over the years we've fought a few battles together and become good friends. Bob is one of many such friends who have reached out and offered to do whatever they can to help in recent days, and in his case has actually taken action to ease my transition to … well, to whatever comes next.

Anyway, I wanted to be sure to thank both Cindi and Bob for thinking so kindly of me, from their differing perspectives.

Sanford’s letter to Obama

So that you might be fully informed, I pass this on. Can you see me rolling my eyes from where you sit?

You saw the story about Obama's response to the original request, right? The administration told the gov that the stimulus is supposed to be used to save or create jobs. To which it might well have added, "Duh!" Marvelous restraint on the administration's part there.

Anyway, here's the latest letter:


March 17, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, D.C.  20500

Dear Mr. President,

I'd first thank you and Director Orszag for your response of March 16 to my letter of the previous week.  Likewise, I have to express my disappointment that our substantive dialogue about the best way to adapt this stimulus to the unique situations of states across this country was interrupted by the Democratic National Committee's launching of a petty attack ad against us even before we had received your response.

I've made clear my opposition to using debt to solve a problem created in the first place by too much debt – and I don't believe this to be an unreasonable position.  What I find less reasonable is the way this DNC attack ad returns a nation indeed yearning for change back to the same old politics-as-usual.  Because I believe you and I share a common desire to escape this worn-out "attack first" mentality, I'd respectfully ask you to immediately condemn and put an end to this unnecessary politicization of a truly important policy discussion.

In the spirit of moving forward, I'd offer the following as a clarification to our using a portion of the stimulus funds to paying down our state's sizable debt.  With regard to the Education Stabilization Fund monies (ARRA § 14002(a)(1)) that must be used "for the support of * education," we think it would be consistent with statutory requirements to use this $577 million to pay down the roughly $579 million of principal for State School Facilities Bonds and Research University Infrastructure Bonds over two years.  This would immediately free up over $162 million in debt service in the first two years and save roughly $125 million in interest payments over the next 13 years, which could then be directed towards other educational purposes – just as paying off a mortgage early frees up the typical monthly payment for other uses.

Regarding the $125 million in the Fiscal Stabilization Fund (ARRA § 14002(b)(1)) headed to South Carolina, we'd lay out a few options for your consideration: first, paying down debt related to the state's Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund that currently exceeds $200 million and would directly impact those currently out of work in this struggling economy; second, paying down debt related to state retirees, since that would seem to satisfy the statutory requirement that these funds be used for "other government services"; or third, paying down other bonded indebtedness at the state level.

We trust these alternative proposals fit both the statutory requirements and spirit of the stimulus legislation.  Thank you again for your response, and we would again appreciate your opinion as soon as possible given that we believe this course of action will do more to ensure South Carolina's long-term economic strength than would other contemplated uses of the funds.

I also await your response on pulling down the attack ads.  A good part of your candidacy was fueled by the hope for change in the way political debate is conducted in our country.  On this, actions will speak louder than words – words you have been so gifted in delivering – in determining where you really stand, not as a candidate promising to deliver on change, but as a leader now capable of bringing this change.  I look forward to your response.


Mark Sanford

cc:    The Honorable Peter R. Orszag, Director
    Office of Management and Budget

The news about Robert Ariail

Several of you asked whether my great friend Robert Ariail would be laid off. Well, today you got your answer. The delay because Robert was mulling an offer to stay on part-time, which he decided to decline.

Read Chuck Crumbo's story about Robert here. An excerpt:

Ariail, who joined The State in 1984, said he planned to continue
his work through United Media syndicate, which serves more than 600
newspapers and magazines.

hope to find another job in editorial cartooning,” said Ariail, whose
last day at The State is Thursday. “I’m 53. It’s difficult to remake
myself, and I don’t want to.”

Among those laid off was Ariail’s boss for the past 15 years, vice president and editorial page editor Brad Warthen.

“Robert is probably one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with,” Warthen said.

One of Ariail’s strengths is his ability to needle and criticize leaders of all political persuasions, he said.

people who hate everything else on the editorial pages have to throw
him bouquets,” Warthen wrote in a forward to cartoonist’s 2001 book
“Ariail!!!,” a compilation of cartoons published in The State.

I'll post more about Robert later. I just wanted to go ahead and get this up, to give y'all a place to comment.

Thanks for all the kind words, folks

    Yes, blog regulars, you did read much of this piece earlier in the week. But people who don't do blogs (a much larger number among newspaper readers) missed it, and there is some new material in it, at the beginning and the end. Not much, I'll admit, but some…

Editorial Page Editor
ONE OF THE tough things about getting laid off in a very public way is that you can’t get your work done — you can’t even walk down the street — for all the wonderful people who come up to you and say kind things. (Never mind the phone calls, e-mails and letters.)
    Of course, it’s also the best thing about the experience, so don’t stop, folks. It doesn’t get old.
    I’ve heard from everyone from Gov. Mark Sanford (yes, he was very kind and cordial, despite all those things I say about him) to old friends I worked with decades ago, far away from here. And I appreciated every one of them.
    For those of you who missed it, I was in the news last week, along with a lot of my colleagues. To quote from

    The State Media Co. today announced the layoff of 38 people — 11 percent of its work force — and wage reductions ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent for the rest of the employees.
    Among those laid off were three vice presidents including editorial page editor Brad Warthen.

    My last day is March 20.
    For those of you who ask “why,” the answer is simple: The money’s just not there, and somebody had to go. I was one of the 38. You might say, to borrow a phrase from the Corleone family, this isn’t personal; it’s strictly business.
    I’ve tried to keep readers on my blog in the loop about the profound changes going on in the newspaper industry, which have been accelerating. I’ve written about everything from the departures of longtime friends and colleagues who are not replaced, to the horrific news sweeping the industry more recently, with some newspapers going under.
    This has not been a comfortable thing for me to do. For one thing, I always wonder how much my readers will care. Someone I respected in college — actually, he taught a course in editorial writing that I took — warned us that when one talks about one’s own industry, one runs the risk of boring one’s audience.
    (So, what I try to explain when I do talk about it is that this is about you, too. Newspapers reflect their communities in more ways than simply publishing news and commentary. We also reflect our surroundings economically. Newspapers went into this recession in a weakened condition, and now we’re like the canary in the coal mine. If you’re hurting, we’re hurting. And vice versa, whether you realize it or not.)
    For another reason, I recognize my own lack of detachment.
    Finally, there is such a delicate balance to strike between telling all that I know or imagine I know, which is my instinct as a journalist, and respecting the confidentiality of things I know only because I’m an officer of this company — which gives me both an unfair advantage and a responsibility to those I work with. It can be awkward.
    Anyway, in spite of that, I’ve tried to be frank about the situation whenever I’m asked — and on the blog, even when I’m not.
    I leave here with a deep love for this newspaper, which I hope has been evident over the past couple of decades. It seems to have been evident to my boss — President and Publisher Henry Haitz — judging by the kind and gracious things he had to say about my service in his note on this page on Wednesday. (Sample: “He is a remarkable journalist and writer, with keen understanding of the issues most vital to our community and our state.”)
    And I appreciate that.
    What will I do next? I don’t know. I’ll be spreading my resume around, online and otherwise. In the meantime, give me a holler if you hear of a suitable position. One advantage I have over so many people who are looking for work now — more than 200,000 in South Carolina, I heard last week — is that a huge portion of the state has watched me on the job and formed a pretty detailed impression of my capabilities. (Of course, whether that works for me or against me depends on the individual reader.)
    I can tell you this much — I have zero intention of “relocating,” to use an ugly word. When I came to the state of my birth in 1987 after years in this business in Tennessee and Kansas, I did so with the intention of staying for good. My days as a newspaper vagabond were over. Either things worked out at The State, or I would find some other line of work. And the thing is, things worked out very well.
    The day I was interviewed here (for the job of governmental affairs editor), I told then-Executive Editor Tom McLean that my ultimate goal was to become editorial page editor. I believed that position offered the greatest opportunity to serve my state, which I believed needed its largest newspaper to have a strong, frank, lively editorial page. Thanks to Tom, I got my chance to do just that 10 years later, and I could not be more proud of the team I have had the privilege of working with, or the excellent job they have done — and that those who remain will continue to do, if I know them. (And I do.)
    Obviously, this is a stressful time, but beneath it all is something that I don’t quite know how to describe, a sort of anticipation driven by curiosity. I wonder, with great interest, what will happen next. (That sounds either terribly trite or unintelligible; I can’t tell which, but I explained it as well as I could.)
    So much for this subject today. This will not be my last column. For one thing, I promised you last week to write something about U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett’s candidacy for governor. I was going to do that for today, but I got distracted again. I’m sure you’ll understand.

For now, please visit for more about this subject and everything else. Watch there to learn about my future blogging plans.

St. Paddy’s at Yesterday’s

Here I am standing at the bar in Yesterday's. So where are y'all?

This is not the usual crowd. Very young, very green, quite drunk, generally speaking. I'll need at least another pint before I can tolerate them. I think I'll have one of those Bud Lights in the special St. Paddy's green aluminum bottles. I don't like light beer, but one must bow to the conventions of the day.

"Born Under a Bad Sign," which I must add to my playlist, was just playing on the rather loud PA. Before that, it was "Up On Cripple Creek," which can't be beat, anyway you cut it. Levon Helm!

Anyway, I'm not going to be here all night, so if y'all want to hoist one with me, you'd best shake a leg. Quick's the word and sharp's the action. Time and tide wait for no man, and so forth.

See, I'm just taking a beer break in the middle of cleaning out my office. I'll be doing it all weekend and much of the week — 22 years of accumulation, or accretion, or whatever (I'm a notorious pack rat) makes a heap o' cleaning up. My task is like that of Hercules in the stables, or, if you're not into classical allusion, that of the noble wee machine, Wall-E.

Some silly bugger knocked his beer over so hard it splashed on my hair — and worse, onto the Blackberry. Drunk as Davy's sow, he must have been.

Somebody passed the word for Duncan, and he came to join me. I broke the news to him about my leaving the paper. He was disappointed to learn it. Duncan's a great guy. While he was here, a young guy who knows my daughter stopped by to say he's a fan. Of course, he doesn't take the paper — he reads my column at his parents' house on Sundays. Which is one of our problems.

I'm going to have a Yuengling before I go back to the office. Then I've got a lot of work to do. See ya.

The tax on stupidity

I liked this analogy offered in a book review in The Wall Street Journal Thursday about why we so often call lotteries a "tax on stupidity:"

    'Imagine a standard NFL football field. Somewhere in the field, a student has placed a single, small, common variety of ant that she has marked with a spot of yellow paint. You walk onto the field, blindfolded, and push a pin into the ground. If your pin pierces the marked ant, you win. Otherwise you lose. Want to give it a go?"
    Thus did one mathematician describe the odds of winning a Powerball lottery. Is it any wonder that economists deride state-run lotteries as a tax on stupidity? Bad enough that the government is encouraging gambling; all the worse that it is encouraging such a bad bet.

You betcha.

DNC takes on Sanford

hought y'all might be interested in this release, and the video above:

New DNC Ad Calls on Mark Sanford
to Stop “Playing Politics” With South Carolina Jobs and Recovery

Click Here to See the DNC Ad “Playing Politics” Here:


Washington, DC – The
Democratic National Committee today released a new television ad entitled
“Playing Politics” that calls on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to stop
playing politics with federal job creation and economic recovery funds.  The ad,
which will begin airing in Columbia on Monday, outlines the deepening economic
challenges facing South Carolina’s working families.  Despite record
unemployment and soaring foreclosures, Governor Sanford is kowtowing to the Rush
Limbaugh-led obstructionist wing of his political party by rejecting $700
million in money to create jobs, improve our health care system and improve our


As the ad notes, a bipartisan
group of South Carolina leaders – including Democratic Congressman James
Clyburn, Republican Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, and Republican State House
Speaker Bobby Harrell – have criticized Governor Sanford for putting political
posturing ahead of job creation in South Carolina.   The ad can be viewed here:


“Mark Sanford needs to stop
playing politics with economic recovery and job creation in South Carolina,”
said Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse.  “At
a time when his state is suffering from crippling unemployment and more and more
families are losing their homes, South Carolina’s working families cannot afford
for their governor to be distracted by empty political posturing.  If Mark
Sanford is worried about his political future, all he needs to do is focus on
working with leaders from both parties who want to use the economic recovery
funds to help create jobs, fix our schools, reform our health care system, make
America energy independent, and lay the foundation for long-term growth in the
21st Century.”

Here's a companion release, from the state Democratic Party:

SC Dems Applaud Sanford Ad

SC- Governor Mark Sanford will be getting a little more airtime on South
Carolina's cable  television networks next week, but the media attention won't
necessarily be positive.

The Democratic National Committee announced
today it will begin airing an ad criticizing Sanford for not accepting all of
the funds allocated for South Carolina under the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act. The 30-second ad will begin airing on Monday on cable
television in Columbia.

"South Carolina Democrats are very pleased with
the Democratic National Committee's television ad," said South Carolina
Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler.  "It helps us give Mark Sanford the type of
media attention he deserves. Over the last few months, our governor has shown us
that he is more concerned with being in the national spotlight than with the
well-being of South Carolina's working families. They deserve to have their
voices heard and this ad will encourage them to tell Mark Sanford to stop
playing politics."