Category Archives: Deleted Scenes

One column or the other? Choosing between the day’s best for op-ed

When I choose syndicated columns for op-ed, I’m usually a stickler about one thing — it has to have just arrived. If it didn’t come in within the 24 hours since I last looked, I don’t consider it. Once passed over, permanently passed over.

For tomorrow’s paper, I broke my own rule ("Actually," as Dr. Venkman said, "it’s more of a guideline than a rule."), choosing a Kathleen Parker column I had passed on the day before.

Today broke a week-long pattern. Today, there was nothing new that stood out as worth publishing. But on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I had trouble choosing between two columns each day that stood out well above the rest, but for different reasons were equally appealing. Practically coin-toss decisions. Ms. Parker’s piece on the Saddleback Church "debate" was the one I almost chose on Wednesday for today, but didn’t. So I’m using it Friday instead of something newer.

Anyway, in keeping with my practice of using the blog to better explain how we do things around here (and one of the most common questions I get from the reading public is "How do you choose what you run on the op-ed page?"), let me tell you about the picks I agonized over. First, I should note that the process is about as selective as you can get, since we only have room for one syndicated and one local piece a day. (For that reason, I just have to shake my head over people who submit columns for selection, are not selected, and go about in the community complaining loudly that we "refused to run" their piece. What they fail to recognize, either intentionally or unintentionally, is that NOT being chosen is the norm. The one piece we choose out of many is the exception, not the rule.) Because we only have that one national or international piece a day, the only way to achieve any "balance" or diversity of opinion is over time, considering many days together.

Here were my three dilemmas, and how I resolved them:

  • Monday (for Tuesday’s paper) — Mondays tend to be a bit warmed-over, since even the "fresh" pieces were usually written the week before. One exception to that was Bill Kristol’s piece on the Saddleback Church event Saturday night. He had written it for Monday’s NYT (one of the drawbacks of using NYT columns is that they ALWAYS, even during the week, move long after our deadline — the NYT moves according to its own convenience, not that of paying subscribers — so the earliest we get to run them is a day after they were in the NYT), but it was still out ahead of any other columns I would see on the subject (Ms. Parker’s moved late Tuesday). Seeing the topic as fresh, and having missed the event myself, I leaned strongly toward using the Kristol piece. But I didn’t. Instead, I chose a column by Nicholas Kristof that did something I regarded as more important — reminded people dazzled by the glitz of the Olympics just how reflexively oppressive the Chinese government is. I was a little put off by Mr. Kristof’s gimmicky approach — pretending he wanted a license to protest, and having a videographer follow him through the process, a la early Geraldo Rivera — but his point was important. So I went with it, and put Mr. Kristol (with an L) in the queue for our Saturday online edition. (Also-rans from that day’s bounty, columns that didn’t make the initial cut, included ones from Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, Kathleen Parker, Bob Herbert, Gail Collins and Derrick Jackson.)
  • Tuesday (for Wednesday’s paper) — The piece I almost ran was one by Robert Samuelson headlined "The Real China Threat," which was embargoed for Wednesday publication (unlike the NYT, the WashPost Writers Group moves its columnists in advance, so we can run them at the same time as their home paper itself). An excerpt: "Will China overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy? Well, stop worrying. It almost certainly will." He went on, in typical thorough Samuelson fashion, to explain exactly why and how. But I saved that one for Saturday (the theme would be just as fresh, and just as true, then), and chose instead a David Brooks column that made an observation about John McCain I had not yet seen — that not only was his approach to campaigning becoming less "maverick" and more conventional, but that it was working for him in the polls (an assertion that would be backed up in a WSJ/NBC News poll today). Aside from that, I just loved the lead anecdote expressing McCain’s usual approach to the hyperidiotic world of partisan politics:

        On Tuesdays, Senate Republicans hold a weekly policy lunch. The party leaders often hand out a Message of the Week that the senators are supposed to repeat at every opportunity. Sometimes there will be a pollster offering data that supposedly demonstrates the brilliance of the message and why it will lead to political nirvana.
        John McCain generally spends the lunches at a table with a gang of fellow ne’er-do-wells. He cracks jokes, razzes the speaker and generally ridicules the whole proceeding. Then he takes the paper with the Message of the Week back to his office. He tosses it on the desk of some staffer with a sarcastic comment like: “Here’s your message. Learn it. Love it. Live it.”
        This sort of behavior has been part of McCain’s long-running rebellion against the stupidity of modern partisanship. In a thousand ways, he has tried to preserve some sense of self-respect in a sea of pandering pomposity….

    (Also-rans from Tuesday: Cal Thomas, Tom Teepen, David Broder, Leonard Pitts.)

  • Wednesday (for Thursday’s paper) — This was the toughest choice of all. First, there was Kathleen’s piece, which I loved because of the way it ran against the pigeonhole that readers try to put her in. Rather than gushing about McCain’s (and Rick Warren’s) performance the way other "conservatives" had done, she criticized the whole affair as telling her more than she wanted to know about the respective candidates’ religious beliefs. It’s columns such as that one that move us forward, by making us think different thoughts (even though I don’t necessarily agree with her point). But in the end I went with the Tom Friedman column from that morning. It was just way too important, and he had accomplished something that was very difficult to do within the space of a single column. He explained very clearly why the U.S. and Saakashvili share blame for stupid courses of action leading up to the Georgia invasion, while making it VERY clear that Putin is the main bad guy and must be opposed with all the West can muster. Both Kathleen’s and Friedman’s pieces were of the sort that made you feel smarter for having read them. But no one had summed up the Georgia invasion as well as Friedman did. And besides, it had been awhile since I had picked a Friedman piece, leaving a palpable vacuum that only he could fill. (Also-rans: George Will, Maureen Dowd.)

So initially I had slotted Kathleen’s column to join the others on the Saturday list. But now I’ve pulled it back to run Friday.

One more point — you may have noticed that the way I use the Saturday online page is to run the very best pieces that didn’t quite make it — each of them better than everything else that moved that day (except for the one I did pick). That makes the Saturday Opinion Extra worth reading, which not enough people do. That’s my opinion, anyway.

So you think numbers can’t dance?

Here’s another digression from my Sunday column that got left on the cutting room floor:

    But things like this always perplex me. I am not an economist, you see, nor a financial expert, which I’m told is something different. Nor am I any kind of a businessman. Put it this way: At my house, I am not allowed to try to balance the checkbook.
    It’s not that I’m stupid, or can’t do math. I took calculus in school, and, for a guy who can’t handle a checkbook, got a ridiculously high score on the math part of my SAT. But something happens to numbers when they appear on a checkbook, or on a spreadsheet, or on anything where the numbers are meant to represent units of money. It’s like the fictional form of mathematics, found only in restaurants, that humorist Douglas Adams called “Bistromath.” One of his characters explained it this way: “On a waiter’s bill pad… numbers dance. Reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible.”
    Checkbooks are like that….

I wasn’t just trying to be silly there. The numbers really do dance. Probably my biggest problem with keeping a checkbook is that I am determined to keep it to the penny, or not at all. Since I seldom actually write a check, but use my debit card, keeping the account up to date involves frequently logging the receipts that I keep in my wallet.

Of course, the actual account is never, ever up to date with what I have in my wallet, so I can almost never make a direct, one-to-one comparison between debits and credits as I know them and as the bank currently recognizes them — there’s never a moment when I can look and say, "Yep, that’s the total I have, too."

If you want to see the numbers really dance, of course, try letting your account get close to zero — which mine does at some point during every pay period. Note how lackadaisical your bank is about recording your debits most of the time, but how it will all of a sudden pounce with what looks like a year’s worth when it senses that you are within range of an overdraft. Financial institutions actually have this down to a science, although it looks more like an art to me.

And once you have an overdraft, then try getting it straight what’s actually in your account, what with trying to figure out when the overdraft fee is debited, whether you’ve actually paid the overdraft back, etc. At that point, I get dizzy.

Which is why my wife handles the accounts.

Oh, and on the SAT thing: I did better than Al Gore, but not nearly as well as Bill Gates. I’m not giving you the links (because my wife thinks telling people your SAT scores is really, really uncool); you do the "math."

My point is — at least, I think my point is — that the ability to handle money involves something other than pure mathematical ability. It involves being in touch, somehow, with the whole mystique of money. I suspect that it’s like Zen; I need to relax or something. Or maybe it’s the opposite — maybe keeping accounts requires a whole lot more effort than I’m willing to put into them.

I expect accounts to be really simple — far less simple than calculus — and to easily be computed. After all, it’s just adding and subtracting, right? Well, apparently not.


My Sunday column was originally about 11 inches longer than the published form. One of the first things that went in editing it down was my parenthetical digressions, which are sometimes my favorite parts — even though they frequently have NOTHING to do with my point.

An example would be the one in the original second paragraph of the column, to wit:

    You did? Are you sure? I just ask because, as a member of the U.S.
economy (Can you be a “member of the economy?” I don’t see why not,
since everybody these days refers to uniformed military personnel as
“members of the military,” as though the Army were the Kiwanis Club or
something), I’ve got to tell you that I’m feeling a little

It’s a little difficult for me to explain why, but this is a pet peeve of mine. I hate hearing of military personnel referred to as "members of the military." It’s like calling soldier, sailors or marines fingers or toes (or some even less noble appendage), or comparing them to participants in some private club, which to me seems to denigrate their service in some undefinable way.

Those of you old enough to have a sense of perspective will realize that this is a fairly recent construction. I first started hearing it regularly in the 90s, maybe just after the Gulf War. It’s basically yet another awkward attempt to be "gender-inclusive." You tend to hear it as a replacement for the traditional "servicemen." Why we can’t say "servicemen and -women" when we mean to include both, I don’t know.


Today’s column may seem a little weird, even by my standards. But it could have been weirder. I did, after all, resist the temptation to make this my second paragraph:

It was just like Edward Hopper’s "Nighthawks." Except that it was in the daytime, and there was just one customer instead of three, and it was in a small town rather than an urban setting, and the counterman was a woman. Other than those things, it was just like "Nighthawks."

…not to be confused, of course, with the Gottfried Helnwein version.

The game is afoot!


hen putting together today’s editorial page, I looked for art to go with the editorial about Robert Stewart’s retirement after 20 years leading SLED. I ran across this portrait Rich Glickstein shot back before 9/11, the first time he announced his retirement — before canceling it to lead the state’s homeland security efforts.

I like the picture, but didn’t have room for something that size and shape. So here it is.

Happy Trails, Chief.

DeMint on Romney — NOT!

We rejected this op-ed earlier in the week because it seemed, well, a tad unfair to run a piece from Sen. Jim DeMint praising his choice for president, with nothing similar favoring the other two (or nine, if you prefer) on the very day of the GOP debate.

But here it is for y’all:

Just kidding!

Seriously, it WAS here, but I took it down because colleague Mike Fitts sent me this:

Ryan Dawkins from DeMint’s office called to politely object to the posting of their op-ed piece on the blog. Since we turned it down for the paper, they had been trying to re-use it elsewhere, and she fears, understandably, that the Web posting will interfere with that.

So the op-ed’s gone bye-bye.

Anyway, it was about the virtues of the guy most likely to come in fifth in the South Carolina primary, Mitt "YouTube" Romney.

EXCLUSIVE Joe Biden op-ed


We decided this piece wasn’t worth bumping some local writer or one of our syndicated columnists for, our op-ed space in the paper being so limited these days. Besides, we keep the bar pretty high for candidates wanting to use our space for free media. (Calling it "exclusive" didn’t do it. We appreciate it, but we pretty much expect that; why use precious space for something people can read anywhere?)

Fortunately, the threshold is considerably lower here on Brad Warthen’s Blog. So you can read it here.

Dear Brad and editorial team:
    Please see below the following op-ed penned below by Sen. Joe Biden.  As you probably know, Sen. Biden will be in South Carolina tomorrow.  With the many military bases and training facilities in SC, we believe this op-ed on the new MRAP vehicle would be very pertinent to your readers and hope you will consider its publication.
    We are offering this op-ed as an EXCLUSIVE to the State Newspaper and look forward to hearing from you on whether you choose to publish. 

Elizabeth Alexander
Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Joe Biden

No Price Tag on Protecting our Troops
By Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
    Road side bombs are by far the most lethal weapons used against Americans in Iraq.  They account for seventy percent of our casualties.  So if we had the technology to cut these casualties by two-thirds, it is safe to assume that the Bush Administration would spend whatever is necessary, as quickly as it could, to get that technology into the field, right?
    The President’s emergency spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan significantly short-changed the budget for new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.  They have a v-shaped hull that offers four to five times the protection of the armored Humvee. 
    Right now, only a few hundred MRAPs are in service in Iraq.  The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force need 7,774 vehicles, costing a total of $8.4 billion. The Administration’s plan was to spend $2.3 billion this year and $6.1 billion next year.  However, the military believed they could accelerate production at the eight manufacturers (one of which is right here in South Carolina) if we gave them adequate funding.
    As Army Chief of Staff General Schoomaker told the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month: "We can build what we can get the funds to build.  It’s strictly an issue of money."
    The President’s emergency budget under-funded MRAPS by $1.5 billion. So I introduced an amendment to the emergency budget to add the necessary funds and it passed the Senate unanimously. If the House agrees and the President signs the budget into law, we now can manufacture and deploy 2,500 more vehicles by December 2007, six months earlier than we would have under the President’s plan. 
    $1.5 billion is a lot of money, but it is money we were going to spend next year anyway.  The pay-off for spending it now is literally priceless.   Each vehicle means four to twelve Americans in the field get four to five times more protection than they have now.   That means 10,000 to 30,000 more soldiers and marines will be protected sooner than later.
     So, the question is, do you want to spend the $1.5 billion now and save lives, or go with the current schedule and spend it next year?  Do you want 10,000 to 30,000 more soldiers and marines to be protected in December? 
    For me, the bottom line is simple:  get as many of these vehicles as possible into the field as quickly as possible to protect our troops. 
    Their safety is our first responsibility.

The author, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., is the senior Senator from Delaware and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The "tomorrow" in the intro was a reference to Saturday. This was sent on Friday; we only rejected it today.


‘Grady Patterson: The Prequel’

ince Treasurer Grady Patterson
declined to face his challenger in tonight’s "debate," here’s the next
best thing to his being there. I really had intended this to be sort of
a "Director’s Cut," dumping in all the video I shot during the
interview. But that was too much for YouTube to handle.

So I just gave you another short clip. The one you saw before was
from near the end of the interview. This is from the beginning.

To set the scene: In this clip, I happened to turn on the camera
right in the middle of Mr. Patterson saying he wanted to tell us about
all the "new" things they were doing in the treasurer’s office. You can
follow it from there.

Note that my little camera only shoots three minutes at a time, so
if a clip stops in the middle of something interesting, I can’t help
it. I can turn it back on a few seconds later, but crucial material can
still be lost.

Note also how my technological prowess grows. I’m now putting music on
my intros. Impressive, huh? Even if it is just stuff that’s in the
public domain.

More on today’s column

Here’s how today’s column originally started out. I didn’t think the anecdote worked:

    Week before last, the Associated Press moved a story
by its own Jim Davenport that started out like this:
    “Gov. Mark Sanford’s re-election bid entered a new phase Wednesday as it began offering detailed criticism of Democrat Tommy Moore’s record and ethics, including alleging his actions contributed to the Operation Lost Trust vote-selling scandal that left one in 10 legislators indicted more than a decade ago.”
    Alarm bells went off for me when I read that Sen. Moore’s culpability for Lost Trust had to do with “his connections to a capital gains tax break that Republican then-Gov. Carroll Campbell wanted in 1988,” and that “allegations floated around afterward that people had paid to get the tax break tucked into the state budget so it would retroactively put money back into their pockets.”
    That was bogus on a number of levels, because I was here at the time, supervising The State’s political writers. First, Lost Trust centered around bribes related to parimutuel betting. Second, the capital gains issue was taken up by the feds only after my reporters uncovered it (after our story ran, I was questioned by two FBI agents wanting to know where that came from). Third, this was not the same capital gains tax break that Gov. Campbell was pushing.

I quit trying to write this at this point, and so I never got to the transition in which I explained that knowing Tom Davis, I knew there was a misunderstanding somewhere.

I had called Tom as soon as I had read this, and that led to a couple of conversations with him, and the result was the rest of the column. Bottom line: I don’t think either Tom or Jim Davenport meant to say that Lost Trust was about the cap gains thing; both knew better. It just sort of came across that way in that story. If I had continued in the above vein, the next paragraph would have explained that. Which means I was going to waste several paragraphs raising a concern that I was then going to dismiss. I don’t have that kind of space to throw away.

Oh, and by the way, that "capital gains tax break that Republican then-Gov. Carroll Campbell wanted in 1988" was a different piece of legislation from the one that involved the bribe. There was a lot of confusion about that by the time we broke the story, and Senate Democrats (with Tommy Moore helping lead the way) tried to make hay about that in hearings. Hence the reference in Cindi’s column Friday to "an unsuccessful attempt to tar former Gov. Carroll Campbell." So that was another thing I’d have to walk the reader through.

I eventually decided that talking about Tom was the better way to start the piece. I got to my point quicker.

And what was the point? Well, I never stated it this clearly, and looking back I probably should have, but the choice in this election is quite similar to the one that Columbia city voters had earlier this year. Remember how I wrote that Kevin Fisher and Bob Coble offered a choice between someone who presented himself as being right, and someone whose self image was of being effective?

This is like that on a larger scale. Now, it’s Sanford who insists on being right, and Moore who insists on getting things done. It’s hard to choose between the two, I think. I’ve always had trouble with it, anyway. Of course, what I want, and what South Carolina needs, is a leader who can give us both.

But it’s been a while since anyone like that has even offered for office.

All the news that didn’t fit

What you read in the paper, and what I reproduced here, was the 27-inch version of Sunday’s column. Here are some of the bits that I cut out of the 63-inch version — my (very) rough draft. The first excerpt is an expansion of something I used. Most of the rest had to be cut out entirely:

     … Taking sides is seen as not only unprofessional, but unethical.
    In some ways, this is healthy. You don’t get uncritical reporting that formations of “many planes,” which according to a U.S. general were “undoubtedly enemy aircraft” had flown over the San Francisco Bay area. You aren’t told as late as nine days after the Pearl Harbor attack that the Japanese had succeeded in sinking only one of our battleships.
    In some ways, it is excessive. It’s not hard to imagine how the events of 60-plus years ago would be reported today — and not only by the Times…. We’d learn that American paratroopers had been dropped everywhere except where they were supposed to be, that they had been drugged for airsickness, causing many of them to fall asleep on the way over the channel, and that they had been issued untested “leg bags” that ripped off when their ’chutes opened, causing many to land without weapons or ammunition. We’d hear estimates of French civilian casualties, and tallies of scores of Americans killed by friendly fire.
    All of which would be true. And demoralizing.

    I was on vacation and therefore somewhat out of the loop the
week this story broke. I think the first I heard of the “Swift” operation was when I tuned in to the
middle of an interview about it on National Public Radio. An administration
official was assuring the interviewer that the program wasn’t all that
extensive, and therefore nothing to worry about on privacy grounds.

    (ROBERT) SIEGEL: So if I’m a Somali immigrant who drives a cab in Washington, D.C., but I’ve already had difficulty at the airport. I discover that I’m on some list somewhere. My transactions if they go through a bank that works with SWIFT, I should pretty well assume that they’re being, my transactions are being surveiled in that sense.
    Mr. LEVEY: Truthfully, no. I think that even that is going too far. We don’t just do searches on everybody on any watch list or whatever. What happens is we’re doing counter terrorism, we’re pursuing a counter terrorism investigation, and we get a lead that this person is a terrorist facilitator. This person is the donor to a terrorist organization, or this person is an operative.

(Stuart Levey is Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.)

    My reaction was, “What?!? Why the hell not? What’s the point of having a list? Do we want another 9/11?” As security measures go, tracking such accounts would seem to beat frisking blue-haired grannies at the airport.
    This, of course, was before I knew that the SWIFT program was at the center of a high-stakes confrontation between the Bush administration and the Fourth Estate. And if you read some of the comments on my blog, you might think this is a simple matter in which the Bush lovers are convinced that The New York Times wants us to lose to the terrorists, while the Bush-haters are celebrating the Times as the irreproachable champion of the people’s “right to know.”
    Such a dichotomy leaves little room for those of us who believe passionately in a free press, sincerely want our nation to prevail on the war on terror, have a lot of problems with George W. Bush, and are not offended by having our phone or bank records included in databases that are combed for terrorist connections. People like me.
    As I sort of halfway paid attention to the controversy over the next few days, it began to creep into my mind that this time, some of my more vaunted ink-stained brethren may have gone too far. It was not the first time I have had such thoughts…

    I may have started my professional career after the Watergate break-in, but when it comes to life-and-death decisions regarding national security, I tend to be a product of another age. I’m not volunteering to pour the lighter fluid when Bill Keller is tied to the stake or anything. But I do find myself questioning the judgment of many in this journalistic generation….

    (Critics) think the press is partisan, arrogant and unAmerican. The truth is more complicated than that, but not necessarily more pleasant. I have known few journalists in my day who were consciously and openly partisan in their words and deeds (and among those few, some were actually Republican; imagine that). Of course, journalists are often masters of self-deception….

    And yes, plenty of us are arrogant. Sort of like test pilots. If you didn’t have an exaggerated sense of your own abilities, you wouldn’t put your byline on a controversial front-page story any more than you would push a hurtling aircraft up against the edge of its performance envelope….

    But here’s the flaw in their (Keller’s and Baquet’s) logic: It’s not like this just fell in their laps and they had to decide whether to run it or not. They had to decide first to pursue it. There’s a difference….

    And unAmerican? No way. They reflect America, or great swathes of it, anyway. They have to survive in a free market. America in 1944 would not have tolerated newspapers that published such stories. America in 2006 may or may not. But it’s not the government who will determine that. Readers will. That’s why editors scramble to explain themselves when they are at the center of controversy….

    I’ll be uncharacteristically generous and include the TV cowboys as “journalists” within this context. It seemed to me that they were the first to start us down this road. Since I get most of my news from print, I found myself wondering — oh, a couple of years back — why public confidence in our Iraq endeavor was declining. From what I was reading, things were proceeding about as I expected. Of course, I had expected us to spend pretty much the rest of my life building the nation back up. (Germany, an enormous economy that was more technologically advanced than we were in many fields, gave us a lot more to work with. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we still have a lot of troops there, 61 years after V-E Day.)
    Then, I went to give blood down at the Red Cross one day (something I tried to do Friday, and something you should do, too, as there is a critical shortage of all types). As I was lying there trying not to think about what was flowing out of my arm, I actually paid attention to the network news report blaring from the screen hanging from the ceiling. Wow. Suicide bombing after mosque attack after IED, in seemingly endless profusion. And I understood. If that was what all the millions of people who “get their news from television” were seeing out of Iraq, the mere fact that we hadn’t withdrawn completely was impressive evidence of a steely national resolve.

More from Kit Spires

As promised, here are additional notes from my last interview with Kit Spires. I had been trying to reach him last Thursday in connection with my column for Sunday, and he called back on my cell phone while I was in the waiting room at the Ear, Nose and Throat doc seeing him about my aforementioned perpetual sinus pain. I had a long wait, so he and I were able to talk for about 35 minutes.

The interview was somewhat more awkward than it might have been
otherwise, since our runoff endorsement of his opponent, Rep. Ken Clark, had
run that very day. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as some such chats can
be, and I credit Mr. Spires for that. He was quite gracious,
considering the circumstances, and that speaks well of him.

I had missed him earlier in the day because he had taken off from his pharmacy and had been out campaigning. He said he’d "been out to the senior centers today."

I asked him about his successful day the previous Tuesday, and he said "I was excited by the turnout." As I look back at these notes, I realize I had meant to get back to that and ask him to elaborate. The turnout had been low, and all the Clark supporters I had spoken to at the meeting described in my column had said that low turnout — which they mostly attributed to weather — had been the reason Mr. Spires was going into the runoff with a considerable lead.

(In light of that, if I were inclined to bet, I’d bet that Mr. Spires is going to prevail tomorrow — as wrong as I believe that outcome would be, both for South Carolina and for the voters of District 96. A lot of things can happen in a runoff, but having greater turnout than in the original primary is generally considered to be one of the likely possibilities. All Mr. Clark has to do is turn out another 600 or 700 voters, but that is not easy under the circumstances.)

Anyway, I’m not sure whether Mr. Spires was saying he was pleased by the low turnout, or simply saying he was gratified that enough of his people turned out. He and I have missed each other on the phone in the past 24 hours as I write this. If we make contact, I’ll try to remember to ask him.

He noted that he had taken the Lexington County portions of the district by 48 percent, while "Dean" — the third candidate in the race — had taken the Aiken County portion (barely). Dean Rawls, a candidate with whom I am largely unfamiliar because he never came in for an interview, has thrown his support to Mr. Spires.

Mr. Spires was still saying his main issue was the property tax, particularly older folks such as his 73-year-old mother having to pay property tax for schools when they have no kids in schools. I kept asking him to explain how that could be an issue now that the Legislature — with his opponent’s help — had eliminated all residential property taxes for school operations.

This was about the only point at which we touched on the main issue in the race — tuition tax credits for schools. Excuse me, one of the two main issues in the race. There is, as I noted in my column, something different in this race, which prevented Mr. Clark from prevailing June 13 the way other candidates targeted by out-of-state anti-schools money did. That would be the matter of local issues, particularly in the Swansea area (Mr. Spires will allude tangentially to this below), that really have nothing to do with what a representative is sent to the State House for.

As usual, Mr. Spires spoke in general terms. He seems to have little strong opinion on the subject one way or the other. He seems to have been chosen by the pro-"choice" money people for no greater qualifications than the facts that he is willing to run, and he is not Ken Clark. Ken Clark is a remarkably strong and articulate explainer of everything that is wrong with their position, so the likes of SCRG and CIA are determined to see him go.

"The best solution is compromise," was about as far as Mr. Spires would explain his views on this. He used the example of what he learned in 10 years on the Lexington Medical Center board. He didn’t see the need for the recent political fight over whether the hospital would be allowed to do open-heart surgery. "That should have been an issue with the certificate of need people." Well, he and I agree on that, assuming I understood him right. (The problem was that the Lexington Medical folks and Lexington delegation refused to leave the decision to be handled through that process, and insisted on provoking a bitter battle at the State House.)

Mr. Spires and I did not always understand each other clearly right away. We seemed to be talking past each other, and the imprecision of the way he would express his views often led to misunderstandings and having to backtrack in the conversation. For instance, he said, "There’s got to be a better way to fund public schools than on the backs of the taxpayers." He said this within the context of having expressed doubts about the efficacy of the Legislature’s tax swap, with a sales tax increase making up for eliminating the residential property tax for school operations.

So I asked how he would pay for schools if not with taxes of some kind. He then hastened to explain that he meant it should be done on the backs of property taxpayers.

Then, a moment later, he mentioned the need to fix up state roads, and said, "Let’s take 25 percent of the property tax and designate in for roads and improvements." I asked how, if he was going to cut or eliminate property taxes for broad swathes of the electorate, he would come up with more money for roads. He said he was talking about using car taxes for roads. So I said, you mean a portion of the taxes on cars, boats and airplanes would take care of our huge maintenance backlog on our highways? It seemed unlikely enough that I was trying to make sure I understood him.

He seemed a bit confused at my bringing up boats and planes (he may have misheard me on a cell phone connection), so I explained that personal property taxes apply to those as well. At this point, I think we had it all straight, although his plan doesn’t seem to have any sort of practicality to it. If you raised personal property taxes enough to pay for that billion-dollar or so backlog, the taxpayers would probably totally freak out.

Mr. Spires’ one specific idea about what to do about taxes is that "property taxes (meaning real property taxes) for over 65 be eliminated."

So I said, that’s it? A totally age-based exemption? So 67-year-old millionaires with beachfront homes at Hilton Head would pay no property taxes for schools, while we’d still kick younger folks out of their houses if they couldn’t pay up enough to make the difference of that break? He thought about that a moment and said of the theoretical millionaire who lived mainly in Columbia but had a place at the beach and in the mountains that he should still get the total break on his primary residence.

"I don’t have all the answers," Mr. Spires acknowledged. "If I did, I’d be in Las Vegas trying to bet on the numbers, you know." Well, no, I hadn’t known. It wouldn’t be what I’d do if I had all the answers. I don’t think it’s what Ken Clark would do if he had all the answers, either. That could be one key to the reason I prefer Mr. Clark.

Gambling came up a little later in our chat, when Mr. Spires expressed one of the commonest misconceptions about the state lottery. He was expressing his theory — based on no particular facts or figures that he was able to cite — that "I personally think we have the money" already to do whatever we need to do with education and other functions of state government. "We’ve got the money," he assured me. But "It’s just like the lottery money."

How’s that? Well, "it was supposed to go for all (education), and it seems like it goes too much to the colleges and universities."

OK, once again, for all those folks who paid no attention to what Jim Hodges and other lottery supporters told you before the lottery vote, and who also paid no attention to what those of us who opposed the lottery told you, college scholarships were always the main selling point on the lottery. Sure there was vague talk about "our schools" on the part of the advocates, but the point, for Mr. Hodges, was to hand scholarship checks to middle-class parents who would otherwise vote Republican. Upon receiving that manna that the state took from the poorer and more gullible, said affluent parents might be grateful enough to vote Mr. Hodges in for another term.  It didn’t work out that  way, but we do have the lousy lottery to remember him by.

But I let that go. Instead, I tried to get him going on an area of potential agreement between us. I,  too, believe that a lot (although not nearly all) of what is needed to bring critical state services up to snuff is already being spend, just on the wrong things. So I asked Mr. Spires what he would cut, but he informed me "I don’t want to cut anything." Not even some of those duplicative, wasteful colleges and programs the state funds? No,he wouldn’t cut them; he would allocate the money better without cuts.

He didn’t offer any examples of how he would accomplish that. In fact, he specifically expressed his disagreement with one recent consolidation of services — combining the pharmacy schools of USC and MUSC. He is, as mentioned before, a pharmacist. His explanation of his opposition to consolidation was that "I went to USC, and I personally think we ought to have two" separate schools.

We moved on.

Why did he do so much better than Mr. Clark the previous week? "I’m in touch with the people every day," while "he’s not even in touch with his neighbors." Mr. Spires operated a pharmacy in Swansea for years, but eventually sold it. He still has one in Pelion, while "I still have a lot of friends in Swansea." That showed on June 13.

Those neighbors are the key to it all for Mr. Spires. He doesn’t have to think for himself on issues as long as he’s got them to  guide him. Mr. Spires is very much a "small-D democrat" and not a believer in republican government at all.

"If you polled," he began in the classic argument of believers in pure-democracy, "taxes would be the number-one thing, and education would probably be down on the list."

"That’s what they’re interested in," he said of the voters.

So, he said, "Let’s do the important things first." I thought maybe he meant the budget should be delayed so it could be done in tandem with tax reform.  But no, he was complaining that legislators fail and fail to act on property taxes (and once again, the fact that they just did act,and dramatically, is shunted aside). He essentially suggests that as long as an issue is of overriding importance to people, lawmakers should not take another moment to take up anything until that overriding issue — in this case, tax cuts — has been resolved. He considers the cigarette tax and breast-feeding in public to be two examples of things that should not be talked about until residential property taxes for schools are dealt with.

I tried to make a joke, suggesting that sure, property taxes would be a higher priority — unless you were a hungry baby. I don’t think I delivered it right. Anyway, he did allow as how various issues were of greater or lesser importance to different people. "But everybody is concerned with property tax."

He then added, "And education is important, you know."

That’s about it. We did get on a tangent about the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, which I mentioned in the column.

More on Clark

Here’s some stuff that didn’t make it into my column. This originally came after the paragraph that ended with "believes ‘in “compromise:’"

”    Mr. Clark does not. As a young Navy officer in the 1960s he wrote the
wrote the specs for, built and ran the computer system that ran the war
in Vietnam for Gen. William Westmoreland. Maybe we didn’’t win that one,
but Mr. Clark’’s machines saw to it that troops, ammunition, supplies and
intelligence got to where they were supposed to be.
    He felt guilty being in a safe zone, so he would go over to the 7th Air
Force hospitals and write letters for the severely wounded. It wasn’’t
part of his job, but he felt compelled to do it.
    Captain Clark, USN-retired, is a problem-solver, and he works at an
exhaustive pace, doing far more than most representatives would say the
job demands. Some lawmakers can’’t be found when it’’s time to vote, much
less do the hard work in committees. Mr. Clark goes to the meetings of
every committee that touches on an issue that he’’s studying. And he’’s
interested in everything that would improve the health, wealth and
wisdom of South Carolinians.
    Mr. Spires, by his own account, is interested in cutting property taxes. But he hasn’t taken the trouble to study any of the options, or even  what the Legislature has actually DONE already to address the one part he articulates — his concern that old folks will lose their homes paying property taxes for schools.

Here’s another bit that just was too long and involved to get it to work into the thing. It came from Mr. Clark’s experiences doing something that would be utterly alien to Mr. Spires’ financial supporters — substitute-teaching in the schools:talking about poor, black mothers

    One reason Mr. Clark is at a disadvantage is that while he’s a great representative, he has his weak spots as a politician. For instance, he cares too much about things that really matter. Instead of starting with "look how I’ve cut your taxes" (which he eventually did mention, but only because he felt the need to counter the lies from the fliers) when I walked into the room where the meeting was, he was talking about … teen moms, and the way they lead to problems in the schools.
    "…these are not bad girls," he was saying. But they haven’t got a clue how to raise their kids. They work
all day, come home exhausted, have nobody to help them with anyting, and not knowing any better, they park their kids in front of the TV.
    "And w
hat do they see? Sex, violence, vanity, pushing, shoving — and that’’s what they bring into the schools." And that’s what he has to contend with when he teaches.
    "I taught at the Naval Academy, where I’’m used to seeing people who say
yes sir, no sir." The realities of what our society sends into the school doors is a profound contrast.

I’ll have more coming up from my interview last week with Mr. Spires later in the day. I left the notes in my briefcase, which isn’t with me. But I’ll have it later. (As it turned out, it was the NEXT day. Sorry.)

Actual Reality

There’s something redundant about the phrase, "actual reality." I know that. But we have to make distinctions, when dealing our friends at SCRG, between the actual sort and their sort.

If I agreed with what these folks are advocating, I’d be embarrassed they’re on my side. I’ve gotten the impression that Karen Floyd is. But she’s sort of stuck; she’s their candidate.

Anyway, here is a partial breakdown of the problems that made the latest SCRG unpublishable by anyone except SCRG.

I should probably preface this by noting that on the pages of The State, we let (actually, we encourage it and facilitate it) folks who disagree with us say pretty much anything they want and call us any names they want — as long as they’re suitable for a family newspaper. You can call us left-wing; you can call us right-wing (they’re about equally popular, it seems); you can call us late for supper. You can say our mothers dress us funny.

What we won’t let you do is confuse readers by saying something that is objectively, obviously untrue. And that includes saying we said things we didn’t say. I mean, what’s the point of our taking the trouble to write something if we’re going to use our own space to let people say we said something else? Kind of a pointless exercise. Argue with what we say all you like, but no inventing false statements. (I suspect people do this because they think they have an answer for the phony statement, but they know they are incapable of contending with what we actually said. Whatever.)

Anyway, here’s the point-by-point:

  • Goebbels? Joseph Goebbels? Isn’t this device in some sort of Over-The-Top Name-Calling Rhetoric Hall of Fame?
  • Actually, Cindi likes school choice. You know, send your kids to any public school you want, whether you’re zoned for it or not; whether you even live in the district or not. And send them to any private school you want, but then you pay for it yourself instead of asking other taxpayers to do it for you. On this point she’s a lot easier than I. I’m suspicious of any movement that has to hide behind the word "choice." Whether it’s abortion or subsidizing private schools, people with bad ideas avoid saying what they’re actually for.
  • "She used both of them in this diatribe with a shameless disregard for the facts or the truth." Hey, maybe she’s a Nazi, but the law doesn’t let you libel Nazis, either. We will now wait in vain for any assertions by SCRG that anything she said was untrue, much less "shamelessly" so.
  • "Ms. Scoppe recklessly labels South Carolinians for Responsible Government and other groups’ activities as ‘white collar crime.’ " Uh, hello. No she didn’t. Reading comprehension problem time. Her actual text: "The poker barons were more dangerous, in the sense that street
    crime is more dangerous than white-collar crime." It’s called an analogy. Look into it.
  • "She is a partisan, liberal Democrat." When they try to make a case for this one, I want to be in the room. It should be entertaining. One quick example: Cindi is the one who has to keep coming to Mark Sanford’s defense when I get fed up with him (it’s becoming a full-time job, and, truth be told, she’s starting to agree with me sometimes). For the record, no one on my editorial board is a partisan, or I wouldn’t have chosen him or her to work with us. That’s just insulting. The amusing part is when they call her "liberal" and "Democrat." Of course, there is no evidence offered here — circumstantial or otherwise. How could there be? None exists.

… tell you what — to save your time and mine, let’s just stop skipping over all the plain silly stuff (although all the stuff about her "screaming" — coming from people talking about Goebbels — is a lot of fun) and go to their out-and-out false assertions of "fact"…

  • "While complying with all applicable laws." Say what? They can argue that the law is unconstitutional if they wish. But the fact is
    that the law does require them to report their spending, and they have refused
    to comply with it.
  • "She is doing it to advance liberal political candidates and causes." Such as? I can think of some folks we’ve endorsed over in the Democratic primary who might be described as "liberal" — but only here in South Carolina and few other places. But in the Republican primary, which is what we’re talking about here? Who? Where? In what sense?
  • "Destroy your opponents’ credibility through lies and distortions." Once again, give us one example in which Cindi (as opposed to some other people we could name if we wanted to get picky) has done this. And remember the rule: You can’t make it up! She has to have actually done it, and you actually have to have a plausible argument that it’s untrue.

I realize we’re playing by tough rules, requiring actual facts and all, but publishing the op-ed page South Carolina’s largest newspaper is not the same as throwing junk on the Web site of some lame, ranting advocacy group. We’re kind of particular about this fact stuff, and if you don’t know what one is, you’re going to have trouble keeping up.

Reality, version B

We’ve got this regular thing going on with SCouRGe: We write a piece explaining the facts about something that touches on them in any way, they write a wildly overheated response that argues with things we didn’t say. We tell them their response doesn’t address the actual piece we ran. Then, the routine goes one of two ways: They can take the hint and give us a letter that does respond to what we had published (they did that last time), or they can say they don’t want it changed — in which case we ditch it and move on to something relevant.

In either case, they will send out the original, absurd version to whip up their base. That’s sort of the point of the game. Getting us to help them make their case is a fringe benefit, if achievable. If not, they gripe to their base about us not publishing their fantasies. Win-win. (And I see it’s already up on their site. Oh, I love this touch: "CENSORED BY THE STATE … AGAIN!" Let’s see… I told them I’d put it on my blog, and here it is. And they got it up on their site before I did. So, how exactly are they being "censored"? Somebody get a dictionary.)

It really wasn’t achievable with the latest piece they sent us, purportedly a response to this piece by Cindi (she seems to be in the news on this blog today, probably because she’s the main writer on most of the state primary races).

First, their piece, unedited. I will discuss it in the next post:

The State’s Propaganda Machine in High Gear
By Randy Page
    Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, followed two primary rules when brainwashing the German public.  The first was to tell a big lie loud enough and long enough so that people would eventually start to believe it.  The second rule was to always accuse your enemy of your own worst crime.
     I was reminded of this when reading Cindi Scoppe’s most recent pathetic rant against school choice and limited government supporters.  Ms. Scoppe clearly has learned Goebbels’ methods well.  She used both of them in this diatribe with a shameless disregard for the facts or the truth.
     Ms. Scoppe recklessly labels South Carolinians for Responsible Government and other groups’ activities as “white collar crime.”  She knows very well that allegations against us were nothing more than political maneuvers and that we have not been charged with any crime.  She also knows that the one issue currently active has broad Constitutional free speech implications and that we are looking for clarity through the federal judicial system.
  But that doesn’t matter to Ms. Scoppe.  She throws mud and then hides behind her “press credentials.”  She uses her free speech rights to attempt to deny us and any other group she opposes that very right.  That’s the height of hypocrisy.
     For all her screaming and high-pitched assaults, Ms. Scoppe wants to hide the fact that she is a partisan, liberal Democrat working for an out-of-state corporation that has engaged in repeated efforts to influence the outcome of elections while reporting to no one.  “We are the press and cannot be regulated,” she will scream.  And we would agree.
     But if she and her comrades are free to act in such a manner, why does she have such a problem with an in-state non-profit organization discussing issues that may or may not affect the outcome of political debate while complying with all applicable laws?
     Simple.  She attacks us because we advocate for less government, more individual freedom, lower taxes, greater personal property rights, parental choice in education, and an end to the controlled political environment that has kept hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians out of the process.  She opposes all these things – as do most of the major candidates they back.
     It is a fair question to ask why she and the State newspaper editorial page would attack us and other conservative groups so intensely.  The answer is they want to silence us.  They want to tarnish our good name so that when we engage in debate or issue discussion our words are deemed suspect.  She is engaging in pure character assassination.   And, she is doing it to advance liberal political candidates and causes.
     This, of course, was another of Mr. Goebbels’ methods – whenever possible, destroy your opponents’ credibility through lies and distortions.  Yes, Ms. Scoppe has learned her lessons well.  And that’s too bad for the reputation of the State as well as the people subjected to her sleazy, unethical tactics.
     Luckily for groups such as ours, her opinion and that of the State newspaper is absolutely insignificant.  The most recent election results are a testament to that fact.

Randy Page is President of SCRG, a statewide non-profit grassroots organization that advocates limited government and education reform through school choice on behalf of its 200,000 supporters across the state.

Don’t miss Actual Reality, coming to a blog near you, right after this post.

More on Sanford veto

Here’s some stuff I didn’t have room for in my Sunday column.

The bottom line is that even the things the governor says that sound reasonable don’t hold up when you run the numbers:

In his veto letter (on page 3), the governor says the following:

I have heard the arguments from some state legislators that "growing government by 13 percent this year simply puts us back to where we were before we had to make those midyear budget  cuts." That is simply not true.The Budget is $744 million above the previous budget high-water mark that people talk of "getting back to," as is shown by the following chart.

He’s right that it is not true. And indeed, in raw, unadjusted dollars there is a $744 million increase over the highest previous year. But the real reason the statement is not true is that there is no real-world increase at all, and the latest budget falls far short of "getting back to" what we were funding before. In fact, it is actually a $247 million cut when adjusted for inflation.

In 2006, you have to come up with $6.623 billion to have the buying power of the $5.632 billion "high-water" budget passed in 2000. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

The budget that the governor just vetoed is $6.376 billion. It falls short by $247 million from getting back to where we were before the cuts.

The governor also writes (on page 2) that:

I have consistently advocated limiting the growth in state government spending to a rate that reasonably correlated with the people’s ability to sustain it over time. Some would argue  that this rate is population plus inflation, currently about 5.5 percent. Others say it should be the  state’s average personal income growth, now about 6 percent.

When adjusted using the same official inflation calculator, the state budget grew by 6.41 percent from the one passed last year — not by 13 percent or even 10 percent.

So lawmakers who argue with the governor — if they have a clue as to what’s really going on — would not say, "growing government by 13 percent this year simply puts us back …." First, because it’s not growing by that rate. Second, because it doesn’t put us back at all. If they said either of those things, they’d be just as wrong as the governor is.

John Wrisley on Joe Azar

Seeking a better ending to today’s column, I called longtime radio personality John Wrisley based on a bum tip that he was an Azar supporter. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought he was a possibility.

“Joe called me just the other night” and asked for help, Mr. Wrisley said. “And I said, I can’t do that, Joe.” Why?

“Because I really can’t take him seriously," he said. “I’m not even sure he takes it seriously.”

It’s not that he prefers one of the other candidates. Mr. Wrisley said he’s not happy with the choices before him. “Most of all, I’m not happy with Mayor Bob.”

“He is a likeable guy. I just feel like the city has bitten off more than it can chew.”

As for Mr. Azar, Mr. Wrisley told him, “You’re not ever going to get anywhere with the empty rhetoric — ‘vision,’ and ‘we need to be leaders instead of followers.”

He said he’s served on a lot of committees with Joe over the years, and "He’s filled with ideas. He really likes to talk," but he’s short on action. Mr. Wrisley said at one meeting, he interrupted a long harangue from Mr. Azar to suggest that the committee adopt his proposal, and delegate him to get it done. The affirmative vote was unanimous. But noting got done.

“I don’t see him as the sort of person who will stick his nose into the nitty-gritty to do what it takes to get what needs to be done… done,” he said. “I don’t see him as the executive that he wants to be.”

“He’s kind of full of himself,” Mr. Wrisley said of Mr. Azar. “And that’s fine. We need people like that.” If that’s true, Mr. Azar certainly meets the need.

Finally, since he knew him so well, I asked if he could recommend anyone else who was supporting Joe. "No," he said. Not in his circle of acquaintances. But he added, "I like this guy. I think he’s got a nice business going…. He should not get distracted."

Joe Azar on ‘The State,’ and me

As I noted in today’s column, I was dissatisfied with what I got out of our endorsement meeting, so I went looking for his Web site, and found some other pertinent material. The Web site itself wasn’t all that helpful; it doesn’t seem to have been maintained. But the candidate has a preferred form of semi-mass communication: He has a long e-mail list, and it’s not unusual for him to send out his thoughts three or four times a day (perhaps we have the makings of a blogger). I’m on the list. Here’s what he had to say in reaction to my Sunday column:

Political season is upon us and here comes The State and Brad. One moment he praises Fisher, the next he cuts him. Of course, he ignores me as he usually does, but still gives credit to ideas I have advanced over the years. He just can’t seem to bring himself to put my name on them. Unfortunately, Fisher has gotten set up by Brad. Just read the two articles below and it is quite  apparent. I have listed the web addresses if you also want to see comments from readers.

It appears Brad is setting us up to endorse Coble. He is trying to be a king maker and affect the cityelections (and he does not even live in the city). Fortunately, The State editorials are not well read,  and Brad has lost his credibility with many. I say these both as I hear very little whenever there is an editorial such as this. In past years I would get much comment. Now, when I ask friends what they thought of an editorial, they look at me funny. I get so little feedback on State editorials that I have quit using them as a source of discussion. I dare say we get quite a lot of feedback and distribution via this email, enough that it would make The State’s editorial staff jealous. There is more to come as this is a close race, and I am willing to bet Coble does not go back in.

Classic Azar. Anyway, I should probably clear something up. I’m not about to say whom I think we will endorse at this point, but I will point out one thing, for those who have leaped to the same conclusion as Mr. Azar: As I explained on this blog, I’m the kind of guy who, forced to choose, will prefer being right — as I see the right — to being effective at something other than the right.

I can see how someone who assumes that it is always best to be effective could read my previous column and assume I’m raising Mr. Coble above Mr. Azar. But given the way I am, there is insufficient reason for anyone to be positive about that.

Newspapers as an investment

I often find the column form to be highly constricting. Today was one of those cases. There was about 15 inches worth of stuff I had to cut in order to jam it in. Actually, I had to cut a lot more than that, but I only missed the three chunks that made up the 15 inches, because they helped explain some things.

The first chunk addressed some of the responses I got the last time I wrote about the paper’s, and Knight Ridder’s, profitability. Readers pointed out the inadequacy of comparing the percentage of profit margin of our business versus Wal-Mart’s comparatively pitiful (and people who know a lot more than I do about business have said it was low, too) margin. OK, I thought, I’ll put it another way. Hence the following paragraph:

We do a whole lot better than Knight Ridder as a whole, which made a pitiful (by Wall Street’s expectations of the newspaper business) profit margin of 19.4 percent last year. You know, only like twice the average of companies in the S&P 500.

The fact is, it’s absolutely ridiculous that a) investors aren’t satisfied with the margins most newspapers make, and b) analysts have so bad-mouthed newspapers as an investment in recent years that they have driven down the stock to something like 25 percent below what it ought to be, as a function of the profits they produce. The "reasoning" of analysts on this point goes along these lines: "Sure, they’re still making money now, but with all that competition on-line for the advertising dollar, this can’t last." The gaping hole in that logic is that newspapers are also on-line, that our on-line ad revenues are more or less doubling each year, and that we have an advantage that competitors can’t match: An exclusive franchise in local news — which has tremendous appeal among the customers our advertisers want — as an added inducement to come to our sites and see the ads. Our competitors either have NO content, or content that you can find in a thousand other places. Anyway, the second chunk was on the subject of the industry’s future:

Contrary to what those idiots on Wall Street say, this newspaper would be an excellent investment. You see, in spite of all that stuff you hear, newspapers are going to be around for a long time. If The State didn’t exist, somebody would start something like it in its place. Why? Because the demand is there.

It would actually be a huge boost to our business if people suddenly  did decide they don’t want their news printed on dead trees. That would leave us growing online, and would cut our operating expenses almost in half: We could take those gargantuan presses and create artificial reefs off the Grand Strand. No more newsprint and ink to buy by the trainload. No more huge distribution center with its complicated equipment and large labor force for physically stuffing in ad inserts and bundling papers. No more delivery trucks; no more gasoline. No more page-sized typesetters or plate-making machinery. No more waiting half the night from the time we’re done putting the news together to when it’s placed in your driveway.

We would simply finish writing and editing, press a button, and you would have your news instantly. Which is actually how it works now, from our end — the fact that you don’t get it for hours after we press the button is purely a function of the fact that the market still wants a newspaper.

I’ve been looking forward to the day when that demand would evaporate since the early 1980s, which is when we started writing and editing the news completely with computers. You see, there’s nothing sacred to me about the paper part of the paper. Our value is in our content, specifically our local content, which no other entity in the world has the resources to duplicate.

But I’ve come to realize that the demand for the hard-copy version isn’t going away in my lifetime. So we have to continue the extremely expensive practice of producing the  paper while still innovating online. Our online revenues, by the way, have been growing at a phenomenal rate. And with the talent we already have in-house in that arena, we could do a good deal better without folks in California trying to tell us how to do it.

Then, there was the bit where I explained why I needed somebody to just give me the money to buy the paper, rather than help out some other way. On the one hand, this was tongue-in-cheek. On the other, it explains why I seriously would worry about some wealthy local individual (other than me, if I could join that category) to rescue us from becoming part of some other large corporation.

You say you’d rather lend me the money? OK, but don’t hold your breath to be paid back, since I plan to plow all profits into improving the paper. You want to put together a deal to buy the paper yourself and just let me and my colleagues run it for you? Well, that could work, but it’s fraught with risk. No matter how good your intentions, it might be tough to resist the temptation — having spent all that money — to influence the way we write about your best friends, or your worst enemies. For those of us who are used to criticizing everybody, that could be problematic.

You see, the one advantage of being owned by a publicly-traded company from the other side of the continent is that they don’t give a damn about what sorts of editorial stands we take. In fact, they don’t care about much any more besides the bottom line, which is where we get into the disadvantages.

So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather just have the cash, free and clear, with no strings attached. I may seem to be asking a lot, but it’s for a good cause, and as you see, I have my reasons.

Ultimately, there’s just no substitute for the perfect situation of owning the paper myself. Even Mark Whittington should be able to agree with me on that — the workers (or, in this case, worker singular) owning the means of production. Well, actually, he probably wouldn’t, since I’m envisioning a benign despotism rather than collectivism.

Anyway, as the song says, God bless the child that’s got his own. Newspaper, that is.

Hey! Leave those kids alone

The job of editorial page editor — the way I choose to do it, anyway — involves a curious mix of leadership and collaboration.

As I frequently tell readers, our editorial board makes decisions by consensus, meaning that even if not everyone in the room buys into the position completely, it has been shaped to the point that each member can live with having the editorial appear beneath his or her name (which, while editorials are by definition not signed — only columns have bylines — is always up there on the masthead with the rest of our names for all the world to see. For an illustration, zoom in on the upper left-hand corner of this page.)

My colleagues occasionally say I’m not being entirely candid when I say that because we don’t always reach consensus, and sometimes we take a certain position only because I insist , despite the lingering objections of one or more members. True, there are times when I consider it necessary to take a position, and a consensus proves impossible — on some political endorsements, for instance. Unlike other issues, an endorsement picks one candidate or another, yes or no — leaving no room for the compromises that make consensus possible. And I firmly believe that failing to endorse — when one of these people will be elected — is a copout.

My response to this gentle remonstration is that just as often (if not more so), I give in and go along with the consensus. An example is today’s lead editorial. Personally, I’d like to see summer vacation start at Memorial Day and end after Labor Day. I sympathize with those who want their kids to enjoy the same sort of three-month idylls that I remember
from my own youth. And while I’m a big advocate of standards in the schools, I personally fail to understand what is magical about 180 days of instruction. I seem to recall many thousands of hours that I spent in school as being superfluous. I believe what I learned between kindergarten and 12th grade could have been taught in half the time.

But my colleagues pretty much unanimously insist that I’m completely WRONG on this, and since I have to confess that to some extent my position is based in sentimentality rather than evidence and logic (and I tend to treat positions based in "feelings" rather than thought with contempt), I’ve gone along with them.

But I only go along so far, and the copy has to get by me to get on the page. An example — a paragraph in today’s editorial originally read like this:

On a practical level, the bill approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee isn’t quite as bad as some previous attempts to set local school calendars: It allows schools to start back as early as the third Monday of August, rather than holding them to the agrarian, post-Labor Day schedule that the businesses on the beach seem to think will benefit them. But then, if you want to talk practicalities, the whole notion that starting school in August somehow shortens the summer vacation is nutty: An early start means kids get out of school by the end of May instead of mid-June. The actual length of summer vacation is the same no matter when it starts and stops.

I was willing to go along with all but one word of that. I paused in the editing process to send an instant message to the writer:

A couple of points re this…
1. Summer vacation IS shorter than it used to be. Kids didn’t get off in mid-June; they got off around Memorial Day.
2. August is more summery than June. It’s hotter. In June, the ocean water is sometimes still cold. Most of June occurs in the spring. All of August (and most of September) occur during the summer.
I guess what I’m saying here is, I object to "nutty." "Unconvincing," perhaps — at least, to a consensus of our board.

So, being the editor, I changed the word, and the writer did not protest. But she still thinks it’s nutty.

What else did he say?

My first version of today’s column originally started out with a summary of what Gov. Sanford considered to be most important in his State of the State speech. But I took so many words setting up that list, and then had so much trouble deciding where to go after listing those items, that I scrapped it and started over with what you see on today’s page.

Here is that first rough draft/outline, as far as I took it, anyway:

     One of the great challenges in making the most of the governor’s annual pre-State of the State briefing luncheon for editorial page editors is that you don’t get a copy of the speech until you get there.

    So you find yourself trying to eat, read the speech (which is on your lap with your notebook, there being no room on the table), ask the governor questions about it as you’re reading it, hear other people’s questions, and take notes simultaneously.

    (By the way, this is not a complaint aimed at our current governor; it was ever thus. Or at least, ever since I started going to these in 1994.)

    So after a lot of scattershot questions based on things haphazardly gleaned from the text on the run last Wednesday, Charleston Post and Courier Editor Barbara Williams had the good sense to make this request: You tell us what you consider to be the main points of your speech, governor.

    His answer, as near as I could write down while trying to get some salad into my mouth, was as follows:

  • Workers compensation
  • Restructuring
  • Holding the line on spending, and paying back trust funds.
  • Leverage private-sector investment in rural South Carolina (broadband access).
  • Education.

    On education, he said he had three main points to stress:

  • Early childhood.
  • Charter schools, for the in-between-aged kids.
  • Tuition caps at the higher-education level.

That’s as far as I got. Anyway, I thought you might find this helpful if you try to wade through the speech itself. Or maybe you won’t. Anyway, there it is.