Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving tidbits

*I don't want to tell you I told you so, but I told you so. In this blog and in several big ads in the paper, we made it clear that our Thanksgiving Day paper would fly out of the stores. To guarantee finding one, you had to be a subscriber or arrive at your favorite newsstand early Thursday morning. Sure enough, the papers quickly sold out and our phones started ringing. Worse, our production director found three people who somehow snuck into our closed-for-the-holiday building mid-morning looking for papers. Print more papers, you say? It's not an exact science, but the idea is to print just enough. It's too expensive to print hundreds of papers that may never be purchased. The solution: Subscribe. It's convenient and cost-effective.

*That sound you heard on Thanksgiving Eve was the late Ed Sullivan rolling over in his grave. The much-heralded return of a "variety show" to network TV may have been one of the worst hours in the history of the medium. "Rosie Live" sounded like a good idea. If you're like me and fondly remember the Sullivan format of a host introducing an array of acts - rock band, comedian, acrobat, magician, Broadway singer, opera star, dogs and ponies - a live show hosted by Rosie O'Donnell was must-see TV. And yes, there were some acrobats and a pop singer. But one glitzy number was marred by linking it to prizes for the the theater audience, and another featured the off-key O'Donnell and the way-past-her-prime Liza Minnelli. Singer Gloria Estefan ill-advisedly told corny jokes. Rachel Ray did a silly walk-on. So did Alec Baldwin, Harry Connick Jr. and Conan O'Brien. (And what was Conan thinking about taking a pie in the face? Soupy Sales, where are you?) The Ed Sullivan format worked because he was the no-talent MC who let the performers perform. I haven't yet read the reviews of "Rosie Live" so I don't know if I'm a one-man thumbs down here. But I hope they'll give it and her another chance. Somebody, however, please remember to go back to what has worked in this format.

*Whether it's Dean Gitter's proposed project near Belleayre or Tom Perna's dream along the Hudson, is it too much for the authorities to come to a definitive decision a lot sooner than years after plans were first unveiled? Gitter's been in this game about a decade, Perna a little more than half that. Yet they still don't know if they'll ever break ground. Of course, their plans and the issues surrounding them are complicated. Sure, it would be unrealistic to expect approval or denial within weeks or even months. But a year, two, three at most? And people wonder why developers don't want to consider parts of upstate New York.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

At our service

Just back from speaking to a luncheon meeting of representatives from several local service clubs, hosted by the Kingston Rotary.

It reminded me - as I've also been reminded in the past when I've visited Rotarians, Kiwanians, Lions and other organizations - of how many people are involved, how much time they volunteer and how much better our communities are for their dedication.

Most of us take these people for granted. We shouldn't.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The way it is

Here's the latest on-target analysis of state government by New York Daily News columnist Bill Hammond.

It's a joy to read someone who knows the landscape and cuts through the rhetoric.

In the notebook

*Fox News Channel's token liberal, Alan Colmes is leaving the Hannity and Colmes program. I suppose Juan Williams now is as close as you'll find to a left of center voice on Fox. But both Colmes and Williams aren't likely to be coronated as honest-to-goodness lefties. Meanwhile, left-leaning MSNBC's house righties, Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, are the real deal from their side of the plate.

*The president-elect has had more press conferences this week than the president has had this month ... maybe even this quarter ... maybe even this year. GWB looks to me like a guy who can't wait to go on vacation.

*In a capsule, here's what's wrong these days with professional sports: The Knicks make a couple of trades to rid themselves of expensive contracts. By 2010, when they'll have shed some more big-dollar pacts, they'll be able to sign high-priced free agents and presumably, finally, contend for a National Basketball Association championship. The New York papers are enthused. The Knicks will turn it around, in 2010! Part of the anticipation is that by 2010, superstar LeBron James will be on the market, no doubt eager to bite into the Knicks' Big Apple bucks and save the franchise. Put another way, as far as NBA scribes have it, James and the Knicks are all but a done deal. Except James still plays for Cleveland. What do you suppose fans in that city think about the Knicks' (unstated, because it would be tampering) grand plan? And how much of a discount do Knicks' fans get on Madison Square Garden tickets until 2010?

*If you don't subscribe to the Freeman and you're interested in all those Black Friday sales, better get to your local convenience store early on Thanksgiving morning. We're carrying about 30 inserts in Thursday's paper and most places tell us the racks are empty not all that long after the doors open.

Hein's 21

Much like Barack Obama on the national scale, Ulster County Executive-elect Mike Hein deserves a chance to put his program in place.

But much like Obama, who has been criticized in some quarters for trotting out many of the same old faces to build his economics team, Hein's 21-member Economic Development Transition Task Force reads like a who's who of people who have repeatedly walked down this path, generally without great success.

Let me be clear: I know many of Hein's 21. I've worked with most of them on various economic development boards and/or projects. Save for a few, I have a great deal of confidence in their ability and intellect. But if I'm Mike Hein, I go for a totally new set of names and faces to launch a new era of Ulster County government and economic development. This was a "change election" in Ulster County, just as it was nationally. There are few "changes" among Hein's 21.

By the way, it doesn't seem like Hein has much faith in the much-heralded "Ulster Tomorrow" plan. For what it's worth, I'm of the same mind, maybe because "Ulster Tomorrow" displaced a blueprint that I helped write following a similarly heralded "summit" several years ago.

What the "summit" and "Ulster Tomorrow" had in common was that they barely got off the ground before they were elbowed aside. OK. It's not personal, it's business. But lots of local citizens spent a considerable amount of effort on these gambits, particularly "Ulster Tomorrow." Don't expect them to be eager to sign up again the next time they're asked to participate on a project to nowhere.

Monday, November 24, 2008

If you're keeping score ...

*The ultimate irony about this Bush presidency is that it appears the administration's best efficient work is being done in assuring a smooth transition for the next president.

*Judging by our mail, it's amazing how many people don't know how to correctly spell the new president's first name - it's Barack, with one R - and the governor's last name - it's Paterson, with one T.

*If George Steinbrenner was still in charge, he'd be calling for somebody's head because the letter K isn't lit up on the new stadium. Instead, passers-by see YAN_EE STADIUM.

*If you don't have home delivery of the Freeman, make sure you know what stores are open Thanksgiving morning and get there early. Thirty or so Black Friday advertising inserts will be included in the holiday paper. And those papers annually sell out in many locations.

*It says here that Sen. Chuck Schumer will have a big say in who Gov. Paterson appoints to replace Hillary Clinton when she becomes secretary of state. Despite being the senior senator from New York, Schumer has largely existed in Clinton's shadow. I'm guessing Paterson - with Schumer's nod of agreement - will select someone competent among whose attributes will include a low profile and a relatively unknown name.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How it looks from here

*With Hillary Clinton's time as U.S. senator apparently drawing to a close - word this afternoon is that she's accepting the Obama secretary of state offer - a name that keeps popping up as a likely replacement is Kirsten Gillibrand, the congresswoman whose district covers part of our region. Says here she's young, smart, an Upstater and a female, all qualifications that work in her favor for this appointment, if it comes from Gov. Paterson.

*The great Phil Mushnick of the New York Post has it right - again - on the question of those personal seat licenses being foisted on season ticket holders for Jets and Giants games at the new Meadowlands stadium. Here's the way he nails it in today's column.

*If the Yankees were a movie like "The Godfather", Marlon Brando would play Boss George, James Caan would be Sonny Hank and Al Pacino would be Hal, the offspring who didn't want to go into the family business, but now finds himself in charge.

*I'm going to New York tomorrow morning to pick up my son at the airport. I'll take the NY Thruway (not the Tom Dewey Thruway), to the Tappan Zee Bridge (not the Malcolm Wilson Bridge), to the Triboro Bridge (not the just-renamed RFK Bridge). I'll also drive on the Deegan and Van Wyck expressways, because I don't know what they were called before their present names. And, yes, reluctantly it will be JFK Airport, not Idelwild, because that's what I've known it as for decades. I'll also be on the Grand Central Parkway for a stretch. I like that one. No offense to all of the people after whom roads and tunnels and bridges (yes, you, too, George Washington) and buildings have been named, but I prefer geographically correct titles. (Mid-Hudson Bridge, yes. FDR Bridge, no. Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, yes. Gov. George Clinton Bridge, no.)

Team effort

A guy sent us a comment on our Website this morning pointing to what he claimed was a mistake in one of our stories. If he's right, it won't be the first time our newspaper has made an error (although there are actually very few, particularly given the volume of material that we generate each day).

Anyway, if there was a mistake, the newspaper wants to fix it. And it will, once our managing editor and the reporter backtrack and check the validity of the claim.

The thing is, the guy's Web comment had less to do with trying to set the record straight and more to do with castigating the reporter in unnecessary and unacceptable personal terms.

Let's remind the poster and other readers one more time: Reporters write stories. Stories are edited by one or more editors. Reporters don't write headlines, nor do they decide if, how and where a story appears. In short, a story passes through one or more hands before you read it. It's a team effort.

You want to say bad things about the institution, feel free. Personalizing your beef is unfair, at best, unintelligent at worst.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I am a baby boomer. My parents weren't rich, nor am I. But like most in my generation and those that have followed, we've lived comfortably. We've never wanted for much. We've certainly never experienced an economy such as now exists. It's hard for us to get our arms around it. It's even harder to think that it could get worse. But the experts say it could. They say to be prepared for real pain.

Real pain already is being experienced in this country by countless laid off workers. It's being felt by retailers and restaurateurs and automobile dealers and contractors. And the experts say it could get worse.

If they're right, I fear many Americans aren't ready for it. We've been pampered. Soup lines were the stuff of 80-year-old newsreel footage. That hasn't been our America. But experts say there could be a 21st century equivalent.

How else can it be described other than as a state of denial when state legislators sit on their hands in the face of a massive budget deficit, in large part because special interest constituents will be out for blood if they impose cuts? How else can it be described other than as a state of denial when these same special interests don't reconcile themselves to the pain that a serious recession (or worse) is going to bring?

Maybe economic trends will turn around. Maybe the Obama administration will inject a new competetence and renewed optimism to Washington and the country. Maybe.

If not, there will be pain. Real pain. Those of us who've never experienced it in our lifetimes better be prepared.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On point

Our local assemblyman has never gotten over our editorial page's harsh criticism of him a while back.

I wonder how the "leaders" in the state Legislature will feel about the New York Daily News after this editorial.

Now that's big-time criticism.

Afternoon briefing

*It's not exactly a scientific survey, but while I was on the road today with advertising sales rep Victoria Lane I learned the following: Nearly all the real estate brokers said business isn't bad and nearly all the auto dealers said it is. Interestingly, contrary to the trend, one positive auto dealer and one negative real estate broker are in the same town. Go figure.

*Except for when Rob Bartlett is doing a bit (his "Godfather" is particularly hilarious), I've run out of patience listening to Imus in the Morning. Too much repetition, too much forced laughter from sycophant partner Charles McCord, too many plugs for his charity CD.

*The new Yankee Stadium will unofficially open with an exhibition night game against the Cubs in early April. Unless they need a night game in the new park to test the lights, why subject fans and players to early spring cold weather? And why ask people to feel their way in and around the new park in the dark?

*Another day, and still no final vote tally in the Ulster County comptroller election. How come you can never find an auditor when you need one?

If the suit fits

As I've probably already mentioned in this space - and certainly have done so elsewhere - I'm not a big fans of libel lawsuits, for obvious reasons. In my experience, they're usually frivolous and always wind up costing a publisher money in legal fees, even if dismissed at the early stages.

But I am a big believer in journalistic responsibility. There are libel laws and they must be observed. And in this changing media world, that should mean observed by everyone, including bloggers.

A state Supreme Court judge has decided not to dismiss a libel case filed by Kingston Mayor Jim Sottile against a local blogger. Here's Paul Kirby's account in today's paper.

The case will be decided on its merits or lack thereof. But even if it is eventually tossed, I hope it has gotten the attention of Internet scribes who either don't understand that their words matter, or somehow believe they're immune from being held responsible for what they write.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Morning briefing

*I get to work early and I leave late. Traffic to Uptown Kingston and back to Woodstock, as the radio helicopter watchdogs would say, is "light to moderate." Every so often there's a Long Island Expressway moment on Route 28 as a result of an accident. In Kingston, making the left turn onto Washington Avenue from Hurley Avenue is a one-red-light affair at most. Yet there's this piece in the paper today about a traffic study for the Stockade Area. I seem to remember us writing about its launch about a year ago. Bill Kemble's story lists a handful of recommendations. Well, OK. Nothing wrong with trying to make matters better. Nothing wrong with thinking ahead. In fact, there ought to be a lot more of that in government at all levels. But you'll have to excuse me for not getting swept away by the big picture here. Annoying as it would be, I wouldn't mind seeing more traffic in Uptown Kingston. It might reflect a revitalized economy.

*I've been jotting down notes for a speech I'm giving to local service clubs next week. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo declined an invitation and I was asked to fill in. I think there's a punch line to this late substitution. Your (clean) suggestions are welcome.

*The National Football League has always rejected claims that its huge popularity is connected to how much money is bet on its games. Oh, yeah? Look what happened Sunday, when Pittsburgh beat San Diego, 11-10, after officials determined that a touchdown on the last play of the game didn't count. Had the TD stood (and an extra point been made), the Steelers would have won 18-10 and covered the point spread. Instead, 11-10 was the final and bettors who had Pittsburgh with the points lost. Making matters more confusing was the officials' indecision for several minutes. When they finally sorted it out, CBS flashed the score quickly, then immediately went to the much-anticipated "60 Minutes" interview with Barack Obama. If you had money on the game and turned away, you didn't know the final score. No big deal, the Steelers won the game even without the final touchdown, you say? Not with millions of dollars on the line. Put another way, this morning's New York Times' sports section doesn't have the successful Giants and Jets as its lead story. Nope, it's about the NFL and betting. Not exactly what Commissioner Goodell would prefer to be Topic A for his league this week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The weekend wrap

*Whether or not you agree with Barack Obama's ideas, you had to come away from watching his "60 Minutes" interview last night with the feeling that the guy has a plan and plenty of smarts. We haven't often been able to say that of the lame duck president.

*The New York team in professional soccer has qualified for the championship game as, get this, winners of the Western Conference. Get these people a map!

*The parlor game is who will be named permanent host of NBC's "Meet the Press"? Logical favorites are Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd and David Gregory. I'd go with a dark horse: Katie Couric.

*Mike Francesa no longer has to deal with Christopher Russo on his daily WFAN radio show. Now if he'd only stop taking calls and interviewing guests. After all, what's the point? He has little patience for callers. And when he chats up an "expert" like Phil Simms, he frequently interrupts them with his point of view. Just make it an official monologue and cut out the charade.

*There was a time when I went out of my way to watch National Hockey League games, especially the New York Rangers, who I've followed for nearly 50 years. Yet here it is, a quarter of the way through the season, and I'll bet I haven't seen more 10 minutes of any game, if that much. I don't know if that says more about me or the current game of hockey.

*They're still counting votes in Senate races in Minnesota and Alaska. Same with the comptroller's contest in little old Ulster County. What's taking so long? This is the 21st century, no?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Assemblyman Lopez

I've been around long enough to be careful about first impressions. But I liked what I saw last night when I met Assemblyman Pete Lopez.

Lopez represents the 127th District, as large a territory as you're going to find in this jigsaw-puzzle gerrymandered state. He's a Republican, which makes him a member of an exclusive club in the Assembly. Moreover, when he ran for his second term earlier this month, he had no Democratic opposition. This at a time when Democrats are making strides nationally, as well as in the state, witness the shift in control of the Senate and the defeat of longterm legislator Tom Kirwan of Newburgh.

Lopez and I found ourselves at Wiltwyck Golf Club for the annual awards dinner conducted the Boy Scouts of America, Rip Van Winkle Council. He was there to present the prestigious Distinguished Citizen Award to Tom Struzzieri of Horse Shows in the Sun. I've been the master of ceremonies of this affair for several years.

Lopez wasn't there campaigning. (Although, when does a lawmaker really stop campaigning?) He's a member of the Scouts' executive council and an Eagle Scout himself and this is a cause dear to his heart.

Born in Miami, Lopez resides in Schoharie, Delaware County, with his wife and three of his four kids. (The fourth is away at college.) He was a legislative staffer for 20 years, a local official in Schoharie County, and now is returning to Albany for two more years in the Assembly.

It's doubtful we agree on many of the major issues of the day. But I found him to be soft-spoken, not full of himself as are many of his colleagues, self-deprecating, with a sense of humor. He's serious about what he's doing and he knows his minority party status puts him at a disadvantage as far as his agenda goes. But he says he picks his spots, seeks cross-party coalitions and hopes to make a difference.

Again, it's just a first impression based on one night at the same dinner table, but I found Pete Lopez to be a breath of fresh air.

Up and running

If you've made it to this blog, you've already seen our newly designed Web site.

So far, it's a hit. I mean, for me to get a bunch of favorable e-mail before 9 a.m. about anything we do is extraordinary. Thanks for the nice words.

As noted a couple of days ago, we think the site is cleaner, brighter, easier to read and filled with nice features.

We may uncover some hidden bugs during the shakedown cruise, so please hang in there if we do.

Meanwhile, we're excited to make the next step in the development of our on-line presence.

Enjoy it. And keep providing us with your feedback.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fairness doctrine

Gov. Paterson is proposing cuts in state spending worth $2 billion in the short term, and another $5.2 billion after that. Health care and education are most at risk. And these cuts still fall short of satisfying the state's growing deficit.

“This is the worst economic crisis in this country since the Great Depression,” Paterson, as if anyone needed the reminder.

Oh, some people did.

Senate Republicans say they're against the cuts, as well as any new taxes.

“Education aid cuts, midyear, are unfair,” Majority Leader Skelos of Long Island told The New York Times.

Sen. Tom Libous of Binghamton echoed that assertion, telling the Times "that taking 'money away that’s already been given to people, already been put in their budgets' was 'not fair.'”

Not fair? Of course it's not fair.

It's also not fair that we're in a worldwide economic crisis.

It's unfair that the government is bailing out financial institutions, with the auto industry next in line.

It's unfair that we're watching our once-bright futures fade away as 401(k) accounts dwindle.

It's unfair that employees in my business and others are being laid off.

It's unfair that companies are closing.

It's unfair that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

And how do these state government leaders react to the crisis: Can't cut; it's unfair.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More of the same

Tough fiscal times? Difficult financial decisions to make? Everything is on the table?

Not in state government, apparently.

Despite the governor's best intentions to get a grip on the state's economic crisis, legislative leaders aren't exactly bending over backwards. Surprise!

Here's the way New York Daily News Albany watchdog Bill Hammond sees it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I've been trying to tell anyone who'll listen about the negative fallout on other news-gathering organizations from declining and disappearing daily newspapers.

In most places, the local daily sets the agenda for broadcast and other media. With fewer reporters at the dailies - and the dailies on the endangered list, in the minds of many - how well will news get covered and the public served?

The New York Post's Phil Mushnick summarized it nicely here.

Our new site

A redesigned is only days away.

Editors are going through the paces, learning how to post stories, photos and other features to the site. Advertising and production folks also are gearing up.

We hope you'll find the new site cleaner and easier to navigate. You'll also see seven days of content per section, making it easier for you to find a story you may have missed. There'll be an easier-to-use reader comment feature, as well as convenient reader tools allowing you to share stories via e-mail or your favorite social networking sites. And, of course, there'll be free, searchable archives.

When you get to our new site, don't forget to bookmark it again. Due to the upgrades, you'll want to make sure you're properly linked to the right place.

Finally, let us know if you have problems and/or see mistakes. Launching a new site is complex. Technical and/or content issues probably will arise. We appreciate your patience.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend leftovers

* I'm driving home Friday night. I didn't check the clock, but it was between 6 and 7, a time I'm infrequently in my car and rarely tuned to Kingston radio station WKNY. So I'm not certain who was on the air, nor do I know if it was a local program. What little I heard was a discussion between two men, both well-spoken, both apparently on the conservative side of the aisle. Apparently conservative? Nothing "apparently" about it. One of them believes Barack Obama is a communist. Not a socialist, a communist. I would say for this guy at least, the president-elect does not get a honeymoon.

* I'm flipping around the channels Sunday afternoon. I haven't paid much attention to pro footbal pre-game shows since Jimmy the Greek, Brent Musberger, Irv Cross and Phyllis George were on CBS. I sampled the James Brown crew on CBS and the Curt Menafee team on Fox. Here's my question: What's so funny? What are these guys laughing at? I mean, Terry and Jimmy and Howie and Boomer and Shannon and whoever else is on the sets are in stitches. Again, what's so funny?

* Here's something I liked about the Fox post-game program: Yes, that was Charles Davis, New Paltz High School graduate, in the expert's chair for college football talk. Charles was a multi-sport star athlete when I was covering the high schools a couple of decades ago. He went on to be a big time football player at the University of Tennessee, and his off-field career has been on the ascent ever since. The last few years he's been a quality TV guy. And when he phoned me a year or so ago for some historical data on his dad, Frank, who was one of the scholastic coaches I particularly enjoyed being around, it was the same old Charles, still too politely calling me "mister." I had zero to do with his success, but I'm proud of it nonetheless.

* I think I've had it with Brian Williams on NBC's Nightly News. Too wordy and flowery. Takes too long to get to a point. I'm finding Katie Couric's CBS' newscast better and better. I'm also more impressed each week with George Stephanopolous' Sunday morning program over on ABC. Bob Schieffer on CBS still has a fastball on CBS. But I'm afraid NBC's Tom Brokaw is slipping. It will be fascinating to see who is tabbed as the new permanent host of Meet the Press.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The transition

There may be no more remarkable example of the American democracy than the transition of power from one president to the next.

Consider these excerpts from Associated Press dispatch this afternoon:

"President Bush and Barack Obama will hold their first substantive talks Monday as the transition to a new Democratic administration accelerates. ...

Bush ... directed employees Thursday to ensure a peaceful and cooperative transfer of power. The transition is a delicate dance, in which the White House keeps the president-elect in the loop, and even solicits his input, but the decisions remain solely the president's.

'"We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in," Bush told a gathering of hundreds of employees from the presidential bureaucracy, gathered on a White House lawn.

'"This will also be America's first wartime presidential transition in four decades,' he said. 'We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us, and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people.' ...

"Bush and first lady Laura Bush will greet Obama and his wife, Michelle, at the White House on Monday afternoon. The current and future president will meet in the Oval Office while the first lady gives Mrs. Obama a private tour of the White House residence. ...

"Bush's comments to his staff, under a gray sky on the South Lawn, also had the feel of an early goodbye with 75 days left in office.

"He stood with the Cabinet, the first lady, and the vice president and his wife by his side. By the time he finished speaking and offered a wave to the crowd, Bush grew emotional. Laura Bush leaned in to give him a hug. ...

"The Bush administration has already arranged security clearances for key Obama transition staffers and is providing working space and policy briefings as well. Career employees, who keep their jobs even when administrations change, have taken on extra work to prevent any disruption in essential services.

'"We must keep our attention on the task at hand, because the American people expect no less,' Bush directed the executive employees." ...

It's all just another reminder to the rest of the world (and maybe more than a few within our country) of what makes this country special.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kirwan's defeat

If there is one state Assembly candidate who I'm sorry to see defeated, it's Tom Kirwan, the Newburgh Republican.

I don't agree much with Kirwan on most issues. But as a member of the Assembly minority, he has no say in anything important, so it hardly matters.

Being in the GOP minority, however, enables him to speak his mind. And does he ever!

Kirwan has been an unabashed critic of nearly all things Albany, often in terms even critical newspaper editorial pages don't touch. He also has a sense of humor with a sharp edge. Perfect.

Kirwan has been a member of the loyal opposition. Too bad he won't be around the Capitol anymore to nag the majority.

Endless campaign

One campaign ends, another begins.

NBC and The Wall Street Journal already have released a poll on favorite Republican presidential contenders in 2012.

Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin rank 1-2-3.

Tears of joy

Of all the moving images that flashed across the world's TV screens last night, the one that will stick with me would have been considered corny were it the last scene of a Hollywood biopic.

Imagine if and when there's a "Jesse Jackson Story". The film would trace the civil rights warrior from youth, through the turbulent '60s - including the motel balcony on which Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered with Jackson among those at his side. It would then enter Jackson's political period, in which he made a short run at the presidency. Finally, there'd be the new generation of African Americans and African American leaders, with Jackson being edged off-stage. That last scene would be the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. And there, in the crowd, just a spectator along with tens of thousands of others, would be Jesse Jackson, American flag in hand and tears in his eyes as a black man ascends to the presidency, something he likely never thought he'd see in his lifetime. Cue the closing credits.

Yet this was no movie on TV last night. There he was in Chicago's Grant Park, with that flag and those tears. It would have been too syrupy for the big screen except for one thing: it really happened.

A lasting snapshot from an historic night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Protecting sources

Interesting question posed this morning by Sue Wittig during my monthly visit to Kingston Community Radio (WGHQ).

Sue raised the matter of The Los Angeles Times refusing to release a videotape that purports to show Barack Obama at a 2003 dinner with a former Palestinian rights advocate.

The background is supplied here by The New York Times and here by The Los Angeles Times.

To paraphrase Sue's point, is the pro-Obama press protecting the liberal presidential candidate?

My answer is, no, it's protecting a source it promised that it would not release the videotape.

Newspapers often receive valuable information from sources who don't want to be identified. Once the paper has established that the information is legitimate, and that the only way it can get it is by protecting the source, it will do so. To renege on that promised protection not only would be unethical, it would end the newspaper's chances of ever again being trusted by a would-be source.

Remember, The Los Angeles Times did publish the Obama-Palestinian story - the importance of which in the context of this campaign is relatively small, in my view. The Times didn't try to cover up something that might be construed as damaging to Obama. But it was morally bound not to produce the videotape.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The mailbag

I understand most readers don't fully appreciate what it takes to publish a newspaper. That's our job, not theirs.

But I'm always amazed this time each year about what folks are thinking when it comes to the submission of letters to the editor on political races.

It's never possible to print all the letters we receive, even when it's not campaign season. Too many letters, too little space. That problem multiplies two- and three-fold at election time.

So, here's a given: A majority of letters don't get published. It has nothing to do with whether or not we agree with the content. Priority for publication goes to shorter letters and those written by people from whom we don't usually hear. (A tip: We occasionally print longer letters if they're well-written and make their points in a compelling manner. That said, readers typically don't have the patience to read long letters. You're better off saying what you have to say in several paragraphs.)

When we receive many letters on the same topic, we print them proportionately. In other words, if we get 50 letters on a subject (including elections), 40 on one side, 10 on the other, we may only use 10, eight on one side, two on the other.

But here's the part that amazes me this time of year: Here it is, mid-morning on the day before the election and we're still receiving letters about the candidates. We're talking about letters unlikely to have been published even if we received them a week ago. Arriving the day before election? You must be kidding.

Yet people apparently think we're sitting around here on Election Eve waiting to fill space with late letters. That's not the way it works in the world of print.

But if you want to get in the last word, post a comment under the elections stories at Sign your name, be tasteful, don't commit libel and/or make allegations that have never arisen before and you'll will get in. The more the merrier, even at the 11th hour.

The wait

I've been voting in presidential elections for decades, but this one is unlike any I can recall, and not just for the obviouus reasons.

More so than other years, these last few days have been pins-and-needles time, especially for supporters of Barack Obama.

It's not just that we want to see him prevail for what it will favorably mean to the country and the world. That's a given for any partisan in any presidential race.

It's that there exists a wariness, bordering on paranoia, that something bad is going to happen at or around the polling places - a Gore-Bush repeat, if you will.

Millions of new voters are expected to participate Tuesday. But will they? Or will citizens be denied or will machines malfunction or will everyone's vote actually be counted the way they were intended?

There was a time when this would never cross our minds. A Jimmy Carter independently monitoring an election was what occurred in emerging nations, not ours. Yet there's this nagging sense that we need a Jimmy Carter right here on Tuesday.

Let's hope not. Let's do our part and vote. Let's have belief in our system. Let's not think another election can be stolen in this country.