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Editor's Notebook

A Monumental Concern

 

url“I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it” - often attributed to Voltaire is a sentiment dead on arrival in today’s world.
This week County Executive Ike Leggett unilaterally decided to remove the Confederate Statue from the old Red Brick Courthouse.
This comes after two weeks of teeth gnashing in the wake of a shooting in South Carolina and the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the statehouse there.
While we agree with Leggett on many things, and understand he probably has deep feelings on this, we will respectfully disagree on the statue’s removal and we will also disagree with Rockville City Councilman Tom Moore’s assessment of Leggett’s move as a “bold” one.
It wasn’t. While the statue is offensive, it was largely ignored by politicians and the public - even those now most angrily denouncing its existence - until the national sport of knee-jerk reacting took over.
Certainly no one in local politics took on this issue until everyone across the country began looking at Confederate symbols in the wake of the South Carolina shooting. That wasn’t a bold move by leaders. It is a move by pandering followers.

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Honor meeting honor and the Confederate statue in Rockville

 

Josh-1Nestled behind a large Holly tree near the old Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville is a statue which faces south and commemorates those soldiers from Montgomery County who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
This week someone deposited some roses at the foot of the statue and someone also posted a sign denouncing the monument with the words “Treason” and “Slavery.”
The county council, the Rockville city council and at least one state legislator have contacted Peerless Rockville directly or indirectly about the monument and there is now talk of moving and/or removing the monument.
While removing a confederate battle flag that has become a rallying point for hate groups is one issue, the eradication of a historical monument is entirely different.

 

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Rockville Transparency

newspapersThe Rockville City Council found itself debating something of interest last week when it took up the issue of candidate transparency.
This year the state legislature contemplated a bill which would relax some of the standards for those running for office. The bill didn’t move beyond the first reading and committee hearing in the Senate while in the House the bill received an unfavorable report from the committee.
The Maryland Municipal League, and by extension one of the speakers at the general assembly hearing, Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton, was for relaxing standards because, according to the league, the submission of some financial disclosure forms could deter new capable candidates from seeking office.

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About The Governor

HoganIt’s the type of news that, if you’re at all human, floors you.
Governor Larry Hogan found a lump in his throat while shaving. A quick trip to the doctor and dozens of lumps later, the governor is diagnosed with a “very aggressive” form of lymphoma.
I’m sure I’m not the only middle-aged man who went home and checked his body four or five times for lumps and then decided to see his doctor.
Down at my favorite caffeine watering hole, where during these Dog Days of June most people seem to be ordering anything but coffee, I overheard a disturbing conversation.
To be honest I often overhear disturbing conversations there, but this particular conversation didn’t have anything to do with comp and class studies, or lack of raises or nine people being killed in a South Carolina church. This conversation centered on who will be governor now that our governor is dead.
Not only isn’t Larry Hogan dead, but his upbeat news conference wherein he was told his odds of beating cancer were better than beating his democratic opponent in the recent gubernatorial election, gave me a bit of hope for the man sticking around for awhile.
Those involved in this Frappucino-waiting conversation could not name the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland nor were they sure who would take over for Hogan should he fall victim to his illness – a matter of which they were convinced was not only preordained but had actually already occurred.
I didn’t want to intrude and so I didn’t lean in and say “The Lieutenant Governor is Boyd K. Rutherford,” or mention his age, 58, or that he and I are both parents of three adult children.
I didn’t mention he was educated at Howard and had little experience running for public office, but had a deep background in law, was originally from Washington D.C. and served with distinction at various governmental posts.

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Why was I crying?

 

profile 400x400At first I didn’t know why I was crying.
I opened up the driver’s side door of the truck and hopped inside.
Pammy, sitting in the passenger seat, turned to me and asked if I was okay.
“There’s blood on your pants,” she said.
I looked down. She was right.
Ten minutes earlier we were driving north in rural Maryland when I noticed two trucks collide on the road ahead of us. We pulled over.
Since I have some first aid training and with no one on the scene, I thought I could help.
“Go,” she said. “I’ll be okay.”
I sprinted to the crash.
The first person I came across was a woman in her late 50s or early 60s trapped inside a small pickup truck. The engine was off. She had on her seatbelt and her airbags had deployed. She appeared calm.
“Are you all right?” I asked.

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The demise of a community newspaper affects us all

 

urlThe first story I covered as a professional reporter occurred in 1979.

I have been employed as a reporter in some form or fashion in a variety of media since that time.

It has always been an existence on the edge.

From then to now the news business has continued to downsize in an overwhelming and frightening manner. It is as if we are in an act of Catholic contrition - penitent and remorseful  for merely existing and slowly slinking off the public stage.

Those of us who entered the business in that era first experienced the downsizing when afternoon newspapers simply ceased to exist due to the rising popularity of the nightly local  news. 

Friends and colleagues gathered and mourned as many lost their jobs when the Louisville Times closed – a once great afternoon newspaper.

After some of us migrated to television news we then watched the business shrink again as cable news and the 24-hour news cycle destroyed local and evening news.

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Remembering Vince

BugliosiAmong the true crime writers who’ve influenced me over a lifetime Truman Capote and Vincent Bugliosi are the two I credit for having the greatest influence on my writing style.
While I never met Capote, I did have the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Vince. As a Beatles fan, and having grown up in the 70s, “Helter Skelter,” Vince’s monumental best seller was very high on my teenage reading list. Not only well-researched and well written, but its chilling depiction of Charles Manson and his “family” left me terrified of leaving my windows open at night.
But it isn’t Vince’s prosecution of Manson or the book which followed that endeared me to him.
It was walking with him into a congressional committee seven years ago as the George W. Bush administration was coming to a close.
Mr. Bugliosi came to Washington to make a difference and with a determined minset and armed with the facts, he did just that.
Single-handedly he sat in a packed hearing room and undaunted by critics or any scorn, he outlined how President George W. Bush misled this country and took us into a war against Iraq.
Our mutual friend and literary agent Peter Miller said he was “never prouder” as an American as when he saw Vince step before the committee and make the case against Bush.
Congressmen I interviewed afterward admired Vince’s apparent iron-clad case but confessed they thought there was little to do since an election was coming up and Bush would soon vacate the White House anyway.

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The Ultimate Goal

 

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H.L. Mencken hit on a hidden truth when he said in essence it is hard to imagine someone is telling the truth when you know in their position you wouldn’t.
How that translates to covering government cuts both ways.
Politicians, especially after seeing the biased reporting which is seemingly all-pervasive in our country today find it hard to trust anyone in the media. As for those of us in the media, after covering seemingly endless scandals from local, state and especially in the federal government it becomes increasingly difficult to look at politicians with anything less than a jaundiced eye.
While both mindsets are flawed, the results on the public can be both similar and wildly different. Ultimately those who have the power of subpoena, taxation and sit in the seats of power – elected by the people to serve us all - can be argued to have a greater responsibility to the electorate. You have but two senators in each state. If they do wrong, then you don’t have much redress for your grievances. If you don’t like a reporter, then you can turn the channel, read a different newspaper or find the information you want – whether it be true or not – on the Internet.
Those of us who gather information, therefore, seem to be mere flotsam in the scheme of things – a fact also reflected by Mencken when he said, “For example, the problem of false news. How does so much of it get into the American newspapers, even the good ones? Is it because journalists as a class are habitual liars?...I don’t think it is. Rather it is because journalists are, in the main, extremely stupid, sentimental and credulous fellows – because nothing is easier than to fool them.”
“It is this vast and militant ignorance, this widespread and fathomless prejudice against intelligence that makes American journalism so pathetically feeble and vulgar and so generally disreputable.”
So as Lisa Abraham, an editor in Columbus Ohio who was jailed for trying to defend the First Amendment in the early 90s, said at The National Press Club Monday night, “Why is it the first place government stops to get information is from a reporter?”
Why indeed? For if journalism is so disreputable, what does it say for those in public life who attempt to prey on the reporters and ultimately use them?
I was humbled to be in the room with Lisa and eight other reporters who, like me, went to jail at some point in their career trying to either protect a confidential source or keep the government from using them as investigators. The assembled group included author Vanessa Leggett, television personality and author Judy Miller, blogger and journalist Josh Wolf who holds the record for serving time – seven and a half months. Television producer Brad Stone, Abraham, print reporter Schuyler Kropf, publisher Libby Averyt and myself made up the bulk of those who spent time detained for our actions.
We met prior to an evening symposium at The National Press Club to get to know one another. Many of us had never met. We are a small club too. Just about a dozen and a half of us are alive and one of us, Jim Taricani, has significant health issues.
I found the meeting prior to the symposium enlightening and ultimately enjoyable in finding I was part of a family I was actually unaware of joining.
The gut wrenching decision to protect a source or your notes, or your videotape is incredibly difficult. It is so easy to give in, and ultimately most do to government officials. While every day many compromise themselves to corrosive threats by the lowest elected official to the highest, many more have stood up to say they will stand by what they have done. Usually you aren’t jailed.
But government intimidation is an 800 lb. gorilla in the room. Ultimately threats, catcalls of a wild and wide variety against the reporter, their abilities, their character and their motives can level most people.
But there is a cure and the nine of us who met this week are supportive of the initial step – a National Shield Law that will protect reporters from testifying and give our sources greater cover.
It is just a first step. Public officials found to be threatening reporters with incarceration or trying other means of coercion should pay a high price for those acts. Information should be more readily available to reporters and the cost of challenging the government when it withholds information should be eliminated.
It would go a long way to cleaning up government from the lowest to the highest miscreants.
Monday I got to take part in a historical meeting of some fascinating and enjoyable people.
My sincere hope is we don’t merely become a historic footnote.


 

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Transparency?!!#

constitutionFor 35 years I’ve been engaged in an exploration of facts.
On June 1 I will join more than a dozen other reporters who, like me, went to jail to try and protect a confidential source and promote the First Amendment. Please join us at The National Press Club for this event.
We may not be heroes, but we aren’t the problem either.
I relish the role of being a disinterested third-party observer. I have no hidden agenda other than to uncover the facts. I work very hard to refrain from putting opinions in news stories. I want to provide my readers and viewers with the facts and let them come up with their own opinion. If my facts are wrong, then correct me. Give me the facts.
Don’t sit on the sidelines complaining the media never “gets it” when you aren’t providing it.
Don’t claim a bias exists because your side doesn’t get printed. Don’t back down. Step up.
Those who decline to engage in a conversation are usually those who want to dictate the terms of communication. Many times they have the most to lose with an honest conversation. So, if you honestly want to see things change then engage.
At the end of the day, if my facts are correct and you’re still upset then look in the mirror and accept the consequences of your actions.
This is a hard concept to swallow on both ends of the spectrum. It seems audiences are driven by opinion-based journalism and it appears information providers love to spin the facts to suit their agenda.

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For a good movie?

amtrakSo there I sat, huddled with my wife last night around the hi-def 60” flat screen television watching Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” when my blushing bride turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we actually did contact another species. It would make all of our troubles seem so small.”

She had to tell me this twice and the reason is because as I sat watching this movie, all I could think about at the end was the hearing being held in Washington D.C.

There sat Jodie Foster being grilled by a host of senators and James Woods as a menacing politician – sort of a cross between Mitch McConnell and James Carville.

After she is grilled in front of hundreds of people she walks outside of the building and out by the reflecting pool and is greeted by thousands of well wishers.

I couldn’t get beyond one thing: How did all of those people get down to the District?

Did they carpool in? Wow, the traffic is horrible. They probably came in from out of town on I-95 or I-270. Man the traffic there is horrendous.

I mean we spend nothing on infrastructure around here.

What if they took the Metro? Or Amtrak?

Wonder if any died in a Metro fire on the way there or are still trying to get there and were cheesed off because they couldn’t make it in time to cheer on Jodie Foster’s character?

Maybe they were listening to WTOP radio at home for “Traffic on the Eights and when it breaks” and their power went out because Pepco/Exelon couldn’t keep the power turned on during a nice weather-friendly day?

Of course if they drove down River Road or through Silver Spring or anywhere else in the area, maybe they didn’t make it because an aging WSSC water main burst and created a nice scenic Class 5 rapid for local kayakers.

You see, that’s where the movie lost me.

While my wife was filled with the grandiose dreams of us discovering life on another planet, I for one couldn’t get beyond the fact that it is becoming increasingly apparent we live in a Third-World Country.

Congress wants to vote themselves a raise. They don’t mind giving tax breaks to the wealthy and they certainly don’t mind spending money on the military.

But infrastructure? Forget it. We can’t keep the power on, the streets free of bursting water pipes, build roads that can handle our traffic or make sure our wonderful Metro system doesn’t burst into flames.

This week, according to Metro, we suffered a “moderate service disruption” when they had to close the Bethesda Metro during Tuesday’s morning rush hour – ostensibly for another arcing incident, or fire or smoke or whatever. After closing it down, Metro re-opened it for single tracking half way through the morning commute and rerouted north-bound traffic. Those traveling north who wanted to stop at Bethesda, according to WTOP, had to travel to Medical Center, get off and then travel south bound to Bethesda. Finally around 10:30 a.m. Metro re-established full service.

Thousands of frustrated people felt the delay of our substandard subway system yet again. Thankfully, this time, no one died as happened earlier this year.

The wonderful people at Metro still don’t know how to communicate effectively, because as of Wednesday afternoon they still didn’t know what happened. Or at least hadn’t effectively told us when we called several times on deadline to get their side of the latest debacle.

We had a reporter chastised for calling several times, but the good people at Metro showed they are about as good at communicating with us as they are transporting people.

Meanwhile the U.S. Congress cut funding to Amtrak a day after a fatal accident on one of its busiest routes between Washington D.C. and New York.

It just makes me wonder if our elected officials are either too stupid to do their jobs or just don’t care any more.

I actually don’t know which scenario scares me more.

But, in answer to my wife’s question, I don’t know if it would be great to make contact with an alien species. They might look at us and figure we’re no more to them than ants are to us.

We certainly don’t make rational or intelligent decisions. We don’t take care of the things we build (I’m picturing my mom scolding me about taking care of my room and wondering if Congress is a group of motherless finks) and we certainly don’t care for the homeless, the poor, the elderly or the sick.

Exactly why would anyone want to make contact with us? Good movies?

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