Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Updated Spratt-Norman analysis

If you click on the link in the column title, you are carried to a prior post, in which I broke down what I thought the salient political factors in the Fifth District Congressional Race.
Many political reporters and pundits, some old hats who have been doing this for years like Lee Bandy at The State, some newcomers wet behind the ears like Matt Garfield at The Herald in Rock Hill, some bloggers and apparently the national Republican Party made a lot of hay out of the Fifth District "trending" Republican.
Before the race kicked into high gear, I questioned that thinking because I've lived in different corners of the district and had significant ties to other parts of it. It's a big district.
I don't think the race is necessarily absolutely secure for John Spratt, and it could have been won. But trending Republican, I don't know if the facts bore that out early on.
I don't think the results of the election bear it out still. But I looked at the numbers. Then and now.
For my first analysis, I took Spratt's 2004 numbers, Bush's 2004 numbers AND the political makeup of the county government of the counties in the Fifth District.
For this update, I'm going to look at what I said THEN, and compare Spratt's numbers, Norman's numbers in each county, and what happened in each county, Democrat versus Republican for county level races.
Who knows what it will show.
I'll thrown in some basic observations first, district-wide.
Spratt beat Norman by a double-digit margin. It was closer than in the Presidential election, however, when a popular war president led the GOP ticket. That president did not THEN have the negatives Bush brought indirectly to the GOP in this election.
Spratt won every county in 2004. He did NOT in 2006, but surprisingly enough, it wasn't York County that Spratt lost.
I saw a post that said any Republican who cannot carry York County deserves what he gets.
Very cynical, but true to a point as well. York County is the one definitely GOP county in the Fifth District. Spratt is from York County as well, but how could Norman not beat him here?
First off, there is some distance between the mindsets of the people of Rock Hill, who WANT to be the county seat, desperately, and the rest of York County. A vast divide.
Secondly, Norman before announcing his run for Congress was involved with a dustup between him and Rock Hill City Council about the clearing of the Dave Lyle Boulevard intersection of Interstate 77.
If someone had decided to challenge Norman just for his seat in the State House, I don't see that was a sure bet he'd hold on to it. He ticked off some of the powers-that-be, certainly, with that stand. He also voted to sustain Gov. Mark Sanford's vetoes in his first year. This got him named a taxpayer hero by Sanford, but it was a vote against money for York Tech and Winthrop.
Not a way to shore up the base he ought to have been starting from.
Spratt has supported worthy projects in the entire District during his entire tenure, and very few of them are wasteful "pork" products.

So, anyway, here's my analysis. County by county. What I thought might happen, and what did happen. Old stuff is in italics, new stuff is in plain text.
"The Fifth Congressional District is trending Republican, experts say, so Norman was hand-picked to go up against Spratt by national GOP leaders. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Rock Hill for a fund-raiser that threw a lot of money into Norman's coffers."

The truth won't be known until November, but when it comes to this race, do any actual numbers give a clue?

It's certain that York County, home of both Spratt and Norman, is a Republican county. Chester County is in the Fifth District, and the word on the street is here is candidates who want to win a county office have to run as a Democrat.

Only one candidate is running as a Republican in a contested race for a county-wide office.

A person who considered a run for county office in the coming general election called the newspaper earlier this year, asking where to file. The potential candidate asked for the information on both the Democratic and Republican filing locations.

Many of the backers of Norman's candidacy look at what happened in the Fifth District, but use the Presidential race numbers to justify their belief that the Fifth District is “trending” Republican and so ripe for a Republican to win a race for Congress.

That's what pollsters and pundits say.

Funny that only the district totals bear out the “trend.” The county-by-county numbers do not.

George Bush won in Chester County in 2004.

By eight votes.

Does that make Chester County GOP Country?

State Rep. Greg Delleney represents the bulk of Chester County in the State House, and he is a Republican.

But state Sen. Linda Short represents all of Chester County and some precincts outside the county. She is a Democrat.

The message here is mixed.

Does Delleney keep his seat because he is a Republican reflecting the values of his constituents, or because he is an incumbent who hasn't drawn any opposition lately?

He'll be on the ballot in November, but there is no Democratic or third party challenger.

Until a strong Democratic Party candidate steps up to challenge him, the question will remain a question.

So if Chester County is a Democratic hotbed, and York County is a GOP enclave, what's the story on the Fifth Congressional District of South Carolina?

Let's take it a county at a time by using the best number available - the 2004 election results.

Cherokee County

In the 2004 election, more voters went for George Bush and Dick Cheney than went for John Spratt, percentage wise. Bush had a 5,600 vote edge over the rest of the field, while Spratt had a 2,500 vote edge. This county went more heavily for Bush than any other county in the Fifth District, edging York County by .15 percent.
The auditor and treasurer in this county are Democrats, and just three of the county council seats. The Sheriff and other county-wide officials are Republican.
This county is definitely trending Republican.

In 2006. this is the one county that went for Norman, 6726 to 6705. Just 21 votes difference. It's a trend, for sure. What else happened in Cherokee County?
A Republican auditor was elected.
A Democrat state rep was elected in District 29, in a close race, with the Republican getting his best turnout in the York County precincts of that district.
It went heavily for Mark Sanford and more heavily for Andre Bauer.
The incumbent Republican Sheriff won.
A heavy Republican trend here.

Chester County

Bush won. By eight votes. He did not win a majority. He won a plurality, 49 percent. From a field of six candidates, 5,790 voters went for Bush-Cheney. At the same time, 8,008 voted for John Spratt. Spratt had a 5,039-vote edge over his opponent, almost as many as voted for Bush-Cheney. All of County Council and all the county-wide officials in Chester County are Democrats.
This county is not trending Republican.

In 2006. a Republican won only one race -- Secretary of State. The hottest race in the county was the county Supervisor's race. The Democrat who held the office for 20-plus years trounced the GOP challenger almost 2-to-1. He wasn't an incumbent, because the county was returning to the supervisor form of government. Spratt won by almost as much as the supervisor.
This is a Democratic County. No bones about it.

Chesterfield County

Bush won, by 523 votes. Spratt won, by 5,993 votes. All the elected officials and the council are Democrats.
This county is not trending Republican.

In 2004, Norman got 3,154 votes to Spratt's 5,339. that's 37.12 percent to 62.84 percent.

Sam Parker ran unopposed for Sheriff as a Democrat. Ted Vick ran for the main State House seat unopposed as a Democrat. Brother Davis, who was an ancient probate judge when I worked in Chesterfield County ran unopposed as a Democrat. I’m thrilled he’s putting “Brother” Davis on the ballot now, instead of Edwin. Nobody calls him Edwin. Gerald Miller, Al Johnson, Anne C. Brumley and Crawford Moore all ran unopposed for County Council, as Democrats. Al and Gerald were on Council when I covered the county 10 to 12 years ago.
Anybody doubt this is a Democratic County?

Darlington County
Bush won by 1,587 votes. John Spratt won by 6,432. All the major county offices are held by Democrats.
This county is not trending Republican.

In 2006, Norman got 6,311 votes to 9,197 for Spratt. that’s 40.69 percent to 59.30 percent.
Denny Neilson, the Democratic incumbent for State House 56, had a Republican challenger. Neilsen got 70.72 percent of the vote. Robert Williams, the Democrat, got 63 percent of the vote in the House 62 race. This is the smallest of three House districts in Darlington. District 62 has a Republican who ran unopposed. Jay Lucas won that race.
Three of four County Council candidates ran unopposed as Democrats. In the only contested race, Democrat Ann C. Parr beat her Republican challenger 63 to 36 percent.
Call this one for the Dems, but changing a little.

Dillon County
Bush lost by 531 votes. Spratt won by 4,393. All the major office holders are Democrat. This county is not trending Republican.

In 2006, Norman was pounded.
He got 1,791 votes to Spratt’s 4,305. Norman got 29.38 percent to Spratt’s 70.61.
In the main state House race, Jackie Hayes, the Democrat, beat Republican Carl Altman 65 percent to 34 percent. The Democrat Auditor, Treasurer and probate judge and three county council candidates ran unopposed for re-election.
Democrat. Yellow dog. Republicans aren’t even trying to get elected.

Fairfield County
Bush lost, his most severe loss in the district, by 2,233 votes. Spratt won by 6,900 votes. All the major elected officials in the county are Democrats. There is no Republican trend.

In 2006, Norman got a whooping put on him.
He got 1,792 votes to 4,777, which is 27.28 to 72.72 percent.
Creighton Coleman ran unopposed as a Democrat for the county’s main State House seats.
It’s a little odd and hard to track the rest. The County Council seats are listed as non-partisan, but they are geographical districts.
The Democrat won the probate judge race facing a PETITION candidate.
The Democrat candidate for treasurer was unopposed.
Strong lean if not solid Democratic County. (Non-partisan council? Odd.)

Kershaw County
Bush won handily, by 5,645 votes. Spratt won strongly as well, but not as strongly. He had a 3,036 vote edge over his opponent. The auditor and treasurer in this county are Democrats, but the sheriff and other officials are Republican.
This county is trending Republican.

In 2006, Norman was more competitive here than in most of the district, but still lost 8,130 to 9,625. That’s 45.79 to 54.21 percent.
House District 52 featured an unchallenged Democrat. House District 65 featured an unchallenged Republican. House District 79 was won by incumbent Bill Cotty facing candidates from three other parties and a petition candidate. He got well more than half the vote.
A Republican won a contested sheriff’s race. Democrats ran unopposed for auditor and coroner’s races. A Republican ran unopposed for treasurer.
A Republican won a contested race for County Council Chairman. A Republican won a contested race for a council seat. A Republican ran unopposed for another seat on council.
A Democrat squeaked by in a contest race for a fourth seat on the council.
As before, a lean toward the GOP, strong at the county level but not enough to float up to Norman.

Lancaster County
Bush won strongly in this county, by 5,285 votes. Spratt's win was stronger, by 5,485. Bush got 62 percent of the votes cast in the presidential balloting. Spratt got 63.5 percent. All this county's elected officials are Democrats.
The county is not trending Republican.

In 2006, Norman lost 6,824 to 8,716, which is 43.89 percent to 56.06.
Republicans won two seats in the House, one in a contested race and the other running unopposed. A Democrat won the third house seat running unopposed.
A Democrat won a contested race for probate judge. Democrats won two contested county council races, and took the other race unopposed. This county is growing in its northern area. But not yet enough to make a major Republican trend.

Marlboro County
Bush lost by 1,561 votes, getting just 39.99 percent of the vote. Spratt won by 5,005. Spratt got 81 percent of the vote, his largest margin of victory in the district. The county's elected officials are all Democrats.
It's a Democratic county.

In 2006, Marlboro County went about 4-to-1 for Spratt.
Norman got 1,177 votes to Spratt’s 4,212. That’s 21.84 to 78.16 percent.
Doug Jennings was unopposed as a Democrat for a seat that scootches over into Chesterfield County but is mostly Marlboro County.
The auditor, probate judge and four council races all featured unopposed Democrats.
When John Spratt was campaigning in Chester County, he said he was in Marlboro County the “other day,” and the people there “haven’t seen” Norman. If he did make an appearance, ouch. The edge was chipped away for all the money that Norman spent on TV ads. Turnout was down This is still a Democratic county.

Newberry County
Bush won by 3,171 votes. Spratt won by 2,424 votes. The county's elected officials are all Democrats.
The county is not trending Republican.

In 2006, Norman lost 4,431 to 5,535, or 44.45 percent to 55.53.
A Democrat ran unopposed for the main State House seat in the county. A Republican won a contested race for the other, smaller district.
Democrats won all three races for County Council, one running unopposed, one facing a petition candidate, one facing a Republican. The probate judge race featured a Democrat running unopposed.
Still not trending Republican, but could happen soon.

York County
Bush won by 21,008 votes. It was his biggest numerical margin, but Cherokee had a slightly larger percentage go for the president. Spratt got the nod from his home county, but by the smallest percentage of the county's in the district. But while his margin of victory was smallest here, just 55.65 percent, it was a 7,716-vote margin.
York County's leadership is strongly Republican. Just one elected official, the probate judge, is a Democrat. The county does appoint its treasurer and auditor, however, so it lacks two elected officials used for comparison in the other counties.
This county is not trending Republican. It is Republican. It is the most populous county in the district, so it skews the numbers. Take York County out of the equation, and Bush's victory in the district drops 3 percentage points among the counties that are completely in the Fifth.

In 2006, Norman almost won the county, getting 25,807 to Spratt’s 25,906. That’s 49.88 to 50.07 percent, barely a majority percentage-wise. Spratt won by 99 votes.
Ouch.
He is a hometown boy, after all.
In house races, the county is in District 29, which went for a Democrat, Dennis Moss, but a recount was ordered. York County went heavily for Republican challenger Danny Stacy, making the race competitive.
A Republican won the District 45 contest over a Democrat. It is mostly a Lancaster County seat.Republicans ran unopposed for the District 43 and 46 seat. Democrats ran unopposed for the District 47 and 49 seats. seat. A Republican handily beat off a Democrat challenger in the District 48 seat, the seat Norman gave up to run for Congress.
On County Council, one Democrat won a contested race. Republicans won the rest of the seats, four running unopposed, two facing challenges from Democrats.
It is a heavily Republican county, with surprising Democratic pockets.

The district does have parts of three other counties.

Florence County
Sixteen of Florence County's 68 precincts are part of the Fifth District. Florence County as a whole went for Bush, with a 55 percent margin. The 16 precincts went for Spratt with a 66 percent margin. Its county officials are all Democrats.

In 2006? In the Fifth District part of the county, Norman lost almost 2-to-1, 1,180 votes to 2,016 or 36.88 to 63. percent. But most of the county is in the Sixth Congressional District, which Republican Gary McLeod edging out incumbent Jim Clyburn. (But Clyburn won the Sixth.)
The county as a whole is a mix. The probate judge candidate is a Democrat who ran unopposed. Three council races featured unopposed Democrats. Two featured challengers from both major parties A Democrat took one race heavily, the Republican won the other handily. State Sen. Hugh Leatherman wasn’t up this time, but he’s a Republican from this county. But he’s not the hard Republican many want him to be. Florence Mayor Frank Willis is a long-time incumbent, and ran in the Democratic Primary for governor.
The Fifth District portion of Florence County is a Democratic hotbed. The county as a whole is a mix.

Lee County
Bush lost, his worst blow in the district. The percentage of voters choosing against Bush was higher in Lee County than any other. He lost by 2,059 votes and gained just 36.73 percent of the votes. Spratt's margin of victory was bigger than the total number of Bush voters. Spratt won by 3,537 votes. The county's elected officials are all Democrats.
This county is strongly Democrat.

In 2006, the county’s portion of the district again went for Spratt, big. Norman got 1,180 votes to Spratt’s 2,944, or 28.61 to 71.37 percent.
The other half of the county is in the Sixth Congressional District, and went even more strongly for Democratic incumbent Jim Clyburn.
State House District 50 featured a Democrat running unopposed.
The county’s treasurer, auditor and five council seat races all featured Democrats running unopposed.
This is a no-brainer, slam dunk, Democratic county.

Sumter County
Twenty-six of Sumter's 58 precincts are part of the Fifth District. Bush lost Sumter as a whole, getting just 48.6 percent of the vote. The 26 precincts went for Spratt with 66.8 percent of the vote.
The county's elected officials are all Democrats.

In 2006, Norman lost 4,167 to 5,499, or 43.09 to 56.87 percent.
The rest of the county is in the Sixth Congressional District, and it went more strongly for Clyburn. Again, a Democrat.
Three House District races featured Democrats running unopposed. District 60 had a Democrat beat a Republican. District 67 had a Republican run unopposed.
The council races featured two Republicans running unopposed and a Democrat running unopposed. The probate judge ran unopposed as a Democrat.

Just two of the 11 counties that are fully in the Fifth District are Republican counties, York and Cherokee. Kershaw is now a very strong lean, almost ready to tip over.

In 2005, a county like Lancaster can clue pundits in to what is happening in the district. Strongly Democrat in its local officials, it went for Bush, but more strongly for Spratt. For its congressional race, it went also strongly went Democratic. But it rejected the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
Perhaps voters thought Kerry-Edwards were just weak candidates, by comparison. The war was an issue, and it might have led some with Democratic tendencies to choose to not upset the apple cart.
In a presidential election year, that race is said to draw people to the polls who are not interested in other elections. But in the Fifth District, more people cast votes in the Congressional Race than voted in the Presidential race, in the 12 counties fully in the district.
The totals, all available online from the S.C. Election Commission, show that 231,393 people voted for Bush-Cheney in the 12 counties, while 242,518 voted in the Congressional Race.

There was significant drop-off in the 2006 election, because it isn't a presidential election year.

The numbers do strongly suggest that the Republican-leaning “trend” for the in the Fifth District that led to Norman's candidacy is based primarily just on the bottom line total for the presidential race, and on Spratt's “poor” showing in his York County.
He only won his home county by 7,000 votes.

The Republican Party is going to have to convince voters who strongly went for John Spratt in 2004 to vote for Ralph Norman, a candidate running because of national GOP support, who was relatively unknown when the campaign kicked off.

The numbers show neither Norman and the party pulled it off. Early on, the campaign said it was going to focus on getting media buys into the “important” Charlotte television market.
That shows the campaign either didn’t know enough about the district to be competitive, or that it was truly focused on York County first, foremost and only.
When I lived in Cheraw, we got one Charlotte TV station, WSOC. None of the others. Most of our channels were out of Florence or Myrtle Beach. We also got WIS.
The Fifth District straddles too-many television markets.
When push came to shove, also, the national Republican Party officials who tapped Norman for this race pulled the money for the TV ads they said from the outset was vital to the campaign.
The focus on York County, if it was there, was misplaced. If Spratt were from any other county, it might have worked.
Spreadsheets are wonderful things. I took 10,000 votes from the York County column of Spratt and gave them to Norman.
If Norman could have won in York County by 69 percent of the vote, he still loses the overall race to Spratt.
Norman needed to win York County by about 78 percent for it to discount the rest of the Fifth District.
So that’s what we come to.
Before the ballots were counted. the word on political pundit street was that Norman would be competitive because the Fifth District was “trending Republican.”
You heard it almost everywhere. The strategy was built on looking only at the Bush results and the York County results for Spratt in 2004.
But you didn't hear it from me.
You heard it because the prediction didn’t involve getting out into the counties and finding out what people actually think.
That happen at the campaign strategy level but, problematic for me, happened in the media covering this race.
A Republican can win in the Fifth District. But he must run a flawless campaign and beat the bushes across a huge district. If he wants to do it through TV, he can’t focus on one big market that, ostensibly, just on North Carolina TV stations.
Spratt has done things all over the Fifth District for a lot of people. The message can’t be he hangs with bad people. It has to be why can I do better.
I found it amusing, reading The Charlotte Observer’s Neighbors section for Fort Mill and York County on Sunday.
It had an article by a new reporter who, perhaps, gets it. But it's easy to get it now that the ballots are cast. Before they were cast, The Charlotte Observer was picking up Lee Bandy’s stuff all the time, regurgitating the Fifth District “trending Republican.” mantra without testing it.
The new guy wrote a piece that says the Fifth District is still yellow dog Democrat.
It is an improvement, but it comes late in the game. Newspapers that presume to tell you what will “probably” happen need to be dead-on accurate. I could have told anyone who cared to ask, and said so back in June or July.
But The Observer article, and even my analysis, does not answer the real question.
Is John Spratt the congressman for the South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District because it is Democrat?
Or is the Fifth District yellow-dog Democrat because John Spratt is the Congressman?

P.S. You don't have to take my word for it. The results are online, and the State Election Commission's election results are a bit more interactive. Check it all out.
Click here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Spratt-Norman race

The numbers are listed in the link above.
But again, the numbers in the Spratt Norman race were a little screwy.
Florence County had, in its unofficial original numbers, listed Norman as having like seven votes, and Spratt lagging behind like 1,200 write-in votes.
I heard absolutely NOTHING about this, and I was shocked. Apparently the Norman camp said it was going to have a poll watcher at every precinct.
Why no fuss about apparently 1,200 write-in votes that is more than BOTH balloted candidates combined.
Well, the certification straightened it out, but I don't know why the ballots were put in the wrong columns.
Spratt won Florence County, Norman came in a respectable second, and the write-ins were in the double digits.
I will compare the results in this race to the analysis I did back in June/July for my paper, later on.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stealing signs

This isn't a post about baseball or football.
Nope, it's about the only adult sport there truly is -- politics.
Every year in every political campaign, somebody whines about campaign signs being torn down by the "opponents" and you sometimes get complaints that the losers and the winners leave their signs up too long after the campaign.
Mark Sanford has a billboard up on I-77 from the 2002 campaign that never, ever came down, but that's an extreme example. It’s in good shape, so it’s not litter. That’s a political decision.
Rarely, rarely do you hear anything good come of sign stealing. Almost never do you hear about something coming of it on the "criminal" level.
I've been covering politics for a long time, and the sign stealing is the issue of the infantile and moronic. And that goes on both sides of a campaign.
Almost always, the ones stealing signs are, as I said, infantile and moronic.
But on the flip side of the coin, the candidates or campaigners who complain about sign stealing are also infantile and moronic.
Case in point -- the following e-mail was sent out to a few newspapers.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject:
From: "joe st. john"
Date: Fri, October 13, 2006 11:35 pm
To: editor@onlinechester.com
csweisberger@lakewyliepilot.com
opinion@charlotteobserver.com
jlucas@carolinanewspapers.com
hlogan@florencenews.com
editor@carolinanewspapers.com
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Mr Wayne Wilkinson
To: wbwilkin@yahoo.com
CC: Mike Harrison
Subject: Please write Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times asking why he won't investigate the thousands of dollars in Ralph Norman signs being stolen every week in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 14:12:14 -0700 (PDT)
Friends and Fort Mill Residents; We are all aware of the media bias that works against conservatives at a national level. We are familiar with Dan Rather and his "antics" during the 2004 Presidential Race. We know about the bias of the New York Times and that the national media sat on the Mark Foley story until just four weeks before the mid-term elections. But are you aware that in our local congressional race (Ralph Norman v. John Spratt) that there are many issues going unreported by our local media? The local media has been quick to jump on Ralph Norman because Wachovia Bank is using illegal workers to build on property owned by Warren Norman Company.
This isn't even a Warren Norman project, it's a Wachovia project with their contractors and sub-contractors. But this isn't what the "drive by" media reported. They seem to have their own version of the truth.

(Edited to remove two different claims about Spratt’s family that have no proof included.)

Friends, we can't even get the Fort Mill Times to report about the thousands of dollars of campaign signs being stolen every week. During this campaign season, there have been seven 4'x8' campaign signs ($45 each) stolen from the hill just 200 yards from the paper's offices on Main Street. That is just one location. Again, the Norman campaign has had thousands of dollars in signs stolen while Congressman Spratt's go untouched. Some say that signs being stolen is just part of election year politics and to an extent it is... but when there is clearly an organized effort to steal signs from the same locations every week - signs that are being purchased through your campaign contributions... we need to say "enough is enough, the media needs to report the truth". We need your help - e-mail or call Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times, asking why he won't cover this story.
Pass this message along to your friends and neighbors, ask the media to do their job. Mike's e-mail is news@fortmilltimes and his phone number is (803) 547-2353.
Wayne Wilkinson


There is a note at the bottom that will explain how I know what I'm about to say. But Mr. Wilkinson went to the Fort Mill Times and the editor there did indeed refuse to do a story on it.
After hearing Wilkinson out, he asked one question.
"Did you file a police report?"
Wilkinson had not and said he wasn't going to. The Fort Mill Times isn't going to do a story unless there is a police report.
It's not media bias nor a conspiracy against Norman. It's just journalistic responsibility.
Stealing "thousands of dollars" of signs is grand larceny, so one wonders why, if they are so upset about the theft of these signs, that they won't treat it as the thing they are alleging it to be -- the crime of theft?
This was forwarded to Joe St. Johns, who sent it out to a few newspaper. Two of the e-mail addresses in his list are no longer good. One of the persons doesn't even live in this state anymore. Another is the editor of the Florence newspaper, which is so remote I can't imagine why he was included. It is a paper in the same Congressional District, but it's about 100 miles away from Fort Mill.
Here's my experience with campaign signs in this particular race.
I covered the Chester County GOP meet the candidates meeting. Check it out here.
I didn't include one particular anecdote in that story, but a campaign worker for Norman was asked about signs getting stolen. They were "the big signs," the worker was told.
He very quickly said they had the same problem in "Rock Hill," and it was primarily the big signs.
Those signs were being knocked down not as a campaign prank, the young campaigner said, but because people want to steal the metal supports for the vinyl signs.
And he quickly said, "Same thing is happening to the Spratt campaign signs" of that type.
Given a perfect opportunity to whine and moan, the Norman campaign instead acted like it had been there before.
The complaint from Mr. Wilkinson is about more things than just the signs. Whether his complaints on the other issue are valid or not.
But his complaint about the Fort Mill Times is way off the mark.
If Wilkinson doesn't take the problem seriously enough to file a police report, why should the Fort Mill Times treat it seriously?
The Fort Mill Times has taken the issue of sign theft seriously in the past. It once ran a picture of a municipal council candidate in the paper. The picture showed the candidate stealing his opponent's signs. The police report that backed the story up noted the candidate's car was searched and his trunk loaded with his opponents signs.
It was exactly the problem that Wilkinson is complaining about, but it was a solid story, not some ephemeral allegation made only to the editor of a newspaper.
It was covered like any other crime would be covered.
A couple of other notes on campaign sign theft.
Danny Stacy, the successful GOP candidate for the S.C. House seat that includes both Chester and Cherokee counties made a joke about a similar complaint made by his opponent in the Republican primary for the House 29 seat. Marcia Duncan, his opponent, actually filed a police report in Cherokee County and said the crime was theft of "thousands of dollars" of signs.
He suggested that the signs may have cost that much to make, but they weren't WORTH that much. They are just paper and wooden stakes. He thought it was kind of childish.
Lastly, this one goes a while back, is way out of this area, but the candidate I have the most respect for on the sign issue is a guy named Richard Huggins.
Huggins ran for Barnwell County Council in the late '90s. I went over his campaign disclosure forms and saw he listed an expense of a few hundred dollars, paid to a guy to REMOVE his signs.
He paid a guy in advance to remove his signs after the election was over.
Best campaign money I've ever seen spent, because once the campaign is over, win or lose, the sign goes from being political speech to litter.
Wilkinson ought to take a cue from those others.
Sign theft is a joke to another candidate for S.C. House. It's something another candidate will spend money on to remove because any value they have disappears the day after the General Election.
But if he thinks it is serious enough, he then ought to do the serious first step. File a police report.
Until then, it's just whiny, crybaby political paranoia. The only person doing any “drive-by” anything is Wilkinson, expecting a newspaper to print a criminal allegation without filing a police report first.

A note
I sometimes tread a precarious line being married to whom I am married. It's more precarious for her than me.
But sometimes, things, like this, can be crystal clear.
I am the editor of The News & Reporter in Chester. My wife is currently on maternity leave, but she's the publisher of the Fort Mill Times.
There is no competitive overlap in our coverage areas, but her paper is owned by McClatchy Newspapers, which also owns The Evening Herald in Rock Hill, which purports to cover Chester County. It can get sticky for her sometimes.
But we actually (to use small town talk) take The Evening Herald as our daily newspaper. My wife and her paper are extremely focused on Fort Mill Township, and nobody covers that area better. I am not small-town oriented, however. I like to focus on at least the county level, so to find out what is going on in the county, we "take" The Herald.
Maybe we could subscribe to The Charlotte Observer, but it hasn't become a McClatchy paper editorially yet, and suffers from overblown sense of importance, relevance and other kinds of grandiosity. In a couple of years, it will have adjusted to the better way McClatchy does things.
And honestly, I live in South Carolina and don’t like anything about North Carolina, except for Ri-Ra’s Irish pub in downtown Charlotte.
That’s it.
So when I got an e-mail from these guys complaining about the Fort Mill Times, I just had to ask her what she knew. She told me what her editor told her. Mike's a good guy.
I haven’t talked to Mike, but my educated guess here is Mr. Wilkinson thinks he wasn’t taken seriously. My approach would be pretty much the same as Mike’s. My guess, again, is that it’s not Mike not taking Wilkinson seriously. I think Wilkinson isn't taking this "problem" seriously, because he's not doing what he ought to do, and filing the report.
Given the attitude of Norman's paid campaign staffer in Chester, which I hope reflects the campaign's attitude, I wonder if the Norman campaign knows whether they were shopping around a "They're stealing our signs" story, which most people take as a "BOO HOO" story.
One other thing I take very seriously is complaints about the "liberal media conspiracy," like the ones alleged in this letter.
I generally think such claims are a joke. I think there are some problems on the big level with CBS. But to paint a local community newspaper as part of the "liberal media elite" because of Dan Rather's unfortunate exit from the profession is intellectually tortured and impossible to prove. It is not true.
Unfortunate, such a conspiracy theory, while untrue, is impossible to disprove. The people who believe such things will take anything as an proof of their "theory."
But to perhaps head off at the pass such an accusation on my part, my newspaper has run just two letters of endorsement in this race, one during primary time and one more recently.
They were attack ads on Mr. Spratt, and they were written by Mr. St. John. Why someone from Fort Mill wants to let the people of Chester know he much he dislikes Mr. Spratt is beyond me.
We ran a letter from Spratt refuting Mr. St. John's claims in the first go-round. His second letter hasn't drawn a response.
St. John 1
Spratt refutes
St. John 2

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On politics

If you click on the title there, or go here, you'll see I wrote a piece for my paper about the U.S. House Fifth District race in South Carolina http://www.onlinechester.com/articles/2006/10/13/headlines/news2.txt.
I've gotten a few other things out on this race. The latest developments, I think, show I really picked up on a mistake being made by many trying to measure the horse race here as competitive.
Take a look.
The story won't be there until Friday around 4 a.m.

Glad to be back at work ... need the sleep

Originally posted on onlinechester.com Oct 10, 2006 - 22:24:29 EDT

It was hard coming back to work, not Monday, but Sunday night, to attend the Democratic Party candidate “stump” at Chester State Park.
A big reason it was difficult was indeed leaving behind my new baby boy with his mother for the first time in two weeks. I missed them both severely.
But, truth be told, it was also difficult having to go back to wearing long pants for the first time in two weeks.
My knees were shell-shocked and have been treating me like I'm the Taliban.
That said, I'll probably be a better person for coming back to work - I need the sleep.
Does becoming a father humble all men?
I am impressed with myself in one aspect. I was in the delivery room for the entire experience, and did not pass out despite great provocation, first from the doctor whose cell phone went off to “The Tiger Rag.” I saw what she went through and know what a trouper my wife is - I know how hard she worked. But it isn't for the squeamish. I thought I was in that number, but I'm apparently not.
She got drugs to help her through most of the labor - the serious part was about an hour and 20 minutes. But it went from about 11 p.m. Thursday to after 6:32 p.m. Friday. That's about 19 and half hours total.
She slept through much of it. We worked out the early contractions, did the breathing, the rubbing, the walking the halls to move the labor along.
But it reached a point where she was too uncomfortable, and they gave her the good junk. I tried, I tried, through the first 18 and half to get some sleep. But I couldn't.
She's been up with our son most of the nights since his birth. I thought that was the one thing I brought to the table - the ability to wake up with little provocation from the slightest noise.
But I'm not my normally wakeable self.
I had gotten up early that Thursday. At 7 a.m., I think. I got two and half hours sleep from 7 a.m. Thursday to the time my son was born after 6 p.m. Friday.
My family is near enough by that we had some of them in the recovery room after the birth for an hour or so. I might have gotten to bed at 10 p.m., I think.
So I went about 36 hours without sleep, and it leaves a hole that you just can't fill. I worked 36 hours straight back in 1997, covering a drug roundup then a prison break the same night. But I was younger then, and I got to drive to the beach for a vacation the very next day.
You can bounce back.
My appearance to the contrary, I'm not quite so resilient or rubbery.
You can't get back lost sleep, and as much as I was warned to do it, you can't store up sleep in advance, either.
I was also humbled that the paper got out on time, and we didn't miss any major stories. Oh, there's a big announcement in the paper this week that you might have read about in other dailies last week. But the truth is, we covered parts of that story last month, letting Chester County readers know there were jobs on the way.
We heard about one other story that we couldn't develop and get into the print edition, so it was a few days after on that one.
But our city reporter and Sports Editor Travis Jenkins had two or three stories on Chester's new administrator before our daily competition wrote their first story about that issue. If they beat us on one, we romped on them on the other.
They could have beat us on the second development on that story, but for some reason didn't.
We got one story up on the web before any other publication in the area. I helped a little on that one from home. We had a great assist from our company's editor at-large, Josh Coffman.
So you might not have noticed I was out.
Again, it was humbling.
But I'm glad to be back. Like I said, I need the sleep.

Friday, September 29, 2006

D is for Dad, D is also for ????

(Click on the title for a link to pics.)

D is for Daddy, but D is also for ????

There aren't too many books about being a Dad. They have plenty about the baby, plenty about motherhood, pregnancy galore. Breast-feeding, etc.
But they don't give you the secrets, if there are any, to being a dad.
My son was born Friday, Sept. 23. I was expecting a girl, and when they held him up for me to see, I kept waiting for them to say what it is, so I could "announce it."
My wife signed the birth plan and assigned me the task of announcing the sex and cutting the cord. I actually would have liked to pass on the latter, but after the entire delivery process, cutting the cord was a piece of pie.
While the doctor holds up the baby, I realize she was waiting for me to say what I was looking at. Announcing the sex means announcing it, apparently, to the doctor and nurses, who, having seen more of these things than I ever have or will, ought to know better and not need my help.
To be honest, though they said my son came out pretty clean, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. I was thinking that might be part of the umbilical chord, because it was a little darker than the rest of his skin.
"It's a boy," I said. But it was more of a question than an announcement.
I had been expecting a girl. Why, I don't know. Just some feelings here and there. We had a boy's name picked out from the get go, but I thought for sure when we decided to name her, in part, and call her after my Aunt Kathleen, that a girl was coming.
I read Bill Cosby's "Fatherhood." It's some of his routines, watered down substantially, and the lessons, at least so far, aren't all that revealing. Not bad. Just not a sermon on the mount or the wisdom of Solomon.
The only thing that has surprised me so far was the amount of driving.
When Patricia went into labor, she decided to stay home about five hours past the point where I was ready to go. We drove to CMC-Pineville at 4 a.m.
Patricia told me after I drove great, calmly, coolly. Not my usual style at all.
She did say at one point during the drive, as a contraction hit, "Could you at least drive the speed limit?"
I was, at the time, at the limit.
I punched it.
I had worried about going to the hospital on 485 at around 4 of the clock, concerned about traffic.
In the afternoon, that is. If you are having a baby, 4 in the morning is a much better drive time on the Outer Loop. It was so clear that, I didn't have to stay between the lines, technically.
I drove out to get her a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger the day after the delivery.
Drove the baby home the day after that.
That night, we needed the proper kind of bottle, one with a low-flow nipple. They said Target carried them, so I assumed that Wal-Mart would have the brand. No such luck.
They used to have them, but no longer.
Timing is the family curse.
So after driving to Wal-Mart in Rock Hill, I head on out to Super Target in Lake Wylie. They had just closed. A store worker outside said to try, they were closing, not closed. I went in, but the security guard told me they were closed.
Timing is the family curse.
I tried the Super Wal-Mart on 49 and 485. No such luck.
My wife called. They had the brand at the CVS a half mile from our house. When I get there, it wasn't the right size/age nipple. But I got it anyway. About 50 miles right there.
The following Monday, I drove to go shopping. The following Tuesday, I drove to the pediatrician. The following Wednesday, drove to the lactation consultant.
The following Thursday, drove with my brother to get a late lunch for the visiting family.
My lovely bride is not allowed to pick up anything heavier than the baby, so the car seat and the baby are, by definition, heavier. So I have to take them everywhere.
The following Friday, and I went to get a new phone because our old one burned out and we need something that works. Can't have just two phones in the house with people sometimes calling around the clock.
It's a good thing I filled up the tank in my car when I went to the first Wal-Mar.
But the price of gas had not yet dipped below $2 a gallon.
Timing.
So I'm a Dad, trying to figure it out.
I knewthe D would be for Dad.
But D is also, apparently, for driving.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Saw 'World Trade Center'

You can click above or click here to read about my reaction.
I'm trying to get a photo into the column, but it's giving me fits.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

THAT Day

Everyone has to talk about it today, 9/11.
Where were you on 9/11.
I saw it happen. The second plane that is. I wasn't there, but I was watching on television when the second plane hit.
I heard about the first plane from a radio show in on WDOG in Allendale, S.C.
I was actually going to be to work on that day early. I was out the door, almost, when I heard Carl talk about the first plane.
I had Dish Network then. Instead of local network channels, I lived in the coolest of the cool, network feeds from New York City AND the West Coast.
I happened to have CNN on when it hit.
We are at war, I thought to myself. I didn't have a clue with whom, and I didn't think it would be particularly a wise thought thunk only by me. But I said it that second.
Then i started worrying about my cousins who lived in New York City. They were in the Bronx and Yonkers and generally didn't get that far down into Manhattan, but they were close and I was not.
So I worried.
The worry kind of created one of the stupidest thoughts I ever had in my career as a newspaper. I wasn't thinking straight. I went into work, got down to doing the paper, but actually said, at one point, this isn't a local story.
I was given a virtual kick in the butt. On top of a lot of other things, my editor was leaving that week, so I knew my news staff was going from three, with me and him, to two, with me and one other. My work load was going up in a week anyway, but I had a lot of distractions.
Add in the fact that the World Trade Center was my favorite place to go to in the city. No, I wasn't thinking straight for a second.
By the time the towers started falling, I was in high gear. I actually got a tip from a source in the National Guard that they were planning to mobilize, and I think we had a great lead.
I went home, got my own pictures of the towers and Lower Manhattan and used them to illustrate our coverage. Another paper in our company had an AP picture on its front page.
I considered it theft. I had my own pictures, a scoop. I used a picture my father had once bought of Lower Manhattan and used it to make a cartoon. I wrote an editorial cribbing from FDR's Pearl Harbor declaration of war. We had a picture of people watching the coverage at a local restaurant, my favorite hangout in Barnwell, Anthony's. I didn't even mind, as I normally might have, that our ad manager was there in the shot, from the back.
We got our paper out on time, as we did, most of the time.
And I went home. I talked to my girlfriend, now my wife. Talked to my folks throughout the day.
But on that day, I knew how it would end. Me, in front of the television, watching too too much coverage, and wondering what had happened and who had done this.
In my editortal, I warned against making leaps to judgment. When the federal building in Oklahoma had been bombed, people remembering the first strike at the World Trade Center, had assumed it was again Arab terrorists. How wrong they were then. I didn't say it wasn't, but I just wanted Americans to wait until we knew who had done it before we started unleashing what I call a righteous rage.
Some who took that to mean I thought it wasn't Arab terrorists were wrong to assume I said that. But, if so, how wrong I was.
I was flipping back from the major networks to the local news feeds and I was amazed how some of the local New York stations were doing what I thought was better jobs than the major networks.
Chuck Scarborough, an anchor who had been in New York City when I moved to South Carolina, was one I remember watching. The local New York Superstations had some amazing stuff.
One station, I don't remember which, had a scoop citing unnamed FBI sources. Another had something about the airports remaining closed. I can't remember it all, I just remember the local guys were doing a better job covering the disaster than the big boys.
Granted, a "local" station in New York City is a different animal than a local affiliate newscast in Charlotte or Columbia or Greenville-Spartanburg. But it was what it was.
I had rage, but nowhere to direct it.
I went to bed, eventually. There was nothing else to be done.
I woke up into a different world. The one we are in now.
Some would say it is a more frightening world, but they aren't as right as they intend.
Hate is rampant. Some of it is hate directed at us by what is now called "Islamo-fascists." I know the people that term refers to, but I think the term is meaningless.
Since 9/11, however, the hate that frightens me has been in this country, with our own people directing it at others among us. Hearing a call for profiling and how "profiling" is a good thing is just part of it.
The partisan rancor in our halls of government to me says this isn't the same country I grew up in. American people condoning torture, that's just not the America I grew up in. A person I considered a friend believes, apparently, that we ought to be cutting off as many heads as our enemy. More.
I don't want to be the person who gives that command to our troops.
I still have faith that we can win this war. But not if we adopt the ways of our enemy.
A principle that is discarded when times get tough was never a principle. It was just an empty platitude to make one think he or she is better than he or she is in reality.
I do not want to lose this war. We can win it by being the great people we have always been. We can fight the war as strongly as we need to fight it, without succumbing to the temptation to do evil ourselves.
But I do not want to win by bcoming less than we were. So I'm willing to risk losing this war on that score.
It is the eve of 9/11's fifth anniversary. Some day, I hope to remember that it united us a second time. It united us then. But we are divided now.
I can't think any more on it.
My wife and I are about two weeks away from bringing a child into this dangerous world. I pray to God that we are bringer him, her, into a world where being an American means you are thought of as the good guys.
God bless those who died, and God bless America.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

John Spratt versus Ralph Norman analysis

I did an analysis piece of the Fifth District Congressional race for my newspaper.

It apparently got noticed by a liberal blogger who commented on it and posted a link.

That blog is called Devinely Southern. Here's a link to the post/ Nathan Hollifeld and Adam Harris, Pay Attention. (link has expired.)

As a journalist, I do try to remain impartial in our political coverage. I know who I'm going to vote when the time comes around.

The analysis looks at the Spratt-Norman race in what I'll admit is a simple way. The claim is that the Fifth Congressional District is "trending Republican."

The claim is based on two things, I think — there was a lot of turnout for President Bush in the Fifth District in 2004, and York County is getting increasingly Republican as more people move in from up North.

But the Fifth District covers a wide geographical area. I looked at the results from the Presidential race in the Fifth District in 2004 AND the results of Spratt's campaign then. I also looked at the county-wide leadership where I could establish it. Spratt won every county in the Fifth District, by the way, in 2004. The margins were different, and allow a guess as to the trend. York County and Cherokee County have Republican leadership. But the rest of the district is pretty much Democratic.

Voting for Bush is not an indicator of a Republican trend, to my mind. The district may be more conservative, but that doesn't mean much about which party a person will vote for. He was a war president, and that counts heavily for many people. John Kerry was an abysmal candidate.

The leadership of the counties in question, and Spratt's incumbency are the actual important factors.

Weighing those, I decided if a county was trending Republican, Republican, or still Democratic.

I also have a lot of experience in the Fifth District from another perspective. From 1994 to 1997, I lived in Chesterfield County. We had crossover news from Marlboro, Dillon, Darlington and Florence counties, even a little from Kershaw and Lancaster. I still have a few buds in Cheraw, I think. The last time I went to the Chesterfield County Courthouse (last year), Ray Green, the caretaker, said hello to me and we chatted about the "good ol' days."

When I lived in Cheraw, I had to drive to Florence to go see movies, and shopped there a lot for Christmas presents. I read all the local papers in those communities.

I had a summer internship in Lancaster one year way back.

I now live in York County and work in Chester County. We have crossover news from Fairfield and Lancaster counties for our pub.

When I first moved to South Carolina, I lived in Spartanburg. The Herald-Journal covered Cherokee County, so I have an idea about those folks.

There are 12 counties in the Fifth District. I think I have a really good feel for four of them, and have a decent insight into another five or six.

When I moved out of Cheraw to Barnwell, I still got up to the Fifth District on occasion. My wife was in the same company as I, her paper was in Fairfield County. I read it every week, and went up there to fix the computers. When she left, I had to l do some long-distance editing of her paper, wrote an editorial once or twice, and laid the paper out.

I think I have a good idea what the Fifth District is like. So when I heard it was "trending Republican," I had to wonder about it. York County certainly is skewing the numbers. That's evident. But enough to unseat an incumbent with a good record of constituent service? I dunno.

For that I got called "Stephanie" by the blogger, who also said it was an "old-fashioned" journalistic approach that Norman's campaign ought to consider.

Funny thing, I got a call Tuesday morning from Norman's campaign manager. I wonder what prompted it?

Anyway, my piece is linked in the title. The blog guy corrected himself, graciously. I appreciated that.

In his initial e-mail about my piece (to Stephanie), he wrote, "You are an awesome writer and I can't believe I hadn't read anything you've written."

That cut, though it wasn't intended to. For 12 years now, I've been on the local newspaper scene, and made a name for myself in newspaper circles. But it's apparent the new blog wave doesn't look "down" to the local newspaper level.

We'll do what we can to get them to notice papers on this level, which are usually growing in circulation and have their fingers on the pulse of their individual communities much more.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Deb, A Dad -- Li'l ole me?

It's about three months ahead of the real important date.

It didn't happen at a ball or a cotillion.

And I'm a dude.

But I had my public "debut" last week.

As a Dad, not a deb.

I got "father-to-be" cards and some stuff for Father's Day. I was told I had to wear one gift from my mom and dad and sister Catherine for my "debut."

No, it was not a dress. But outerwear, to be sure. A package deal -- baseball cap, T-shirt and thick elastic wristband band that all say, "All-American Dad."



It is a bit unfortunate that my public "debut" as a dad comes three months and some change before the birth of Baby Guilfoyle, but I don't control my sisters, sister-in-law and mother, and they had a shower for my wife and me and baby-to-be.

Dutiful me, hen-pecked me, pistol-whipped-if-I-don't-play-along me showed up in "costume" and there I was, for the social circle of Mom and my sisters in the necropolis of Spartanburg, full on display.

I know how to wear a hat and T-shirt. After a couple of goes, I even put on the rubber band correctly.

I've got that down. I think I've also got it down how to be a "daddy."

That's the easy part. But as it gets closer and closer (you can track it here, btw) I begin to wonder if I can be a father. There's a difference, a big one, in my book.

A dad can be fun to have around. He'll play and tickle and make a baby laugh. A father is someone who from the beginning can mold a child into a good person.

My dad, Bud, is a role model for my aspirations here. Both a dad and a father to me.




Sometimes I think I can't take care of myself, let alone my wife, let alone our two dogs.

But Patricia fell in the tub the other day. I heard a thump and a bit of a screech. All who know me would be surprised at how fast I got up the stairs. She's got a bruise on her arm and had a few sniffles I couldn't do much about.

But I got there.

I do know I'm more likely to be the one who will wake up if the baby cries at night. When the doggies bark their heads off with a sudden urge to go outside , it's me who almost always hears it first, and usually me who does the nightly duty there.

She, on the other hand, can sleep through anything. I remember she planned a romantic Valentine's Day. And it started out romantic. Our movie and dinner date she booked included a stay at a hotel room.

But I had somehow caught a NASTY bug. At about 9 a.m. the next day, she woke up and found me in the bathroom.

She was a trifle shocked to learn I had been up all night, erupting like Mount St. Helens. I'm not sure. I got drunk enough that I know you can puke out your nose. I didn't know you could puke out your ears until that hell night.

I actually whimpered for help once or twice while she slept on. I know it was a bug because I got a call later the next day to come take care of her. She was having the same symptoms.

I am sure I'll be the one to wake up for our child. I know that I'll probably have to poke her ribs to get her up to handle the serious stuff, and in the early stages, probably the routine stuff. I hope it isn't always the case.

But I'll be the one who wakes up (if I'm not already awake).

If that sounds like not much, and possibly petty, please understand. It's the only thing I've got to go on with some certainty that says I'm going to play an important part in the early care of this child.

I'm old-fashioned enough that I don't think I should take the "courses" they have for parents these days. Nurse sister Catherine demands I sign up for baby CPR. I see the value in that.

But as for the more intangible part of being a father. no course at a hospital is going to be better than the 40 years I've spent watching Bud be Bud.

Since I am, as described above, dutiful me, hen-pecked me, pistol-whipped-if-I-don't-play-along me, I imagine there's a course or two that I'll be taking anyway, with the wife. But I log my formal objection herewith, and I'll probably treat them like kindergarten through my second year of college.

Wake me when it's over.

Anyway, I had my debut. Three months before Baby Guilfoyle is due to arrive, people know I'm on the verge of daddyhood.

Li'l ole me. Who'd have ever thought I had it in me?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Everything I needed to know about Journalism, I learned watching Superman, Part II

I have negotiated with my wife that we will go see Superman Returns on Saturday at some point. I do get like a kid when some link to my youth shows up.

This is like an itch I can't scratch until Saturday night.

But while I wait, I will probably watch Superman: The Movie on DVD tonight.

I'm listening to the soundtrack to the new movie now -- $9.99 on iTunes. Loves my iTunes.

Driving back home from work tonight, after getting on our Web site LAST night a scoop about the firing of a city administrator and after getting a breaking story on our Web site, very detailed, about the same time as our "competition" about the resignation of a county council chairman today, I listened to the soundtrack to the original and it reminded me of another journalism rule I learned watching the original.

Keep your cool
During the scene where Superman makes his debut, Lois is involved in helicopter crash. It's full of beautiful little moments. The most priceless for "civilian" watchers is probably a tie between Clark running down the street looking for a phone booth to undress in, and gazing up and down at the "new style" phone booth, with no door, only three walls; and Superman emerging from a superspeeding spinning revolving door in costume for the first time, to be greeted with fashion approval -- from an apparent pimp.

"Say Jim, that is a BAD outfit!" the pimp says.

Ever polite, Kal-el of Krypton says, "Excuse me," and flies off.

The scenes add a little humor to the whole deal, defusing the tension a bit.

But there is a priceless journalism gag to me, and a valuable lesson.

A TV reporter taping the whole thing says, "I cannot believe it -- he got her."

Always masters of the obvious, the TV folk. I laughed then, and laugh my butt off now.

And the lesson.

Superman swoops in, scoops up Lois and keeps on flying up.

"Don't worry miss. I've got you."

"You've got me? WHO'S GOT YOU?" Lois asks.

It is NOT an obvious response on her part. She's totally in character -- Journalists should not lose their cool. She's asking a question, trying to get an answer.

She is in a horrific situation, but she tries to get the story. She's trying to keep her cool.

The culmination of the scene bears this out. She's as flustered as flustered can be. But when he snags the helicopter and drops both it and Lois off at the top of The Daily Planet roof, what does she do?

She asks a question.

"Who are you?" It comes out in spurts, but what is she doing? Her job.

Superman has reassured her that flying is still "statistically speaking," the safest form of travel. He flies away.

THEN she faints. Only after she's tried to do her job.

Keep your cool.

This trait of an always on the go Lois Lane is consistent throughout the movie. When he has reversed time and saved her life, after she had in fact, died, what does Lois do?

She screams at him. But like a reporter might. "WHERE WERE YOU? DO YOU KNOW HOW I SPENT MY DAY?"

Things like that. Knowing she's probably broken the journalistic rule about having feelings for her subject, she still is, at her core, wanting questions answered.

If he had spelled it all out, saying I went to Jersey to stop one a-bomb, San Andreas to fix the fault, fixed the train trestle in the Rockies and built a makeshift Hoover Dam to stop a flood, sure, it might have placated her anger.

But it also would have been A-1 above the folder with a banner hed in an extra edition of The Planet that night.

Lois, you GO girl.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Everything I needed to know about journalism, I learned by watching Superman

When I was 13, I heard a promise, repeated and repeated and repeated.

“You will believe a man can fly.”

Superman: The Movie, I know now, was being hyped and marketed and it had a catchphrase that stuck.

Unlike a lot of marketing moves, this one was 100 percent successful. When the movie came out, I saw it, and I believed a man could fly.

Flash forward a bit. It is 2003 or ‘04. Having just completed a round of tailgating with friends before a football, I get my sideline photo pass, grab up my cameras and head to Williams-Brice Stadium to cover a USC football game. As a graduate, but a journalist as well, I had to tread the line and not show any partiality. I had so many USC hats, I had to leave them all behind.

I grabbed a blue hat given me for Christmas or my birthday one year, from thorn-in-my-side oldest sister Anne.

I thought nothing about the hat that day, just that it was not a USC hat, so I’d be safely innocuous. If there was a too-loud cheer in the press box for a good play, suspicion would immediately fall on me if I wore the garnet and black of my beloved Gamecocks.

So it was, I thought, going to make me safe.

But it stood out in another way. It must have struck a chord with one of the Richland County deputies guarding the gates.

“Are you Superman?” he asked. I blinked, having forgotten what hat I was wearing. It was a blue hat, but with the stylized red and yellow 'S" shield of Superman.

“No,” I said. “But I am Clark Kent."

The beginning bit about the movie does lead to the latter bit about the football game. I write for a lot of reasons, but most were set well in stone when my main career goals were to be a Jedi Knight or at least a pilot.

Another movie put me on the road to being a writer.

But when the decision was made to be a writer, it was Superman: The Movie that set in stone for me what kind of writer I was going to be.

Everything I needed to know about journalism, I learned by watching Superman.

You quiz most journalists my age, and they’ll say All The President’s Men is their favorite journalism movie. More artsy types will throw Citizen Kane out there.

There was a movie way back in which Humphrey Bogart plays a reporter or an editor. Can’t remember. Just caught the tail end of it.

“This ain’t the oldest profession in the world, kid,” he tells a lacky. “But it’s the best.”

Still holds true today.

Superman: The Movie is about criminal masterminds and earthquakes and a certain son of Krypton. But you could pull out all the special effects and still have a GREAT newspaper movie. And any reporter around 40 years old who doesn't list Superman: The Movie as an influence is lying.

The fastest typist I’ve ever seen

When I “matriculated” to the University of South Carolina’s College of Journalism, the dean doing my advising was clear. I either had to pass a typing test registering me at 35 words per
minute, or I’d have to take a typing course.

Because something so mundane as a typing course was actually listed on our degree requirements, some dismiss journalism as a trade, a craft, not worthy of being taught like professions at colleges or universities.

Jerks.

It was a practical thing we needed. We had to make the choice.

In Superman, Editor-in-Chief Perry White hires Clark Kent on the spot, replacing Lois Lane on the “city beat” for a variety of reasons.

“Not only does he know how to treat his editor-in-chief with the proper respect, not only does he have a snappy, punchy pro-style, but he is in my 40 years in this business, the fastest typist I’ve ever seen.”

I tried the typing test, and with mistakes, couldn’t hit that minimal mark. So I took a course that included some shorthand lessons for taking notes. I remember about three of the shorthand notes, and have made my own shortcuts to be able to keep up.

But when computers began to come along, typing programs were early on one of the things they started out with.

I plugged along at about 40 words per minute when I was transcribing something. Probably a little faster, but they gig you a point here and there for misspellings and typos.

But I tried my hand at a Mac typing program, on a goof. It had a nice different test.

It had an open field and said, “Type whatever you want.”

Victory – 135 words per minute doing the kind of typing that I would really be doing. Not secretarial transcribing, but writing. I clocked a little bit faster about five years later when I bought my first computer, and it came with Mario Teaches Typing.

Speling, spealing, schpelling

“What are you writing, Miss Lane?” Jimmy Olsen asks the Daily Planet’s star reporter.

“An Ode to spring – how do you spell massacre?”

Later in the same exchange – “There’s only one ‘p’ in rapist,” Olsen says.

A later dig at the same piece she’s handing in comes from Perry White.

“There’s no ‘z’ in brasierre,” he says, looking at it for like two seconds and throwing it back at her.

What a fascinating Ode to Spring that piece must have been.

Just the facts, ma’am

Journalism has changed over the years. It once existed to tell people what was happening. But now newspapers, the bigger they are, have abandoned that as a principle and are more interested in talking about trends. Some try to make people FEEL things, some try to make people think a certain way about what is being covered.

I’ve never liked that approach, and I don’t do it in my paper.

Because of Perry White.

Did he read Lois’ piece on the East side murder, she asks. “This could be the basis of a whole series of articles, ‘Making Sense of Senseless Crimes’ by Lois Lane,” she says.

He wasn’t buying it.

“Lois, you’re pushing a bunch of rinky dink, tabloid garbage, and The Daily Planet …”

She’s not paying him much attention, however.

To me, Perry White is saying a newspaper should be about what is happening, not why it is happening. Sometimes why stuff needs to be done, but it must follow long after what has happened.

She still tries to push a story in that same conversation.

“It’s got everything,” she says. “It’s got sex, it’s got violence, it’s got the ethnic angle.”

“So’s a lady wrestler with a foreign accent,” he says, shutting her down.

Writers may think they have the elements to make a story rise above the average, but that is generally just the reporter trying to push a piece past what it is, at its essential level.

The readers won’t always get what you’re pushing.

“It’s too good to be true,” says Lex Luther, after going over Lois’ “I spent the night with Superman” story in which too much information is revealed. “It’s too good to be true.”

“It’s too good to be true,” says his gun moll, Eve Teschmacher. “He’s 6-foot-2, has black hair, blue eyes, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke and TELLS the truth.”

Brevity is something to be desired in the industry, and it’s a goal I fail at miserably. But also, sometimes, you can boil something down too far.

The article explains why Superman is Superman, and reveals a weakness. (He can’t see through lead.)

Only Luther picks up on that. Teschmacher was just looking at what was a hunky Boy Scout she was probably thinking of tempting if the opportunity presented itself.

She missed what Lois was saying with her article.

“Some people can read ‘War and Peace,’ and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story, while others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper, and unlock the secrets of the universe,” Luther tells her.

She still doesn’t get it. “Lex, what has chewing gum got to do with the secrets of the universe?”

He just rolls his eyes and tells her she’s right.

But he says, “Voila,” moments later. Somehow, by reading Lois’ piece, he’s figured out that a certain meteorite that landed in Africa was from Krypton, and it’s radiation to Superman. How? I guess I’m one of those who thinks War and Peace is just a simple advernture story.

But he was right. With the revelation about kryptonite and the lead weakness, it’s also clear that while some people will not get what you’re trying to say, others will get a WHOLE lot more out of it than you can imagine.

Get the story

During a corral of his reporters after Superman’s first appearance, Perry White shows a good insight into papers.

One day, the paper can be about one thing or a million regular things. But sooner or later, something so big is going to come along that all other considerations are put aside.

Trying to fire up his troops, Perry White says, “Whichever one of you gets it out of him, is going to end up with the single most important interview since … God talked to Moses.”

Don’t be na├»ve

When Superman allows Lois to interview him, he says he’s here “to fight for truth, justice and the American way.”

“You’re going to end up fighting every elected official in this country,” she says.

“I’m sure you don’t mean that, Lois,” he says. Then he tells her he never lies.

Except for that whole secret idenity thing. Sources withhold important information to protect themselves. Even the invulnerable ones have something to protect. (Clark can withstand an H-bomb, but Ma Kent? Not so much.

Even the best dump their notebook

Sometimes everything you hear shouldn’t be included in your article. I’m REAL bad about this.

But that whole, “Can’t see through lead” thing ought to give Lois pause.

She doesn’t know all the ramifications, because of the "going back in time" thing Superman did. But because she told the world that Superman can’t see through lead, Superman almost died, Lois almost died, the West Coast almost slid off into the sea, and that kid with the bad skin condition almost fell off the Golden Gate Bridge with his classmates in the school bus.

If it wasn't for Miss Teschmacher's mom living in Hackensack, who knows how many millions would have died?

We’ve got a couple of phrases for using everything. Notebook dumping is a nicer one.
Diarrhea of the typewriter is an old-style version.

Even Lois Lane does it.

The pay sucks

After her big interview/date with Superman, Lois hears the knocking at her door.

Clark shows up for the “real” date on her book.

Lois has a really nice penthouse apartment, but it’s impossible to believe that she affords it on a reporter’s salary.

Evidence Clark’s words to her as they leave.

“I was a little nervous about this, but then I decided, gosh darn it, I’ll show her the time of her life,” he says.

The good bit is fading away as the door closes behind them.

“I was figuring maybe we could go for a hamburger or whatever you like,”

The pay sucks.

There’s a whole lot more. Some bits are in Superman II.

When they find out about a nuclear bomb in Paris, Lois is sent to cover the story, not Clark.

“If Paris is going to go kablooey, I want my best reporter in the middle of it,” Perry White tells Clark.

Management appreciates your abilities, but not your life, apparently.

Also, a big story can be sitting in front of your nose and you miss it.

It takes the trip to Niagara Falls for Lois to see past the glasses at what ought to be pretty obvious.

Some reporters are willing to risk their lives for a story. Lois jumps into the Niagara River, headed to the falls. Clark does some impromptu saving without stripping down to the cape and tights.

I don’t think the potential payoff on that story is worth the risk, myself.

But the most important bit came from two characters -- the quintessential journalists in the movie. Lois and Perry both end on the same note.

"Gosh, how do you get all the great stories," Jimmy Olsen asks.

"A good reporter doesn't get great stories, Jimmy. A good reporter," she says as she walks into White's office, who's saying the same thing to Clark.

A good reporter makes them great.

I’ve gotten a nice life out of this profession, even though the pay sucks. When you get up to the editorial level, you do OK.

When you marry a beautiful publisher of the best large weekly in the state, who’s pulling down some serious bread, you find it’s much easier to have what is called “a real life." But the other rewards of the job are still the reason to do it.

There’s nothing more rewarding than a scoop, that’s for sure. Except maybe another scoop. But even if you don’t get the scoop, being allowed past police lines some of the times, looking at murder scene photos, standing next to a fire truck while a mill burns, spewing acid residue into the air, getting whipped in the face by hurricane force winds, it’s just all fun.

And come to think of it, when I cover stories like that, I can actually get hurt if something else comes along. Unlike a certain Last Son of Krypton.

But anyway, in honor of Superman starting up in a few days, I figured I’d finally get around to penning this.

I’m not Superman, but I am Clark Kent.

I’m almost 6-foot, have black hair, blue eyes, I seldom drink and never smoke, and I tell the truth.

I fight for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

With a pen.

Best weapon available.

More later, maybe.

P.S. This is 2,167 words long, and it was done in 20 minutes. That’s
108 WPM. Must be some kryptonite nearby slowing me down.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I'll remember Pop, Auntie Bridey

I've run a particular column in the counties I've lived in, at a
certain time of year. When the American Cancer Society raises money for
Relay for Life, I run this column.

I do try to make the point that news stories many times are universal.

I have been on two Relay for Life teams, both with different
newspapers. I helped create the team at The Cheraw Chronicle. I helped
create a team at The People-Sentinel in Barnwell County. (I have been
told that Allendale County, one of the smallest, poorest counties in
the state, has one of the best Relay events. It raises more, per
capita, than any other events in the state.)

Anyway, I ran this column a few weeks back on the News & Reporter's
editorial page. A woman came by my office Thursday. She had an English accent,
but she too was born in Ireland and emigrated to find work.

She said she thought reading this column was like reading her own life.
(I guess, except for the part about dying of cancer.)

Anyway,

I'll remember Pop, Auntie Bridey

I've got his naturalization certificate in a cruddy plastic frame, because I haven't had a chance to buy a nice frame yet.

John Patrick Guilfoyle, 41, white, fair complexioned, blue-eyed, brown gray hair, 5' 10”, that's basically all the information you can find on it, other than on Oct. 31, 1957, he became a citizen of the United States.

But it's got my grandfather's picture on it, one of the few we have in the family, and I wanted it, cruddy frame or not.

I'm still not as old as he was when he became a citizen of the United States. It's not necessarily a memory of him. It's a thought, a reminder of someone I knew a long time ago, but never really got to know at all.

He immigrated to the United States from Ireland, had a family, and worked in a repair shop of the New York City subway system.

He was the only grandparent I ever had. His wife died before I ever saw her. My mother's parents lived in Ireland and died when I was young.

The memories I have are few and rare, but all pleasant. He'd come visit every Wednesday. We'd run home just a little quicker those days, scream, “C'mon, c'mon c'mon” to make the elevator door close that much faster, so we could get up to our apartment and find him sitting on the couch, by the window. If it was summer, he'd have his radio by his side, listening to the New York Mets. No matter that he could turn on the TV and watch the game any day of the week. Better on the radio, he thought.

He had a little nonsense rhyme for each of us. For me - “Stephen, Stephen, cut the bread even.”

Sounds silly to you, I'm sure. Sweetest words I ever heard. It's been about 30 years since I heard them.

I've got her picture in my wallet, in a little memorial card. Bridget Kristine Enright Williams. My mother's sister. She was born in Ireland. Like any Irish person who wanted to work, she had to leave Ireland. She moved to England, however, and went to nursing school.

Because there were too many Irish girls named Bridget at school, the damned English turned my Auntie Bridey into Kris. I'd always hear about her in letters my Aunt Catherine wrote to my mother. I'd always smile a little, knowing I had an Auntie Bridey out there somewhere.

Aunt Kris is so generic, so basic. Auntie Bridey is so lyrical, so musical.

She moved to England, got a new name to everyone else but me, got a job, married a man and had two children.

She visited us - in 1989 I think - and I finally got to see her. I was away at college most of her visit, but I remember a long night spent at the Spartanburg Amtrak station, the heater in my old Impala working overtime as we waited and waited and waited for the train to show up so
they could head up North for a few days.

Her husband was Welsh, and she made a great Welsh pot roast at the house once. Vegetables are a communist plot, but somehow my Auntie Bridey convinced me to ask seconds on the carrot-based dinner. I saw her for just a few days, then I had to go back to college. I came back
a couple of weeks later to drive her and her husband and kids to the airport. It was a big car.

In 1990, we put Mom on a plane and got her to England. Two of her brothers also live there. Two others flew in from Australia. It was the worst kind of family reunion. They all made it, just barely, before Auntie Bridey went.

My grandfather, Pop, as we called him, died of cancer. Lung cancer possibly from the asbestos in the brakes of the subway cars he worked on his entire life. My Auntie Bridey died of cancer. This nasty little disease barked up both sides of my family tree and took something from
me that I never really had a chance to know.

One of the ways to honor people like that is by buying luminaries as part of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life efforts. It's a way to raise money to fight cancer. I bought one for Pop and one for Auntie Bridey this year.

That's what cancer has left us. A certificate, a dog-eared memorial card. I have memories. Just pictures on paper and in my mind that fade. Nothing to hold or tell a joke to. Nothing to smile at, nothing that smiles back.

The real horror of cancer is it takes away things you don't even know you had, things you never had a chance to get. I have a million pleasant memories. I'm a millionaire in remembrance, but I'd rather be poor in memories and rich in hugs from Auntie Bridey, and “Stephen, Stephen cut the bread evens” from my Pop.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sucker punch?

About the fire, there was this -- Great Falls gasping for air.

I like the writer. He's a helluva writer. Just got put into the position of being the featured news columnist. Until this column, he hadn't really taken a stand on anything. He tells great stories, and that's what he did. Until that.

Usually, it's best to just leave well enough alone. Usually. But my paper had to respond.

Great Falls sucker-punched

We've heard back from the community. They are giving us a big "Hell yeah" for our piece.

This was the first column the writer penned about Chester County since he got his new gig.

You know what the say about first impressions.

He's written two more times in column form about the incident.

Suddenly, the town that's like a prize fighter who needs to be put out of his misery is now a town with "big heart."

Has the town changed so much in just a couple or three days?

Funny enough, there was another column in what The Herald calls The Chester County Herald. It's just a page, once a week. In a bullet item brief, the columnist takes an unnamed "Mr. Reporter" to task, using a quote from the first Herald piece last week. "The only action in town is the fire destroying its heritage." Little Miss Shirley didn't like that. (Her stuff isn't available online.)

It's kind of funny, actually. One of the tragedies of the fire, for this lady, was not being able to go to the salon in Great Falls and get her hair done, apparently.

But the community is also letting The Herald know. Here's a letter to the editor they ran.

We got thanked for putting up a BUNCH of pictures on the web to let former residents know what is going on. Another said she could practically smell the hydrochloric acid in the fire from our coverage. That's unabashed response.

While I was at the Red Cross shelter, I was asked if The Charlotte Observer was present. I'm usually loath to send a person to another paper, but I was busy, so I pointed the reporter out. The shelter volunteer went on her way. I caught up with the volunteeer later and asked why she wanted The Observer.

She didn't like the paper's coverage. The pictures were all negative, she said. A woman in her "night shirt" was on the front page of the local section. An old man looking confused on the inside page. It didn't show anything positive going on in the middle of the troubles, and she just couldn't hold back.

So I said, "Oh, I wish you'd have told me. I'd love to watch that."

Here's the second editorial we did about the Great Falls fire. Unlikely hero.

The TV stations had coverage in pretty much the same vein.

I've seen it for years now.

I imagined myself after college going to bigger and bigger dailies, but I started looking for work during a recession, which newspapers tend to tighten up in advance of official notice. It took me a while to find a job, and it was at a weekly, 50 miles from a decent movie theater or bookstore. I thought I couldn't stand it, going in, but I have absolutely loved it.

I'm still at a non-daily, 12 years later.

Here's the thing. People will fawn over big papers and TV usually. Then they will open up a piece and usually hate it for being negative.

Everything in a big newspaper's piece has usually been in a GOOD weekly already, just in pieces, here or there, as things happen or get ready to happen. A big newspaper sometimes tries to come in and get the local newspaper to show them their work, and to ease their way.

Yet people don't realize they've already gotten the stuff in the big "package" before, all along, once a week in their mailbox.

And they get it without the usual negative spin.

My paper isn't a bulletin board for the cheery only. We do hard, hard stuff. We covered some very outraged people during this fire.

We just didn't make a character judgment about the town while people were in the moment.

Our paper is here for the long haul, and it wants to represent its readers and the community. It isn't parachuting in when the scanner goes off and running off when a "bigger" story rears its head elsewhere.

You hear a lot about the newspaper industry "dying" and circulation declining.

Don't look at just the headlines when you see those things. Daily circulation is either declining or having such meager growth that it is actually losing ground in growing communities.

Weekly papers, non-daily papers, community papers? Their circulation is growing. Fast.

Wonder why?