Bush with bullhornIn August of 2001, President George W. Bush was bumping along. The economy had entered a cyclical recession. It wasn’t his fault, just one of those things. His popularity was evenly split, just a bit over 50%. He’d taken office with the help of an odd decision by the Supreme Court. Most people had expected him to govern as a moderate, given the razor-thin margins of the election. Indeed he had given early pledges to do just that – to be a uniter. But it wasn’t to be. He’d demanded and gotten large tax cuts, where half the benefits went to the richest 1%. Surveys showed that the American public didn’t much want these tax cuts, but it didn’t matter. He wanted them. His party wanted them. That month a Presidential daily briefing had warned that the terrorist Osama bin Laden hoped to attack within the United States. Did he care about it? We actually know today, years later, that he didn’t. He was on vacation when a CIA briefer came to warn him. He listened, reluctantly. He told the briefer, “Thanks, now you’ve covered your ass.” And that was that. No action was taken. Later, the President would resist all efforts by the 9-11 Commission to review the events which took place.

The day of 9-11 was a calamity, of course. Thousands dead. At first it looked like it would be tens of thousands. The President had looked foolish and weak and unready. He’d read a story to children; he flew about the country in some weird defense of himself, and supposedly the presidency and the country.

There were bright spots. In Pennsylvania, the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93, equipped with air phones and cell phones were learning about what was underway. Amazingly, they included a rugby player, an ex-police officer, a judo expert, a weight-lifter, a college linebacker, and a pilot who almost certainly could have landed the plane if the passengers could retake control. And they did for a few moments. When they died, they saved the White House, or Congress, or who knows… the statue of liberty? from being hit.

At the World Trade Center, police and fire personnel converged. 343 firefighters would die. 23 policemen would die. 37 port authority police would die. 2,602 civilians would die in the towers and on the ground. At the Pentagon 125 would die.

Here on our street, we stood outside, open-mouthed, unbelieving, in shock, in grief, in wordless amazement. In anger, and stupidity, we looked up as the last jets of the day landed in mid-morning.

Americans streamed toward New York City.  Firefighters, iron workers, EMT’s, nurses, priests, and people who just felt called. They stayed for weeks into months, clearing the site, searching. Of course, we know now that the air they breathed — full of pulverized concrete, glass, and asbestos — was toxic. For some reason, the Bush administration decided to lie about the safety of the air. Scientists at the EPA knew it was dangerous, but somebody higher up in the government told the EPA to lie. It was a puzzling lie. After three thousand people die in the attack, why allow another six thousand to get permanently sick? It’s hard to fathom (hard for a normal person).

We know why they lied to the 9-11 Commission. They had not only failed to prevent the attack. They weren’t really trying. They hadn’t met to discuss terrorism. They hadn’t listened to the “anti-terrorism guy” still onboard from the previous administration. When experts were running around “with their hair on fire,” it wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the new decision makers. It wasn’t a priority at all.

But then when the most massive terror attack in U.S. history actually occurred, it became vitally important to suppress or rewrite their own history.  They could have owned up to their failures, they could have sought honestly to make changes, and they could have welcomed a broad bipartisan inquiry. But something in the fearful makeup of the Bush II administration made it impossible to admit a failure, even though it would have been forgiven quickly by the American people.

When the National Security Advisor told the Commission that no one could’ve imagined that someone would fly planes into buildings, it was a lie. You and I hadn’t imagined it, but she was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, and the possibility of just such an attack had been foreseen earlier, and defended against more than once, and, in fact, described by terrorists on earlier occasions. But it was just one lie in a tissue of many lies, and at least we could understand why (if they couldn’t go with honesty) they wanted to deflect public understanding of what had actually happened. It was because they had failed to do anything. When their own experts had warned them, they didn’t meet, they didn’t act, they didn’t tell anyone to do anything. They failed. Although it was an obvious and colossal failure, it was also an early failure, too soon to understand that it would be part of a pattern.

It’s a small measure of America’s character that we can, and do, forgive a lot when it comes to the work of our leaders. We know they won’t be perfect. We know that it’s an awesome job and that mistakes will be made. And when the leadership of America makes a mistake, the consequences can be large and hard on blameless people. So I think America would have forgiven the business about lying to the workers at ground zero, shortening their lives with lung disease, for some unknown reason. I think America would have forgiven our leaders for snoozing their way toward 9-11. This was a much greater failure, and it was a black mark against the administration, but it was such a vile attack against blameless civilians that you don’t want to focus on our own failure to be ready. America would have forgiven, to a large extent, the failure of our leaders to do their jobs in the months before 9-11.

But then we witnessed something that will not be forgiven. On 9-11 America united. Nineteen rotten shitballs had snuck into our country and committed mass murder. Nobody didn’t understand that. The world understood it. Every nation was aghast. Iran sent condolences. And they meant it. People looked at the future of ever more-capable public murder, and they said, “No, no, no…. that is not what we want.”

It was in some miraculous way a moment when history was poised at the brink of a new understanding. It was a moment when the world could have turned for the better.

I am ashamed to say that we Americans had not put in place leaders who could see it. We had a miraculous moment when we could have led the world in a better direction. We could have asked for the eyes, and ears, and minds, and good will of people on every acre of this planet to find the murderers, and arrest them. If we had to send troops, we could have sent every kind of other help, too. Even acting on their own, the children of a prosperous America could have contributed enough to rebuild Afghanistan. The grade schoolers of America could have funded new schools with teachers and books and playgrounds all across Afghanistan or anywhere. We adults could have funded roads and bridges. We could have fixed every goddam thing we might have blown up looking for Osama, and fixed it twice as good as it ever was. But no.

Our “leaders” at the time looked around and saw opportunity to pursue a few ideas they’d been thinking about but hadn’t exactly mentioned previously, you know, to us citizens.

So we got tough talk about evil-doers. And then we got some threats about ‘with us or against us’. And then we got some clarification about who was really capable of dealing with the situation – it was supposedly the administration and Republicans in general. And then we had the press secretary warn people to watch what they said. And then it was time to discipline an ungrateful United Nations. And then it was necessary to smear a critic. Soon it was imperative to insult former allies.  Quite a show. And then, if you remember the torture and the secret prisons and the general allowance made for it all, it actually got worse.


Index of Wisconsin State Journal editorials

 BACK IN 2012


 Definitions of the Five Types HERE

Editorial Type


1.  The Genuine Meat √ 9-2-2012 “Higher standards for better schools
√ 8-31-2012 “Talking around race won’t work
√ 8-28-2012 “So far, so good for DUI court
√ 8-27-2012 “Stay focused on venture bill
√ 8-25-2012 “Rally to reduce foreign oil
√ 8-19-2012 “Time to harvest farm bill
√ 8-12-2012 “Ryan an intelligent pick
√ 8-5-2012 “Call special session to lure investment
√ 7-31-2012 “Emanuel’s attitude refreshing
“√ 7-26-2012 “Don’t bash cleaner natural gas
√ 7-22-2012 “Drought is far from over
√ 7-20-2012 “Big challenges for graying state
√ 7-18-2012 “An outrageous week of DUIs
√ 7-16-2012 “Root for a Vietnam trade deal
√ 7-15-2012 “Great performance needs encore
√ 7-11-2012 “City should slow down the debt
√ 7-1-2012 “Give dairy policy new direction
√ 6-28-2012 “UW flexible degree a valid innovation
√ 6-24-2012 “Find cure for unhealthy feud
√ 6-20-2012 “Lots to like about new UW post
√ 6-19-2012 “Break the gridlock on road bill
√ 6-14-2012 “More early college classes welcome
√ 6-13-2012 “Aim for more mergers at local level
√ 6-12-2012 “Bad taste to boycott `brat summit’
√ 6-11-2012 “Weaker WEAC meets new reality
√ 6-10-2012 “China trip shines in wake of recall rift
√ 6-8-2012 “Wanted: More workers to match jobs
√ 6-6-2012 “Aim past acrimony, bargaining debate
√ 6-5-2012 “Great to see project moving ahead
√ 6-3-2012 “More black teachers should be a key goal
√ 5-31-2012 “Give state’s No. 2 something to do
√ 5-30-2012 “Be smart and steady to stabilize debt
√ 5-24-2012 “Interest rate debate a sideshow
√ 5-23-2012 “Brazen shooting unacceptable
√ 5-22-2012 “Wanted: Money for entrepreneurs
√ 5-20-2012 “Endless recalls hurt Wisconsin
√ 5-18-2012 “Still a long drive to stop DUI
√ 5-17-2012 “Oconomowoc worth watching
√ 5-16-2012 “Party chairman swings, misses
√ 5-13-2012 “End the ‘mommy wars’
√ 5-10-2012 “Closing canal still best option
√ 5-9-2012 “Let Postal Service deliver change
√ 5-3-2012 “Slowly increase retirement age
√ 5-2-2012 “Better farm bill not good enough
√ 4-25-2012 “WIAA boys basketball tournament back where it belongs
√ 4-23-2012 “Smart move toward the middle
√ 4-22-2012 “Clean, cost-effective energy should be goal
√ 4-19-2012 “Soglin right: No campground
√ 4-18-2012 “Backlash to block bash welcome
√ 4-17-2012 “Simplify state, federal tax code
√ 4-15-2012 “Victims of drunken driving scourge deserve justice
√ 4-12-2012 “State should go for latest grant
√ 4-11-2012 “Senate failed to fix ‘double-dip’
√ 4-10-2012 “‘Fake’ candidates further taint elections
√ 4-8-2012 “A glimmer of hope for fixing Washington’s mess
√ 4-5-2012 “Big winners face big challenge
√ 4-4-2012 “State is open for wind business
√ 4-3-2012 “Big decisions deserve your vote
√ 4-1-2012 “Better assessments for better schools
√ 3-30-2012 “State shouldn’t inflate gas prices
√ 3-26-2012 “Madison’s maze of bureaucracy strikes again; here’s hoping project isn’t dead
√ 3-25-2012 “Vote for a better Dane County Board
√ 3-23-2012 “Some help for small business
√ 3-21-2012 “Managing work rules not so hard
√ 3-18-2012 “Swing state showdown
√ 3-16-2012 “Do what’s best for Milwaukee
√ 3-14-2012 “Burke, Nichols best for schools
√ 3-5-2012 “Fairchild Street needs a facelift
√ 3-4-2012 “Five to finish
√ 3-1-2012 “Let’s get this thing over with
√ 2-27-2012 “Senate’s turn to back GAAP cap
√ 2-22-2012 “The horror and absurdity of DUI
√ 2-21-2012 “Congress should’ve paid for ‘holiday‘”
√ 2-17-2012 “More momentum for merit reform
√ 2-16-2012 “Getting beat on venture capital
√ 2-13-2012 “Don’t bounce tourneys from Madison
√ 2-12-2012 “Narrowing gap will take more than money
√ 2-1-2012 “Spectrum decision a win for the region
√ 1-31-2012 “Stop $5 billion in farm checks
√ 1-29-2012 “Election year no excuse for inaction
√ 1-26-2012 “Ending unpaid wars no windfall
√ 1-24-2012 “Aim for higher budget standard
√ 1-23-2012 “Good advice from growth guru
√ 1-22-2012 “Let recall election settle union question
√ 1-20-2012 “Happy to bid blight goodbye
√ 1-12-2012 “Focus on Fairchild, not Frautschi
√ 1-10-2012 “Don’t let debt soar past economy
√ 1-9-2012 “Support state reading initiative
√ 1-6-2012 “Not bad by Madison standards
√ 1-4-2012 “State demographics loom large
√  1-3-2012 “Root for S.S. Badger conversion
2.  The Surprisingly Correct √ 9-4-2012 “Rapid bus lines worth pursuing
√ 8-30-2012 “Don’t stir up trouble at Capitol
√ 8-9-2012 “Another leap for mankind
√ 8-2-2012 “No surprise on need for redistricting reform
√ 7-27-2012 “Strong rule to help protect lakes
√ 7-19-2012 “Finally some fairness for Main Street
√ 7-11-2012 “City should slow down the debt
√ 7-10-2012 “Healthy air — and sales — after ban
√ 7-9-2012 “Keep fighting to stop Asian carp
√ 7-4-2012 “The patriotism of Andy Griffith
√ 6-27-2012 “Go slow to ensure healthy wolf hunt
√ 6-21-2012 “Stop giving sweetener to Big Sugar
√ 6-17-2012 “Stop the summer slide
√ 6-15-2012 “Now that’s a historic building
√ 6-1-2012 “Fat legal bills more reason for reform
√ 5-15-2012 “Stepp’s DNR deserved scrutiny
√ 5-1-2012 “Fewer swing seats a bad sign
√ 4-24-2012 “Wind on water worth pursuing
√ 4-9-2012 “Join conversation about schools
√ 3-27-2012 “Partisan maps mistreat voters
√ 3-13-2012 “State website should disclose why and how much child care centers are fined
√ 3-11-2012 “Recommit this week to open government
√ 3-8-2012 “Big flub by Dane County judge
√ 3-6-2012 “RTAs should be option across state
√ 2-29-2012 “Court wrong to close door on public
√ 2-9-2012 “Time to stick up for Main Street
√ 2-8-2012 “Redistricting revelation more reason for reform
√ 1-18-2012 “Don’t water down lake protection
√ 1-17-2012 “Don’t go backward on disclosure
√ 1-13-2012 “Don’t like Gableman? Try Gundrum
3.  Filler √ 8-24-2012 “Cheese title never gets stale
√ 8-21-2012 “United Way local, efficient, focused
√ 8-20-2012 “700 more kids need mentors
√ 8-17-2012 “Lake protection must continue
√ 8-16-2012 “Wisconsin needs more names on longer ballots
√ 8-15-2012 “Positive outlook holds power
√ 8-13-2012 “Exercise ‘elective rights’ on Tuesday
√ 8-10-2012 “An Olympic library to treasure
√ 8-3-2012 “Thank the Frautschis — again
√ 7-29-2012 “Sooner is better than later for learning
√ 7-25-2012 “Root for important research
√ 7-23-2012 “Madison should land top talent for school superintendent
√ 7-17-2012 “Deer report aims for better hunt
√ 7-12-2012 “Five big jobs need bold leaders
√ 7-3-2012 “Comfy position comes with cost
√ 7-2-2012 “Physical fitness council gets reboot
√ 6-29-2012 “Public records will remain accessible
√ 6-17-2012 “Survey suggests economic stress
√ 6-4-2012 “After all that, it’s time to vote
√ 5-29-2012 “Take stake in lakes this weekend
√ 5-25-2012 “Get shot to help stop whooping cough outbreak
√ 5-21-2012 “Give a lift to UW volunteers
√ 5-14-2012 “Dane County should expand, rather than replace, landfill
√ 5-11-2012 “Update meeting law for digital age
√ 5-4-2012 “More responsibility for voters
√ 4-27-2012 “Baraboo view really improves
√ 4-6-2012 “Welcome news on pesky invaders
√ 3-28-2012 “A new library? It’s about time
√ 2-24-2012 “The weatherman meets manure
√ 2-14-2012 “Old-school bees still valuable
√ 2-7-2012 “Talk to teens about horrible crash
√ 1-30-2012 “More tutors, fewer evictions and falls
√ 1-27-2012 “Lots more we can do here
√ 1-25-2012 “Have your say in Madison schools
4.  The Distractor √ 9-3-2012 “Some good news for Labor Day
√ 8-29-2012 “Keep improving dreary DMV
√ 8-22-2012 “Spending will go up despite ‘cuts’
√ 8-14-2012 “A message from the mourning
√ 8-7-2012 “Use chance to learn from shootings
√ 8-1-2012 “Business travel boom bodes well
√ 7-30-2012 “Dye job just the latest illusion
√ 7-24-2012 “Penn State got what it deserved
√ 5-27-2012 “Set stakes now for bypass south of Madison
√ 4-29-2012 “President’s promises proceed, fizzle
√ 4-20-2012 “Big bucks, egos need oversight
√ 4-13-2012 “Ask voters if Dane County Board should shrink
√ 3-22-2012 “End the incessant all-nighters
√ 3-20-2012 “Put the phones down and drive
√ 3-19-2012 “A little progress on earmarks
√ 3-15-2012 “Welcome the madness to town
√ 3-12-2012 “Watching the birdies is slow fun
√ 3-9-2012 “Root for Milwaukee’s comeback
√ 2-28-2012 “Help state treasurer nix his job
√ 2-26-2012 “Dig for deal on mining bill
√ 2-23-2012 “As many newspapers as before
√ 2-15-2012 “Casinos won’t provide jackpot
√ 2-10-2012 “Loopy roundabouts actually work
√ 2-6-2012 “More bus riders welcome news
√ 2-2-2012 “Caucus scandal all over again?
√ 1-19-2012 “A slice of good news for Madison
√ 1-16-2012 “Keep March madness in Madison
√ 1-15-2011 “Learn from example of Wisconsin’s last iron mine: Lake Wazee
√ 1-11-2012 “Stick to one big job in politics
√ 1-5-2012 “Secrecy hurts hiring decision
√ 1-2-2012 “Good news: Headlines we’d like to see in 2012
5. The Unintentionally Hilarious (or Just Plain Sad) √ 8-23-2012 “Don’t yank poll workers around
√ 8-8-2012 “Keep U.S. from falling over fiscal cliff
√ 7-13-2012 “More reason to gear up growth
√ 7-8-2012 “Time to slow soaring health care costs
√ 7-6-2012 “Cooperation key to denting debt
√ 7-5-2012 “Great news for Madison schools
√ 6-26-2012 “GAB should rule on ALEC issue
√ 6-22-2012 “State should get into the swing
√ 6-7-2012 “A lot more than money mattered
√ 5-8-2012 “Welcome news for local schools
√ 5-7-2012 “Ditch penny and paper dollar bill
√ 5-6-2012 “Region needs to act now on economic growth
√ 4-30-2012 “Early learning a wise investment
√ 4-26-2012 “Don’t let gender flap distract
√ 3-29-2012 “Madison School Board responsible, too
√ 3-7-2012 “Goofy aircraft ticket doesn’t fly
√ 2-20-2012 “UW-Madison, WIAA drop ball on tourney talks
√ 2-19-2012 “A welcome message on manufacturing
√ 2-5-2012 “The sorry state of our neighbors to the south
√ 2-3-2012 “Politics trumps progress again
√ 1-8-2012 “Refining our focus


BACK IN 2011


 Definitions of the Five Types HERE

Editorial Type


1.  The Genuine Meat √ 12-29-2011 “Use technology to fight DUI
√ 12-28-2011 “At last, cooperation on Medicare
√ 12-26-2011 “La Follette should run for retirement
√ 122-22-2011 “School board can’t ignore 48%
√ 12-20-2011 “Venture bill should finally pass
√ 12-18-2011 “Don’t reject Madison Prep
√ 12-7-2011 “Not even Christmas parade is safe
√ 12-6-2011 “Give president more veto power
√ 12-4-2011 “Sky isn’t falling on public schools
√ 12-2-2011 “Plan suffers from fear of heights
√ 12-1-2011 “Go back to Bowles-Simpson
√ 11-27-2011 “Super partisan Congress lacks courage
√ 11-24-2011 “Thankful for the wonderful and wacky
√ 11-23-2011 “Celebrate their journey home
√ 11-22-2011 “Goodbye eyesore, hello tax base
√ 11-17-2011 “Fun hunt, then hard questions
√ 11-15-2011 “Madison will love new Edgewater
√ 11-7-2011 “Ugly end to unimpressive session
√ 11-6-2011 “Super letter seeks more revenue, savings
√ 11-3-2011 “Time to restrict the ‘double-dip’
√ 11-2-2011 “Root for Shultz and Cullen
√ 10-31-2011 “Time to finally break ground on Edgewater project
√ 10-27-2011 “State’s move to merit pay welcome
√ 10-23-2011 “A missing link for jobs
√ 10-14-2011 “Progress toward safer lakes
√ 10-13-2011 “Trade deals will boost jobs
√ 10-11-2011 “Keep momentum going at City Hall
√ 10-9-2011 “Big improvement deserves support
√ 10-2-2011 “Let states decide on toll roads
√ 9-27-2011 “Walker right to prioritize DUI
√ 9-20-2011 “Digital age demands big change
√ 9-18-2011 “Get the facts on Edgewater funding
√ 9-13-2011 “Yes, please, stay focused on jobs
√ 9-12-2011 “Mayor should stop rehashing the past
√ 9-11-2011 “Shock, pride, then vigilance
√ 9-4-2011 “Boost city’s tax base
√ 8-26-2011 “Little bang for lots of bucks
√ 8-25-2011 “Surprise, surprise: layoffs and cuts
√ 8-24-2011 “Labor board should back off
√ 8-22-2011 “Don’t sink slice of Americana
√ 8-20-2011 “Paul Ryan should run
√ 8-12-2011 “Teachers union has plenty of say
2.  The Surprisingly Correct √ 12-30-2011 “Child care ratings good for parents
√ 12-16-2011 “Stop grousing at the referee
√ 12-14-2011 “Do right for wrongly convicted
√ 12-9-2011 “More permits aren’t justified
√ 12-8-2001 “Hey, Trump — you’re fired!
√ 11-30-2011 “Another distraction from jobs
√ 11-14-2011 “Camera ban is hard to justify
√ 11-8-2011 “GAB needs more independence
√ 11-4-2001 “First Amendment violations hurt us all
√ 10-24-2011 “Don’t hide concealed gun stats
√ 10-5-2011 “Speed study to save Great Lakes
√ 9-29-2011 “More diversity based on merit
√ 9-26-2011 “Charter proposal offers a lot
√ 9-15-2011 “Swap limited parking for park near Memorial Union
√ 9-6-2011 “Fix flaws to truly open checkbook
√ 8-31-2011 “Charter schools: Starting with boys makes sense
√ 8-30-2011 “Good news on controlling health care costs
√ 8-28-2011 “No more partisan maps
√ 8-16-2011 “Another warning on giant carp
3.  Filler √ 12-27-2011 “Welcome back the grey wolf
√ 12-19-2011 “Thanks for strong, clear leadership
√ 12-12-2011 “Thanks for another year of giving
√ 12-11-2011 “Lakes need year-round love
√ 11-25-2011 “Chazen offers big city vibe
√ 11-21-2011 “Foster more Epics across region
√ 11-18-2011 “Ring in big year for Salvation Army
√ 11-1-2011 “A breakthrough at ‘Big Blue’
√ 10-28-2011 “Cast another positive spell
√ 10-21-2011 “Follow carrier’s strong example
√ 10-18-2011 “Welcome back, Willy Street
√ 10-12-2011 “Big boost for intriguing school
√ 10-7-2011 “Farewell to an iCon
√ 10-4-2011 “Quick action on Garver? Yeah, right
√ 9-30-2011 “Razz but don’t be rude to Huskers
√ 9-28-2011 “Wisconsin agrees: Delist wolf
√ 9-21-2011 “Epic event shines for region
√ 9-14-2011 “A glorious, skeeter-free summer
√ 9-9-2011 “Two in, many more needed
√ 9-1-2011 “Wanted: More involved parents
√ 8-29-2011 “Stay safe on dark city streets
√ 8-23-2011 “Give and get involved
√ 8-19-2011 “Berceau vs. Nass a playground spat
√ 8-18-2011 “Revisit money-saving merger
√ 8-17-2011 “Aim for 50 percent giving time
√ 8-15-2011 “Royster-Clark site redevelopment an easy choice
√ 8-14-2011 “Civic duty drives century-old club
4.  The Distractor √ 12-23-2011 “Science confirms Pack popularity
√ 12-15-2011 “Happy birthday to Bill of Rights
√ 12-13-2011 “Grow back the magic mop top
√ 11-28-2011 “More focus on schools welcome
√ 11-16-2011 “Good to see wheel tax fall flat
√ 11-10-2011 “Van Hollen sides with safety
√ 10-25-2011 “Congress should ditch the dollar bill for long-lasting dollar coins
√ 10-25-2011 “Badgers fall from grace
√ 10-19-2011 “Don’t swap one subsidy for another
√ 10-16-2011 “Newspapers ‘play big role’
√ 10-10-2011 “UW-Madison gets welcome re-Ward
√ 10-6-2011 “Don’t dismiss tourism jobs
√ 9-23-2011 “Jobs website a great resource
√ 9-22-2011 “Stop harassing state leaders
5. The Unintentionally Hilarious (or Just Plain Sad) √ 12-21-2011 “Don’t jump to conclusions on jobs
√ 11-29-2011 “Another ‘only in Madison’ moment
√ 11-20-2011 “Farm checks to city folk highlight excess
√ 11-13-2011 “Think big to tame college costs
√ 11-9-2011 “Ribble shows leadership on debt
√ 10-30-2011 “State should reach for two big goals
√ 10-20-2011 “Allow mine with safeguards
√ 10-17-2011 “Keep school notices in print
√ 10-3-2011 “Brains, big money and buzz
√ 9-25-2011 “Jobs bill misses mark
√ 9-16-2011 “More grads, and more jobs,too
√ 9-8-2011 “Chief justice sends strong signal
√ 9-7-2011 “High school games are not commodities
√ 9-5-2011 “Celebrate labor and shared goals
√ 9-2-2011 “Retirements offer opportunity


Revisiting our last comment

OK. We’re gonna take another swing at Voter ID and the comments we made earlier today.  Those earlier comments were inadequate.

Look at this other Wisconsin newspaper editorial — the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Judge Flanagan’s voter ID ruling.  It is fascinating to compare the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial and the Wisconsin State Journal editorial.

The State Journal focuses entirely on the idea that Flanagan had blundered by earlier signing a Walker recall petition. The Journal Sentinel makes the same point in a single sentence, and then goes on to discuss the real issue of importance — voting rights in Wisconsin:

Government should never move to restrict the right to vote; indeed, it should always seek to ensure the widest possible participation.

Furthermore, as Flanagan pointed out in his decision, there has been very little real evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin and almost none of the kind that would be prevented by bringing a photo ID to the polls. This long has been a solution in search of a problem.

And it goes on. They actually repeat the business about Flanagan not doing well to sign recall petitions, but they fundamentally focus on voter ID and the right of citizens to VOTE

Final Score: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 1, Wisconsin State Journal: 0

Brilliant Reader Comments

The Reader by Jean-Honore Fragonard

We were reading the Business section of the New York Times… a column by David Carr (‘The Media Equation’) on the foolishness of corporate pay plans which reward newspaper executives for demolishing their own businesses. That column is here. It’s well worth reading.

Because we wanted to link to it, we put down our hardcopy NY Times, brought up the online edition, and somehow wound up engrossed by the reader comments. Good Lord, we thought, what a relief from the fever swamp over at the Wisconsin State Journal what a refreshing batch of thoughtful comments, we thought.

Why DO some online reader forums attract brilliant reader comments? How do they build an audience of astute — even gifted –commenters, when many other online forums — most — do not?

Look at this on-line comment, reacting to the David Carr column mentioned above. Richard Williamson of Dallas,TX says:

I have always been mystified by the rarified ranks of the uber-execs who command these kinds of salaries in any industry. It seems to be some kind of club like Skull & Bones that once you are admitted, you are set for life. There is no success or failure that will affect your extravagant wealth one way or the other. In fact, the rewards appear to be proportional to the damage you cause, as if the board is worried that you might feel embarrassed and need a few more millions of dollars to soothe your bruised ego. OWS has shown that I’m not alone in feeling like a scullery maid at the Palace of Versailles — grateful to be employed but clueless as to how my master’s world actually works.

Agree or not, this reader is responding to the column, he’s not bickering with other commenters. The sentence about feeling like a scullery maid is actually brilliantly written [at least that’s what we think].

Now look at this comment over at host.madison.com. A reader — let’s call him “Bill” (not his real screen-name) says,

yeah gilley, because it’s all those in the Wisconsin mint that are going to be impacted by changing dollar bills for coins. What a dope.

That’s Bill’s whole comment. Bill isn’t discussing the article; he’s insulting another commenter, gilley. This might be fun for Bill, but it’s certainly unrewarding for every other reader. Now, gilley may return the insult.  If others also join in with off-topic insults, it all quickly becomes worthless. And a great many discussions at host.madison.com do become worthless.

What could help this? How could the frequently-terrible discussions of madison.com develop into something more like what happens at nytimes.com? Let’s compare:

  • New York has a moderator who reviews comments before they appear. The moderator doesn’t edit, but he or she may dump comments. Off- topic or purely insulting comments never see the light of day. Madison may have some policy or other, but off-topic and back-and-forth insults are unfortunately routine. Moderating slows things down, may cause resentment, and is certainly costly. Probably no one likes to have their own comments moderated. On the other hand, it’s the only real way to eliminate those annoying other people, the comment trolls.
  • Use of real names. New York encourages people to use their real names and city,state locations. In Madison standard practice is to choose an anonymous screen name “CDV1244” with no hint of location. Real names almost certainly raise the general level of discourse, although there are abundant reasons for people to comment pseudonymously, such as not losing your job.
  • New York gives the comment reader 3 sensible ways to subset and order the comments for reading. You can choose “All Comments” (self-explanatory) presented in the order posted.  Or, you can choose “Highlights” to see a subset of comments chosen by a NY Times editor. Lastly, you can choose “Reader’s Recommendations”… our favorite.  Readers can give an easy one-click ‘recommendation’ to others’ comments as they read them. The “Reader’s Recommendations” list shows what readers are recommending. In contrast, Madison comment readers have no options for choosing or sorting what they’re reading. Comments are always presented in ‘reverse chronological order’, ideal for people who read books and articles backwards .

There is simply no doubt that the comments at the New York site are an order of magnitude better than at the Madison site. The likelihood of finding brilliant commentary from readers is very high at the New York site. At the Madison site it’s less likely. Is this because Madison or Dane County or southern Wisconsin doesn’t have thousands of very bright people situated in a range of classes, professions, and perspectives? That ain’t the problem.

To see the problem, look at the Madison site’s main pages where the “Most Commented” stories and opinions are constantly (and foolishly) promoted. The “Most Commented” discussions are almost invariably the worst discussions, because they are filled with excited comments by the same serial commenters, rebuking other commenters, “refuting” something someone else just said, and rapidly building a pile (presented in reverse chronological order) of highly repetitive comments. Why exactly would a reader care to plow through this in hope of finding something?

What to do?


  1. Get software that enables “Reader Recommendations.” 
  2. Hire moderators. Moderators don’t need to be expensive hires; they just need to recognize off-topic and insult… not that hard, not that expensive.
  3. That’s all.

But can Madison Newspapers do anything? Parent company Lee Enterprises continues to lose money. Just days ago, Lee Enterprise reported a revenue decline for the year… a 3.3% overall loss. Their digital advertising revenue, however, was up 23%. Could building the premier site for serious public dialog in Madison, Dane County, and southern Wisconsin be a savvy long-term business strategy? There’s no one better positioned to do so.

Why Are Comedy Shows Our Best Sources of Information?

Well… maybe they’re not our best sources of information.  But why are Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report so frequently and so substantially more informative than our newspapers?

We invite any newspaper to show us how they have elaborated the misuse of 501(c)(4) organizations like this (Colbert Report, 9/29/2011). The test is not whether they did it better or worse than Colbert, but whether they even bothered to try.

our editors discuss extreme worthlessness

Making the same mistake he’s made before, Senior Editor J, from the living room, loudly excoriates the State Journal editorial page for its extreme worthlessness.

Other-Senior Editor D pipes up from the kitchen, “Usage! Usage! Once a thing is worthless, that’s the end state.  It can’t get ‘worth less‘ after it’s already worthless. Ergo, the phrase ‘extreme worthlessness’ contains a useless adjective.”

“Well, the words just spring to mind — ‘Extreme Worthlessness!’ Believe me, it happens to everyone…”

“Not to me. Is ‘extreme worthlessness’ different from ‘worthlessness’?”

“You are a stickler, you know that?”

“Yes, Senior Editor J, I am. You are extremely correct.”

“Now you’re just mocking me! What if I say that you, D, are entirely perfect.”

“Well, thank you, I suppose I am.”  ♥