Leadership lesson at Christmastime

December 18, 2017

Inspiration seems harder to come by in the second decade of the 21st Century. Social media’s ascendancy increases our skepticism and makes us more susceptible to snap judgements. We have lower expectations of our leaders. Our millennial generation, with iPhones and smart phones omnipresent, sees fewer and fewer examples of greatness.

That’s what makes Pastor Rick Duncan so special. He’s been proclaiming the Good News at one place, Cuyahoga Valley Church, for more than 30 years. Pastor Rick (as the congregation there knows him) turned the leader reins over to Chad Allen several years ago, but he still regularly takes to the stage and delivers uplifting and yes – even inspirational – messages on Sundays.

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Cuyahoga Valley Church founding pastor Rick Duncan

Yesterday was such an occasion. Usually those attending church at Christmastime expect versions of the Christmas story. Those at Cuyahoga Valley Church have been treated to a great delight this Advent season, a series of sermons titled “Tis the Season” focusing on how we can be better people year-round. Last Sunday (Dec. 10) newly-ordained Josh Stone gave the congregation an advice-filled message about patience this time of year.

Pastor Rick’s message title was “Tis the Season to be Hopeful,” but his message was aimed more at how we should be more effective as leaders. Beginning with a personal example (a less-than-great manager he had during his time in minor league baseball), Duncan presented five characteristics which great leaders “bring” to their relationships with others.  Those characteristics are:

  1. Light not darkness
  2. Insight, not ignorance.
  3. Strength, not weakness.
  4. Constancy, not unpredictability, and
  5. Peace, not strife.

Clothed with words from the prophet Isaiah 9: 2-7, Duncan cited Jesus Christ as the model of great leadership. Here’s one of his examples: When the Pharisees confronted Jesus with a woman “caught in the act” of adultery and opined that Mosaic Law demanded her stoning, Christ used the situation as an opportunity to shine light, not darkness. He challenged all the Pharisees, asking any of them who lived without sin to cast the first stone at the woman. One by one, each accuser turned and walked away. Then, rather than judging the accused woman, Jesus told her to “I do not condemn you either. Go, from now on sin no more. (NASV)” The whole story is in John, Chapter 8.

Duncan concluded his sermon with simple advice to those who are leaders or who are aspiring to leadership positions. He said we should lift up this prayer: “Jesus, be my leader. Help me lead like you.”

Great advice, the type that’s timeless and always applicable in any situation. Thank you Pastor Rick for your leadership lesson. Here’s a link to a video cast of Duncan’s message on December 17.


Also, here’s a link to Pastor Rick’s blog:   http://cuyahogavalleychurch.blogspot.com/

          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

denise rooks

Denise Rooks, 1959-2017

I’ve been so blessed with many caring and loving family members. My sister Denise Rooks left her cancer-ridden body on Friday evening. My brother-in-law Chuck, who needed surgery himself just the day before, made it to Hospice of Medina County earlier in the day and was able to spend some last moments together with his wife of 39 years. In a future post I will say more about my sweet sister Denise. But right now the pain her passing renders me too weak and feeble for the terrific words which her life requires.

For those who knew and loved Denise, calling hours and funeral mass information are on the link below:


FINALLY, for more than a dozen years now I’ve been privileged to serve as part of the “Pause For Prayer” team at Moody Radio Cleveland, WCRF (103.3 FM). This coming week I move from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, delivering a two-minute prayer on the station a few times each day. Here’s a link to the radio station’s website, from where you can also find a live stream.




You make them do WHAT?

November 28, 2017

One of the most engaging activities I do is coach high school speech and debate. I was fortunate to have founded the Brecksville-Broadview Heights modern debate program in 2008, along with Mark McCandless and Lloyd Yeh. In 2013-2014, Revere High School Principal Phil King asked me to take over as coach/adviser for the Revere High School Program. Revere was down to five students in November 2013. Today it is a program with 45 high schoolers and 20+ middle schoolers.

Colleagues and helpers have made us successful at Revere. We have terrific support from our speech and debate boosters. Right now we have three college assistants, Ammar Abidi, David Burnett and Amelia Mainzer, giving us a huge boost in the coaching area as well. We have six seniors in the program this year, the most in recent Revere memory in the program.

(ASIDE – If you ever have doubts about the ability of today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders, here’s a challenge: Come with me any Saturday to a speech and debate tournament and see what other coaches, parents, and I see in our young speakers and debaters.)

anthony national qualifier

Anthony Pignataro Lncoln Douglas debater & 2016 National Qualifier

My personal strengths are on the speaking side of high school speech/debate, but – as fate would have it – Revere has had a traditionally powerful debate program. Within a year’s time at Revere, I became convinced that one of the best “benefits” I could provide to my students was to make them write their own cases and Congressional Debate speeches. I apply this to each and every debater and debate team in all the types of debate we coach at Revere, Lincoln Douglas, Public Forum and Congress.

Other HS programs do their own “school” case for debate resolutions. Only one or two members of the team research and write, and the other team members follow their lead. So if you hear a “PRO” case in a public forum debate tournament from “Team A” of a particular school, you will hear the same case from “Team B” and “Team C” of the same school as well. I’m more interested in developing minds than having the “perfect” case for debating. “Skills not scores,” is the philosophy of a fellow speech and debate coach in Mentor. I agree.

So, why do I force 14, 15, 16, and 17-year-olds to write their own debate cases? Here are ome of the reasons:

  1. It is ideal for strengthening critical thinking skills in students. My debaters tell me how much better they write their high school essays as a result of working on debate cases. For competing in tournaments, They have to correctly analyze a topic, develop critical thinking and communication skills, compose a thesis to support their key point, develop and defend contentions supporting their key point, and do it clearly and concisely.
  2. It improves concentration and focus, helping to reinforce study in academic areas. Research has demonstrated that students who engage in speech and debate have GPAs up to 0.4 higher than those participating in other high school extracurricular activities. One can’t take what’s happening at one high school and say it will apply everywhere, but we certainly see that at Revere, which has an excellent and challenging academic curriculum. There are five juniors at Revere who have earned “perfect” scores of 36 on their American College Test (ACT). Three of them are in speech and debate.

    drake conley sophie.jpg

    Drake Du, Middle School Principal Bill Conley, and Sophie Brandewie, 7th in the nation in middle school Pubic Forum Debate.

  3. It increases the confidence, poise, and self-esteem of our debaters. Having a student standing up and speaking in front of a competitor and a judge can be daunting for a young teen. We talk a lot about overcoming nervousness and those “butterflies” before a speech or debate round in practice. The reality is simple: if a student masters the ability to stand up, argue a case he or she has developed, and then continue an argument against opposing viewpoints, that student gains life-long skills which will help her or him throughout high school, in college, and beyond.
  4. It gives the students a big “leg up” in college admissions. Some of my past competitors have gone on to the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Washington, Harvard, and other “highly competitive’ colleges and universities, including the honors program at The Ohio State University. One of my early HS debaters is now pursuing a Ph.D. at Cal Tech. In a paper titled “Forensics and College Admissions,” Yale University Professor Minh Luong reported that “dedicated participation in drama and debate has significantly increased the success rate of college applicants at all schools which track such data.  State and national award winners have a 22% to 30% higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges “

Claire Jimerson, 2017 Congressional Debate National qualifier

Revere is part of the Ohio Speech and Debate Association and of the National Speech and Debate Association. We had a National Championship competitor in 2016 in Lincoln Douglas debater Anthony Pignataro (now at The Ohio State University) and another in 2017 in Congressional debater Claire Jimerson. We also took two middle school students, Claire Brandewie and Drake Du, to middle school NSDA Nationals in 2017. They had NEVER debated together, yet they finished 7th in the U.S. in Public Forum debate (losing a 2-1 decision in Quarterfinals).

Hard working students, invested parents, and terrific teachers all help account for our success at Revere. But it also stems from us insisting that our students write and work with their own debate cases.



Black Power protest, 49 years later

October 16, 2017

Remember? Remember the Titans?

You may recall this scene, early in the movie, when football players Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier begin fighting over Campbell’s poster of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games protest in their dorm room. Here’s a link to an 80-second snippet from that 2000 sports drama:


black power

L to R: Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos on the platform for the 200-meter medal ceremony, October 16, 1968. Note the Olympic Project for Human Rights badges on the left side of their warm-up jackets.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power stand on the 200-meter dash medal platform took place 49 years ago today – October 16, 1968. It’s worth reflecting on, given recent NFL “take a knee” protests over the National Anthem.

FIRST: CONTEXT IS ESSENTIAL. In 1968 racial inequality threatened to split our nation apart. The Voting Rights and Civil Rights Act had begun to redress decades of injustices, but progress wasn’t coming quickly. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, and as a result riots broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities. There were 45 lives lost and 15,000 arrests in these riots, which (ironically) took place in reaction to the violent killing of the nation’s greatest advocate for non-violent change.

Riots continued in different cities across the US. for months following Rev. Dr. King’s death. In my hometown, seven people (including three Cleveland Police officers) were killed in the Glenville Riots that July.

There was a movement among African American athletes selected for the U.S. Olympic Team to boycott the Summer Olympics. As a group they chose to compete, but some also sought to raise awareness about injustice and inequality, a movement they called the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Others, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chose not to play for the U.S.A. basketball team at the Olympics – personal boycotts based upon conscience.

That is the backdrop to bear in mind when reflecting on what Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and silver medal winner Peter Norman of Australia (who helped Smith and Carlos and was severely punished for it in his apartheid homeland) did that day.

Carlos and Smith knew that they could be suspended from the U.S. Olympic Team for their protest, but reaction was worse than they even realized. International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage (nicknamed “slavery Avery”) ordered Team U.S.A. to suspend the two and then expelled them from the games. They were stripped of their medals and returned home, where public opinion was overwhelmingly against their stand.  Then a sports writer in Chicago, Brett Musburger said Smith and Carlos acted “like a couple of black-skinned storm troopers” who were “ignoble,” “juvenile,” and “unimaginative.” A Time magazine story described their actions as nasty and ugly.

“It was really courageous … they knew that their lives would never be the same,” said Ro Brown, legendary play-by-play voice at the University of New Orleans. The two received death threats for many years afterward.

(Brown did a terrific explanation of the times and the protest stand several years ago. Here’s a link to that video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbLulnayh-E )

LINKAGE, BACK AND FORWARD: Smith and Carlos were following in a tradition and pattern of non-violent protest which Rosa Parks (Montgomery Bus Boycott) Dr. King (Birmingham Civil Rights) and others had set down for more than a dozen years prior to 1968. Parks, Dr. King, and many more took grave personal risks when they protested, going to jail and facing fines and public condemnation.

When Muhammad Ali refused to report to the draft and serve in the Army in 1967, he was also exhibiting a form of non-violent protest. He was convicted of draft evasion, and suspended from boxing for three years in the prime of his career. He sacrificed boxing for his personal beliefs.  (The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971)

Ali, Smith and Carlos took these sacrifices to draw attention to causes, just as Parks and King had done. Their linkage of sports to injustice seemed inappropriate to many. But come 1980, President Jimmy Carter chose to use his influence and power to affect a complete boycott of participation by the U.S. and 65 other nations at the Summer Olympics in Moscow. The reason? The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan months before, and the boycott was part of a multi-pronged effort which the U.S. led to expel the Soviets. Sports became firmly entrenched as a tool in both diplomacy and politics.

Increasingly, athletes – especially professionals – are choosing to sometimes leverage their hero status to take a stand. LeBron James routinely will Tweet support for candidates and causes, as do other superstars. It has become a normal occurrence.

WHY THIS SITUATION IS DIFFERENT: Let’s flash forward to 2017. Four different factors have coincided to make protesting the National Anthem, which then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick initiated last year, far different than what has come before.

  1. Change? Not enough – The election of Barack Obama as our nation’s 44th President meant different things to different elements of our society. African Americans believed that there would be tremendous progress in areas such as inequality under Obama. It didn’t materialize. In reaction, some took to protests and demonstrations. Some of these turned violent. Some white Americans had the same expectations upon going to the ballot box to elect President Obama in 2008 and 2012. They were disappointed, although (of course) no one ever says publicly “I wish I’d voted differently.”   (See No. 3 below.)
  2. Violence, especially against police – Many American view Black Lives Matter and other groups as assaulting a foundational underpinning of our society when they began protesting against police officers. Police officers are held in high regard in our land. Forbes and other media outlets conducting surveys frequently find that police officers are among the Top Ten in “Most Admired” professions in the U.S. A 2014 Gallup Survey found police officers to have the 6th highest ratings among all professions in the area of honesty and ethical standards. Against this backdrop, there has been a campaign against police officers in the media, on college campuses, and in other elements of our society. Cries of police brutality from some – right or wrong – have coincided with a dramatic increase in ambush-style murders of police officers in major cities. Police see themselves as under attack like never before.
  3. The Trump Effect – Donald Trump’s election in November 2016 is in part the political pendulum swinging back in the opposite direction in which it traveled back in 2008. Millions who cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted differently last year. President’s Trump’s base is more conservative, and his support of the American flag, the military, and law enforcement are part of his allure as chief executive. The mass media can no longer be the agenda setting function it once did, as President Trump employs his Twitter account to serve that function.For President Trump, respect of the flag, of the police, and of the military are all core values. He sees “taking a knee” for the National Anthem as both anathema and as a great opportunity to further rally his political base of support. So the protests unwittingly play to his benefit.

4.  A lack of sacrifice – Perhaps the greatest difference between 1968 and 2017 is that today’s protesting athletes have lost trust with a basic tenet which Dr. King Jr. and others realized.  Parks, James Farmer (a predecessor of King’s), Dr. King, and others knew that when they had nothing to gain and everything to lose, protesting the evils of the status quo would draw popular support. Imagines of helpless children being attacked with fire hoses and police dogs (which happened in Birmingham in 1963) tells the story of racial injustice far better than a 2017 millionaire athlete choosing to “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem.  The average NFL player’s salary is $1.9 million. Smith and Carlos gained nothing economically from their protest in Mexico City.










A few things I learned this summer

September 8, 2017

It was a different world when I attended and then graduated from the Cleveland Schools in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The new school year ALWAYS began on the Wednesday after Labor Day, and ended sometime in the second week in June. I was in kindergarten when America’s newest hero was named John Glenn, and none of us back then knew about Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, or the other “Hidden Figure” mathematical geniuses who helped make our manned spaceflights possible.

One assignment on that first day back in school was inevitable: In some way, shape, or form, my classmates and I would have to write about or talk about something learned over the summer. (Oxford comma purists have taken note by now.) So with a nod and accolade of thanks to Rita Doherty at James Ford Rhodes High and some of my other teachers, here’s my submission for the 2017 version of the assignment.

What is causing “Fake News” is worse than we realize. Having worked for a while in Washington DC, and as a lifelong observer of how the media covers our leaders, I’ve never witnessed an internecine struggle that is even close to what has been happening between President Trump and much of the news media. When I bought and read former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s most recent book, The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote, what’s happening came into a clearer, more tragic focus. If you are at all concerned about what is transpiring between the news media and the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, read the book.

Fake News was the subject of the keynote address at the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference last month. It’s also the subject of the Poynter Institute Ethics Workshop at Kent State University on September 21 (see link below). An August encounter with Dr. Jeffrey Gottfried, a Senior Researcher at Pew, at the AEJMC Conference confirmed some of my worst suspicions about the negative effects of the President vs. news media struggle. Americans’ attitude about the role of the news media is more divided, among party lines, than ever in modern times. There is a 42 percent difference between Republicans and Democrats in answering a question about the media’s watchdog role. Look at graph, and at the link below for more details:



This important matter led me to develop a “fake news” module which I share with my students. Below is a link to the Power Point presentation, where I identify four types of fake news and give some “be on guards” against it.

Before I leave the subject, let me add a brief personal observation. They won’t admit it, but news directors and editors – and their bosses – have been experiencing a phenomenon I’ll describe as “coverage remorse.” At times in the 2015-2016 presidential election campaign, major media outlets devoted more time and attention to Donald Trump than all other candidates COMBINED. Rightly or not, they imagine themselves somehow “responsible” for President Trump’s election. So, just like an umpire who makes a bad call one way and then does a “make good” for the other side in an athletic contest, some media outlets feel an obligation to cover Trump more critically as president than they covered Trump the candidate. Rather than elaborating on this, I’m simply going to refer you back to the blog I wrote on Labor Day 2015, when I predicted Trump would win the Republican nomination for President. Here’s that link:

“Fake or Fact?” The Poynter Kent State University Ethics workshop information and registration: http://mediaethics.jmc.kent.edu/

Fake News Fall 17

MOVING ON … Revere Schools’ academics are outstanding, and there is no upper limit on how terrific the students there who choose to engage in speech and debate can become. Revere ended up sending three students to compete in the June 2017 National Speech and Debate Association national championships in Alabama. One, (now) 10th grader Claire Jimerson, qualified and competed in Congressional Debate. Two others, (now) 9th grader Sophie Brandewie and 8th grader Drake Du, competed in middle school Public Forum debate. Claire was the No. 1 ranked debater coming out of her Congress chamber in preliminaries, making her the first Revere competitor in 20+ years to advance at Nationals. One day later, Sophie and Drake advanced to elimination rounds in Public Forum debate. They won their first two debate rounds (one in a unanimous decision), before losing a 2-1 decision in National Quarterfinals. They were debating together for the first time in their lives, and they finished 7th in the U.S.

The average age of these three students – 14. They were all first-year competitors. Claire was opposing students with two, three, even four years of experience. Sophie and Drake opposed debaters who had two or three years of prior middle school competition. Yes, Revere’s students were that outstanding in their Nationals competition.

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Claire Jimerson, Sophie Brandewie, Drake Du represented Revere excellently and shined at NSDA Nationals in June.

I can’t say enough about the great support and encouragement Revere Schools gives to these students, to my college student helpers, to our Revere Speech and Debate Boosters organization, and to me. From the School Board, Superintendent Matt Montgomery, Principal Phil King, the faculty, and (now) middle school Principal Bill Conley, everyone at Revere gets behind our Talking Minutemen heart and soul. Our junior and senior competitors (and we now have nearly 20 of them) are also eager to lead and to share what they’ve learned with younger competitors. It’s a harbinger of even better things to come for about 90 students at the high school and middle school who are telling me they are competing in speech and debate this year. HW +  P + R = Victory. Here’s what I mean:  https://talkingminutemen.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/hw-p-r-victory/

FINALLY …. I am blessed beyond measure. My life is far from perfect, there are plenty of messes. But I thoroughly enjoy teaching at Cuyahoga Community College, and cherish the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of young adults there. I was elected to serve on the National Association of Wabash Men board, and I love the chance to help my alma mater, Wabash College, in this capacity. One of my classes this fall is planning be embedded with refugees from a the ministry Building Hope in the City, and then writing stories about the refugees and the program helping their transition from horrors abroad to a life and new home in Cleveland. I continue to be blessed by a wonderful wife Kathy, a great son Tyler and a loving family, and by being in a community of believers in Christ at Cuyahoga Valley Church.

I’m in my ‘60s – the final quarter of my time on earth. Daily I’m reminded of words which the Apostle Paul wrote to a church in Philippi about 2,000 years ago “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call for God in Christ Jesus.”

I press on, as long as I can to do as much good as I can, and to be as helpful as I can for others.

Thanks for reading this blog, which (no trumpets) I have been writing now for 10 years.

Birmingham lessons worth re-teaching, one day after Charlottesville

August 13, 2017

Events Saturday in Charlottesville led me to re-read a booklet I purchased while visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights institute earlier this summer. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 55 years ago. His words resonate just as powerfully in 2017 as when they were penned in 1962. Confinement in a narrow jail cell afforded Dr. King the opportunity to “write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers,” as he described it.


Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, located across from the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram (West) Park.

His thinking is a masterpiece about civil rights, on the duty of those calling themselves Christians, and of the obligations of all people of good will when confronted with evil. The letter, written to ministers in Birmingham, earned Dr. King both the Nobel Peace Prize and undying admiration all over the globe.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” he wrote. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

In describing the immorality of the political leaders of the time, Dr. King commented that “Lamentable, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily…. groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.” He was describing conditions in Birmingham in 1962, but the words also perfectly depict the horrific actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017.

Dr. King had devised a new strategy for civil rights in the U.S., utilizing non-violent direct action in the face of injustice. Critics of this labeled it extremism. Initially he disliked being called an extremist for this strategy, but over time he came to accept the title, even to extol it. “Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’” He wrote.

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Charlottesville, Virginia, counter protest photo. Source: NBC News

Let’s be clear: Groups which adopt Nazi and KKK symbols and tactics are not advocates of Dr. King’s strategy. Those who practice violence in Charlottesville are criminals, just as are those who have practiced violence in Baltimore and other places in the recent past.

A good portion of “Letters from Birmingham Jail” is dedicated to the obligations of Christians and following laws, and how to determine (and not obey) unjust laws.  Dr. King expressed disappointment at his fellow ministers for their lack of support for civil rights. He called white moderates who failed to see the need of establishing racial justice “dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”


It’s self-examination time. What about you? What about me?

The violent protesters in Charlottesville were young. They all have mothers and fathers, school teachers and coaches, influencers and role models. What was their upbringing? Who taught them what’s bad, good from evil?

The book of Deuteronomy calls upon parents to instruct their children on right from wrong.  Beyond that, the elders and wise men and women in our society should be doing whatever we can to squash evil thinking.  The prophet Micah instructed a nation to “Do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Today, more than 55 years after Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, that lesson needs re-teaching more than ever in our land.

*    *    *

KUDOS to Al Tompkins and Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for their article “How journalists should handle racist words, images and violence in Charlottesville.”  It contains great guidelines including advice on language, politics, and avoiding code words and shorthand writing. Here’s a link:


Finally, I’ve been working on a “What I’ve learned this summer” blog, but put it aside in light of Saturday’s tragic events in Charlottesville. I’ll get that out later this month

Letters from Birmingham jail can be found in many places. Here’s a link to one location, the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University:


Biblical sources: Deuteronomy 6:5-9 (Parts known as the Shema in the Jewish faith)  and Micah 6:8

Birmingham and journalism

July 6, 2017

Recently I had an opportunity to visit Birmingham, and spent some time seeing where some of the most important battles of the Civil Rights era took place. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his famous “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” that April, challenging white ministers in the city to support equal rights for African Americans. Later that spring, Commissioner of Public Safety “Bull” Connor resorted to using high-pressure water cannon and police dogs to disperse protesters, and even used the same tactics on more than a thousand teens and children.

20170621_114407Dr. King and other leaders staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Some were arrested for arranging marches to register to vote. They held protest marches and faced unimaginable violence. Four teen girls died when racists planted and detonated a bomb at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that September, less than three weeks after Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington.

It was also fascinating to learn a bit about the African-American press of that era. The Birmingham Record didn’t assail the city government and public safety for its overtly racist policies at first. African-American papers in other cities were far more critical in their coverage than the hometown paper. Why? Long-time paper editor Emory Jackson had reservations initially about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s choice of Birmingham as a ‘target city’ to fight racial inequality.

But other African American newspapers DID report extensively, mainly those in the North, about the violence. Their editors, reporters, and publishers were geographically shielded from the Ku Klux Klan, the bombings, the arrests, and other overt vestiges of racism. The national media reported extensively on the violence as well. Jackson and the Birmingham Record joined in later as well. There were no African American police officers in Birmingham in 1963, despite the fact that blacks comprised 40 percent of the city’s population.

20170621_112833.jpgJackson put an editorial on the front page of the Birmingham Daily Record after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing. “They were victims of cruel madness, the vile bigotry and the deadly hate of unknown persons,” he wrote. He urged people to “pour into the churches on Sunday, stream to the voter registration offices, make their dollars talk freedom, and build up a better leadership.”

There is a powerful lesson there, one which time and distance should never diminish. A free press is essential to accurate reporting, and fair and accurate reporting is more necessary than ever in democratic nations. Governments (be they Democrat or Republican) will lie, withhold information, and try to slant a story in their favor. The Birmingham News, the “white owned” daily newspaper, actually praised the tactics of Connor and the police in 1963.

That’s probably another important difference between 54 years ago and today. The “mainstream” media is much more attuned to injustice and wrong-doing. One of the reasons why the national coverage of Ferguson was so extensive a few years ago is the strong sense in the journalism community that justice in the United States is STILL not equal, 50-plus years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Dr. King: We’ve made a lot of progress since your “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. But there’s still a long way to go until all God’s children are truly “free at last.”

*             *             *             *             *             *          

“How has journalism become so messed up?”

Hundreds have asked me that question in the past few years. The explanation is complicated, because journalism now has so many players involved to a much greater extent than ever before. By “players” I’m referring to a lengthy list: PACs and Super PACs; “non profits” that are exerting huge influence on media coverage through spending millions of dollars; corporations, who use their power to sway both the media and government to get their way with regulations and laws; public relations agencies with greater reach than ever before; lawyers; think-tank organizations that wield substantial power in the Beltway encompassing Washington; savvy social media organizations that create “grassroots” support of or opposition against candidates and/or causes; and political operatives far more concerned about “their side” wining than that truth; and – let’s admit it – smear merchants, operating and interacting with friends in the media for decades now, whose professional goal has become to demonize and destroy the personal lives of anyone (journalists, private citizens, candidates) who oppose their client’s agenda.

Sharyl Attkisson has done our democracy a tremendous service with her latest work, titled “The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake New CONTROL What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote.” If you want to understand journalism today, it’s a must-read book. But be warned – this isn’t a “take it to the beach” page-turner. Your blood pressure is bound to go up as you walk through Attkisson’s chapters, regardless of your political affiliation.

smearI’m not through reading the entire book yet, but after about 100 pages I can unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who has wondered what’s happened to the practice of professional journalism in the last quarter century. Attkisson, who was with CBS News for about 20 years, provides an authoritative explanation, and she also has the benefit of “insider” knowledge of the gatekeeper and editorial decision-making processes.

Here’s a quote from Attkisson’s introduction:

“We in the news media have allowed ourselves to become co-opted by political, corporate, and other special interests. We permit them to dictate this story du jour. We let them dominate the opinions we consult and quote….We’ve become a willing receptacle for, and distributor of, daily political propaganda. And because we invite both sides to feed us, we call it fair. In many ways, some media outlets have become little more than thinly veiled political operations.” (Page 5)

Attkisson doesn’t pull punches. She writes the way she reported when with CBS, fearlessly. You won’t feel good about what you discover, but at least you’ll get a better sense of how we arrived at where we are in 2017.


Mangun, Kimberly, “Emory O Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the fight for civil rights in Alabama”



Media Memo IV, to the White House

May 12, 2017

TO:   Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others advising President Trump

FROM:   John Kerezy, an associate professor at a community college who’s also practiced public relations for 30+ years

RE:   Timing of negative news in the digital/mobile news cycle

DATE:   Friday, May 12, 2017 at 4 in the afternoon

This is the precise day of the week and the moment of the day in which you should have announced the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

  1. Major news media outlets go into “weekend” mode by late Friday. The bad news released on a Friday afternoon doesn’t travel as long, or have as much legs, as something bad dropped on a Tuesday afternoon.
  2. It’s too late for the news networks to make major changes in the Sunday morning news analysis programs, so the bad news gets minimized on those programs.
  3. You know that negative coverage is inevitable in many instances. But you can mitigate it by better managing of when it happens. The late Larry Speakes, deputy press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, said, ”You don’t tell us how to stage the news and we don’t tell you how to cover it.”
  4. You lose opportunities to focus on tax cuts or other aspects of the Trump Administration’s policies when you have to keep dealing with negative news.
  5. You might have reduced President Trump’s need to Tweet explanations of the firing by at least 50 percent, thus keeping a national focus on much more important matters which our nation faces.

That’s it. Good luck in convincing the boss of this in the future.






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