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January 2003

The Year of
Switching Commanders
Up the Ivory Tower

Dispatches from the Front by Burl Burlingame

7/2/03 Press-ing problems
There was some sort of problem with the MidWeek press Saturday night and the Sunday Star-Bulletin was delayed in some areas. That press wasn't really geared to run 24-7, and so we're certainly getting our money's worth out of it.
There was a more-than-idle rumour going around the Gannett Advertiser a few weeks ago that David Black was going to buy the Advertiser when Gannett puts it on the market. That's pretty funny. It then settled into a rumour that Black was actually only going to buy the new press facility being built out in Kapolei, and Gannett would lease it to run the Advertiser. Now THERE'S speculation with teeth! Relieved of that capitol-improvement burden, but getting the benefit of it, the Gannett paper would be an easier sale to another chain -- and they could fire all their pressmen and prep crew.
In bizarre idle rumours over on our side, some were wondering how the Advertiser would get newsprint in the event of a strike -- unlikely -- or in a strike at the Hilo paper -- likely. Some of the Sports guys even wondered if Gannett would air-lift newsprint into Honolulu. I can't imagine the cost of doing that. But an editor pointed out that in the event of a strike, Gannett would just contract the printing out elsewhere. Probably with the MidWeek press! Sure, we'll take their money.

7/4/03 Gannett still slipping on those bananas
Let's muse on the notion of a free and independent press on this Independence Day. Gannett's Cincinnati Enquirer will celebrate by destroying their reporters' notes on the notorious Chiquita investigative series. Gannett executives were so anxious to grovel before Chiquita that they ignored their own canons of ethics. Even Editor & Publisher notes that Gannett has shown such a blindness to the bigger journalistic issues at stake in the Chiquita affair that we think only a "Fahrenheit 451" end will suffice. The notes should burn -- and the Enquirer should be forced to live with the consequent stench.

7/5/03 Who owns history?
It was another sleepless, horrible night, and I finished reading Martin Harwit's "An Exhibit Denied -- Lobbying the History of the Enola Gay." This is one scary book, about how well-meaning people of various political persuasions can come to loggerheads, and all of us lose in the process.
The book didn't change my original opinion of the affair -- the Smithsonian curatorial staff was naive in believing that well-reasoned scholarship would win out over ruthless political orthodoxy in an exhibit as emotionally charged as the dropping of the first atomic bomb -- but the book provides many details of the Air Force Association's plan to derail and whitewash any suggestion that people died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Well, you can't blame the AFA for that. They are a highly organized lobbying organization dedicated to making the Air Force look good. That's their job. They outmaneuvered the Smithsonian, which wasn't difficult, as the museum is prevented by law from lobbying for itself.
What was appalling at the time was the way the national press bought the AFA's line without checking out the facts. It was as if the nation's newspapers were competing to prove how "patriotic" they were by slamming historians and scholars and cozying up to retired generals with a personal axe to grind.
At the time, I FOIA'd the working script of the exhibition, read it, and discovered that the AFA was twisting the facts in many of its assertions. Apparently, this was something few, if any, newspapers did, and hardly any of them even contacted the Smithsonian to get a balancing quote. They simply entered a feeding frenzy of intellectual dishonesty, basing their columns on what other papers had written!
I wrote an OpEd piece for the Star-Bulletin, deploring the press' rush to judgment and the chilling effect such actions have on a nation's intellectual discourse. A year or so later, I met Smithsonian curator Tom Crouch, and he said -- to my surprise! -- that my little piece was on the bulletin board at the Smithsonian. We had been one of the few newspapers in the country to support the concept of scholarship over dogma, the notion that rigorous self-examination was critical to a democratic and informed society.
I learned from Harwit's book that only two other publications stuck up for telling the truth in museum exhibits -- The New York Times and USA Today! How scary is that?

7/6/03 And a happy birthday to my pal Kathy!
Kathy Shockley Weber is my oldest friend. Literally. She turns 50 today! We met when we were 15, hanging around the science-fiction section of the Hickam base library. The picture at left was taken about that time (check out the That Girl 'do!) and the one at right a few years ago when we were measuring Civil War artillery pieces in the Bay Area. (Don't ask!) The strip above, I drew for the paper last year and it pretty much summed up my feelings about being a military brat. Most service kids don't keep in contact, but Kathy and I have never been out of touch, not even for a week. I just adore her. It's a good thing our spouses and ex-spouses were so understanding ...

7/8/03 Thousands for lawyers, and not a penny for proofreaders!
Oopsie at the Gannett Advertiser. I don't usually pick on them for layout and typo problems -- goodness knows, we have enough of our own -- but this was too embarrassing. The Tiser did a fabulous story Sunday on inner workings at the Honolulu Police Department, and it reads fine online. But in the print edition, the layout on Page A-1 was so bolloxed that the lede and first several inches of the story vanished. After spending something like $150,000 on legal fees for the story, it's too bad they don't have a nice clipping to put in the scrapbook.
Our own fabulous story Sunday was a lengthy OpEd piece by critics of University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle. The guy is making piles of money, and so are all the friends he's hired as hangers-on, while University programs go begging. He makes more than the president of the University of California! And with less result. My own feeling is that Dobelle hasn't really had enough time to truly make over the University. At the same time, anyone paid that kind of public money should have every move monitored closely.
The larger and unspoken issue, of course, is the built-in, second-class-citizen inferiority complex that hangs heavy over Hawaii citizens and politicians. We throw tons of money away in futile, embarrassing efforts to prove we're as good as any other state. Instead pursuing a small and excellent public policy, we max out our public credit on showy, lame, feel-good crap. It's like Switzerland deciding it wants to be New York City. Be the best you can be at what you are, instead of an also-ran in someone else's game.

7/10/03 Put your mouth where your money is
I was putting a dollar in the soda machine and noticed these words stamped on it, as if George Washington were speaking I GREW HEMP. Yes, the father of our country did grow hemp. But did he partake in doobage? I cannot tell a lie -- I dunno. But I was struck by the clever way this political message is being passed on. Another clever site is which keeps a running tally of stamped dollar bills and where they've been. But anyway, if you want your slogan to go nationwide at little cost, stamp it on a dollar. Attica! Attica! say. Or maybe Nuke the Gay Baby Whales. Or Keep This Dollar in Circulation Or the Terrorists Win! Or even This Is One Dollar That is Not in Doug McCorkindale's Scrooge McDuck-Like Money Vault In Which He Swims Through the Currency Naked ...

7/11/03 Gotta ramble on ....
*It's been too long since we heard from the bouncy Green Bay Ray, who points out, among other things, that there is a website devoted to marked-up money at And also, up there in the Land of Butter, that is, Wisconsin, Ray reports that Gannett is still snuffling around the edges of the campfire, drooling in the darkness: BTW, the SOBs at Gannett are after us again. They're putting out a real estate book to go after ours, and they outbid us for the rights to print the county legal notices. Two years ago, we bid 25 cents a line, they bid 55; this time, we bid 22 and they bid 16, or about 15 percent of the maximum. You can bet the other Big G papers in the state aren't that generous to government... Here in Hawaii, they're doing the same to lure the military-paper business away, making big promises and pouring so many freebies into the deal that they can't make a profit on it -- unles they control the market and turn around and screw their customers. No chance of that, right?
*The freebies Gannett gives the local military press are pretty amusing in the light of their high-handedness regarding the comped trip KITV took to Japan. Even Ian Lind, not normally wowed by the high moral ground afforded by vast resources, has been taken in. He intimates that the Star-Bulletin is taking it easy on KITV because we have a tenuous working relationship with the station. Ian's not reading the newspaper again, but then he also took credit for triggering high-level doubts about Dobelle that led to our Dangerous Equations piece. Apparently the mainstream media in Honolulu are being deliberately and masterfully manipulated by Dobelle and his boys only because they're so frightened of Honolulu Weekly...
*To be fair, Gannett Advertiser articles on Dobelle so far should have a "Puff Piece" warning label ...
*I did say I don't like to point out typos (there but for the grace of God....) but I did like this one in the new Honolulu magazine. An article by the Star-Bulletin's Chris Dudley about Hawaii rodeo has a photo caption referring to a rider who is "undentified." Does that mean he's toothless?
*Oh, Gannett has been annoying the British again.
*And finally, in the sensitive style only the daily Sun can provide, is the story of a toy gone horribly wrong. Didn't stop a lady friend in the newsroom from trying to order one, though....

7/14/03 The world is gray, not black and white, but a little taupe and puce would be kicky
"Dangerous Equations," last week's pointed essay on University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle's spending habits, was responded to by Dobelle himself this week in "Embracing Hope," a fine, fluffy egg cream of boosterism rhetoric.
More interesting is the web site created to capitalize on (presumed) public fascination with the subject. It takes the original essay, adds footnotes and bibliography (you can take the kid out of of college, but not the college out of the kid) and invites public discourse. Well, sort of. It's a site with a naked agenda (like THIS one isn't!) and we'll have to see if they post materials counter to their screed.
There is no link to Dobelle's piece, for example. (After months of complaining about UH administration, Ian ignored it too, as well as the Gannett Advertiser's Johnny-come-lately article on the UH money crisis.)
I'm not sure how I feel about the new site. I guess it depends on how they play the game. On one hand, it's always good to question the actions and motives of those in power, particularly power that comes from our tax dollars, and anything that stirs up a a vigorous dialectic is a good thing for all of us.
On the other hand, they've taken Star-Bulletin content, taken it out of context and have altered it while still claiming it is Star-Bulletin content. They don't appear to understand that journalism is a process of discovery and reportage, not an excuse to publicize position papers and campaign platforms.
On the other, other hand, it's not really a Star-Bulletin piece. It's a private work we recognized the public value of and ran precisely because stimulates more questions. They came to us because they perceive that the Star-Bulletin is more fair than other publications.
On the other, other, other hand, the UH regents have been totally silent on the issue, and they're the ones who actually run the university.

7/16/03 That clinking, clanking, clunking sound, it makes the world go 'round
Gannett was so thrilled with its second-quarter profit statements yesterday that they were broadcast "live" via webcam at And why not? Despite the war in Iraq, profits are way up. But once again, that will make it difficult to act poor-mouth during Gannett Advertiser contract discussions. If the Tiser isn't going to make a 20 to 30 percent profit margin, Gannett may dump it .... but on the other hand, Gannett continues to hoover up every small publication they can in Hawaii, either to control them or kill them.

7/18/03 Working hard or hardly working?
Actually it had been a long night for artist Dave Swann -- his 13-year-old Accord was carjacked. He yelled and beat on the car but the perp just smiled at him and drove away. It was recovered two days later. My own car was stolen out of the Sun Press parking lot back in the '70s and a decade later the police called and said it had been recovered. Well, all that was left was the chassis, found in a vacant lot.

7/24/03 Big news always breaks when you're out of town
Terrible traffic accident out on the Leeward Coast, U.S. troops finally put the hammer down on Amscray and Ebay Hussein, some basketball player is accused of doing somethng to someone in some hotel room somewhere ... but check out the image at left, caught in a Congo photo trap set by wildlife photographer Karl Ammann a couple of years ago. It's a chimpanzee-like creature approximately five feet tall. It's also clearly bipedal, and the long forearms are NOT held in the "knuckle-walk" posture favored by chimps. Hair and fecal fragments indicate different DNA from chimps or gorillas, footprint impressions are far bigger than any other ape (including gorillas), and skeletal remains show a pronounced sagittal crest on the skull. Folks have been looking for the so-called Bondo Mystery Ape for a century or so. A new species of great ape -- or a tribe of giant chimps? This week new videotape evidence by primatologist Shelly Williams emerged that was aired on CNN for a few hours, then vanished. Could be another case like the infamous De Loys Ape photo, or an honest-to-gosh new species. The De Loys picture has always given me the creeps. Hey, and what about that China Ape?

7/26/03 Monkey business
The Star-Bulletin's resident primatologist, Nancy, spotted several inconsistancies in the stories about recent sightings of the Bondo Mystery Ape and she says it's probably hooey. Even so, it's far more interesting than any Kobe Bryant story.

7/28/03 The greatest compliment?
Speaking of aping, as Ian pointed out yesterday, the Gannett Advertiser will start eSpree, an online bidding service based wholly on the Star-Bulletin's Bidding Advantage. I knew it was coming, but didn't know when. Apparently, Thursday. Shrug. The Gannett paper pilfering ideas from their competition is business as usual, particularly at the Advertiser, which has a long history of copycatting. Even when it looked like the Star-Bulletin was going to shut down and Gannett pretended to interview our staff for "positions" at the Tiser, the editors were primarily interested in grilling our people about ideas they could steal. They quickly implemented a couple of mine, and I wish I'd only given them name, rank and Social-Security number ...

7/31/03 Joint Operating Meltdown
The demise of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin/Honolulu Advertiser Joint Operating Agreement, or JOA, was plotted on secretly by Gannett, and badly mishandled by the G-men. It blew up in their faces. Since then, any tension fissures in other JOAs around the country are being played out in public. Seattle is having a JOA rondelay at the moment that seems like a public bitch-slapping.
NEXT! August 2003
Software and Hard Times

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