A lie by any other name …

One of these days, a bold newspaper may run a banner headline that says:


It would delight or enrage readers, depending on political perspective, and set off endless rounds of debate in the media business about the propriety of publishing such a thunderbolt.

Old-timers in the news business, especially copy editors, would appreciate the adaptation of a famous 1975 New York Daily News headline to our current contentious political atmosphere. When President Gerald Ford refused to bail out New York City, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, the tabloid Daily News screamed:


Although the headline was not literally accurate – Ford didn’t say “drop dead” — it captured the essence of the Republican president’s conservative aversion to the city’s liberal spending ways. It also clearly conveyed to city leaders they would have to dig their way out of their mess, which they did. The headline stoked an emotional outcry and may have cost Ford the presidency in 1976.

As a longtime copy editor who wrote thousands of headlines, I appreciate how those five words cut through traditional journalistic caution. It smacked readers in the face with the harsh facts of life. To my mind, it spoke the truth.

Today, the nation’s newspapers and media outlets are wallowing in a paralysis of analysis as the president of the United States repeatedly makes baseless claims, repeats allegations proven to be false, denies photographic evidence and dismisses scientific findings.

Is it accurate and fair in some instances to call President Trump a “liar,” meaning that he makes a false statement with the intent to deceive? How can journalists know that? Aren’t they getting into editorializing and undermining their credibility?

On the other hand, if the president of the United States does intend to deceive the American people – which can raise frightening implications – newspapers and media outlets are derelict in their responsibility to inform the American people if they hide the truth in euphemisms.

If you want to know why the New York Times will go with the word “lie,” click here. For NPR’s more cautious stance, click here.

Personally, I would prefer that journalists not get hamstrung by excessive intellectual debate. Some things are hard to define but clearly apparent. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart   said in 1964 about hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Life is a good teacher. I feel I am awash in a sea of lies.

Posted in journalism, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who’s in charge of the Kings — and who will tell us?

see no evil monkeysAs the Sacramento Bee, like newspapers and media outlets across the country, wrestles with how to deal with lies, baseless claims, misstatements and “alternative facts” on the nation’s political stage, let me suggest the newspaper get some practice with mere King-size shenanigans.

As a start, the Bee should delve into the claim made by Kings general manager Vlade Divac that he was fully responsible for the stunning trade of DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Divac insists the team’s primary owner, Vivek Ranadive, did not instigate the trade and the public humiliation of Cousins at an All-Star Game news conference Sunday evening.

“I just told him what I am going to do,” Divac said. “He has full faith in me to do basketball decisions.”

Two weeks ago, Divac publicly declared that Cousins would not be traded. In fact, he told ESPN the Kings were leaning toward signing their All-Star to a five-year contract worth about $219 million.

Was Divac fibbing then or is he fibbing now? Is he a general manager given to wild impulses and unpredictable changes?

Followers of the Kings know that Ranadive has meddled in basketball matters, even suggesting the team could learn a thing or two from his 12-year-old daughter’s basketball squad. But Ranadive has assumed a lower profile since the days when he was hailed for keeping the Kings in Sacramento. One might almost think the owner is in hiding.

Although the  trade comes as a relief to many fans, myself included, who were fed up with Cousins’ tantrums and losing ways, the timing was lousy and the immediate benefits meager. Other than a chance to start fresh, the sudden trade throws the team into disarray, scuttles its chances for a Western Conference playoff spot and challenges fan loyalty.

Is Divac the guy responsible for all this, and is he the fellow in charge of the Kings’ future?  Or is someone else pulling the strings?

The Sunday evening trade seems to have caught the Bee, Sacramento’s only daily newspaper, completely by surprise. That morning, the sports section featured two stories: how coach Dave Joerger had the Kings in the hunt for a playoff spot and how Cousins intended to go all out to help his team.

Today, the paper was awash with trade stories, compiled by five different reporters, and yet there was no effort to go beyond Divac’s dubious account. I saw no quotes from Ranadive, other team owners, coach Joerger, Cousins, Cousins’ former teammates, Kings president Chris Granger or even former Mayor Kevin Johnson.

I’m sure fans who buy season tickets, as well as city residents worried about paying off the arena debt, would like to know what the heck is going on with the Kings.



Posted in Basketball, Sacramento Kings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kings show no class in trading Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

With typical duplicity and lack of class, the honchos running the Sacramento Kings  decided to dump DeMarcus Cousins amid all the showcase glitter of the NBA All-Star Game.

After years of proclaiming their loyalty to Cousins, team manipulators cut their franchise player loose in embarrassingly public fashion. Cousins apparently learned of the trade during a whispered conversation smack in the middle of a postgame news conference last night. A short while later, his manager tweeted from a private jet: “We don’t even know where to go.”

Just two weeks ago, Kings general manager Vlade Divac declared: “We’re not trading DeMarcus.” In fact, he told ESPN the Kings were leaning toward signing their All-Star to a five-year contract worth about $219 million.

For the record, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, where he will join star Anthony Davis, who scored a record 52 points in yesterday’s All-Star Game. The deal gives the Pelicans a strong chance of gaining the eighth and last playoff spot in the Western Conference while crushing the Kings’ hopes for that position.

In return for giving up probably the best big man in the NBA (and forward Omri Casspi),  the Kings got rookie guard Buddy Hield, ex-King Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and 2017 first- and second round draft picks.

In another surprise for local fans, ESPN said the Kings are expected to waive Matt Barnes later today to make the necessary roster room to complete the Cousins deal, which still needs NBA approval.

The trade drew the ridicule of seasoned observers of sports-world follies.

Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports said:

This deal is so bad for the Kings it not only solidifies them as the most inept team in the NBA, it might cement them firmly as the most sad team in all of sports. It’s that bad.

USA Today called the deal one of the six worst NBA superstar deals ever and said:

We know this much: The Kings got absolutely fleeced in their trade of DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Fox Sports’ Nate Scott  had this to say about Kings primary owner Vivek Ranadive:

This latest trade is more proof that this franchise under him has been nothing but incompetent. Interior squabbles, coaches forced out too soon, lopsided trades, poor play … it’s all there. This is the latest embarrassment for the franchise under Ranadive, and it’s the biggest one. I never thought their “we’ll just play four guys on defense and have a cherry picker” plan would be outdone, but here we are.

Tom Ziller of SB Nation believes the deal will hurt the Kings for years:

Now they have little to show for ever having had Cousins in the first place. Wait, that’s not true. They do have something to show for the Boogie era: the burning wreckage of his tenure, a mess that will continue to smolder for years to come.






Posted in Basketball, Sacramento Kings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Eleanor Rigby” got her through the pain of Vietnam

Ah, look at all the lonely people!
Ah, look at all the lonely people!
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church
Where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing a face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
— From “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, 1966

For baby boomers who came of age during the 1960s, a reference to the melancholy song  “Eleanor Rigby” can easily evoke sad, dark aspects of that era. It was a mood piece fit for many lonely nights.

At the time, I didn’t associate it with Vietnam. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary was my theme song back then. It captured the dislocation and uncertainty brought on by the war and the draft. But the other day, while reading a New York Times story on women who had served in Vietnam as military nurses and Red Cross workers, I came across a searing reference to “Eleanor Rigby.”

The account, written by Heather Stur, an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and author of “Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era,” went this way:

Emily Strange was a young woman who had signed up with the Red Cross in the late 1960s. She was part of the Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas program, designed to improve troop morale, soothe emotional wounds and provide a “touch of home” for the troops, a reminder of wives, girlfriends, mothers and sisters.

From 1965 through 1972, nearly 630 women served in Vietnam through the program. Some staffed recreation centers on large bases where servicemen could shoot pool, listen to music, read, play games, write letters or sit and talk. Others traveled, usually by helicopter, to fire-support bases in remote areas where troops waited to go into battle.

Strange was stationed in the Mekong Delta with the Ninth Infantry Division and Mobile Riverine Force. She became friends with a soldier named Michael Stacy. She had become close with Stacy because they both played guitar, and they often strummed folk tunes together. But after he died in a helicopter crash in March 1969, she realized that she needed to put distance between herself and the guys she worked with. So she stopped learning their names and stopped becoming their friends.

Long after the war, Strange says she believes there were probably guys she had encountered whose names went onto the Vietnam Wall. But she does not have to face the pain of knowing for sure. It was Strange’s job to make lonely, frightened soldiers feel better, and she had to show up and do her job despite the fear and isolation she herself felt. She called it putting on her “Eleanor Rigby” face that she kept in a jar by the door.

Posted in Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oroville Dam fears make for a restless night

I’m grateful sirens didn’t awaken me during the night. An anxiety dream about my endangered house was bad enough. The early morning news reports are a bit encouraging. But still, the Oroville Dam crisis is scary. The size of the dam, built in 1968, and the deterioration of the main and emergency spillways are unnerving. It’s no wonder close to 190,000 residents in towns and cities near the dam left their homes Sunday.

One hour after I heard evacuations were ordered near the dam, the tallest in the United States at 770 feet high, I went to an ATM and got a supply of cash. When I returned home, my wife asked me whether I had put gas in the car. She was watching the televised aerial views of vehicles filling up Northern California roadways. We discussed what we might need to pack and where we might go. Was our cardboard cat carrier strong enough to hold our cat, Zack, now a muscular 13-pounder? Were important documents stored in a safe place?

I’m sure scenes like this were playing out all over Sacramento, considered the second-riskiest city in the country for flood danger. New Orleans is first. That’s not a distinction you want when you live 75 miles downriver from a troubled dam holding back a reservoir containing 3.5 million acre-feet of water.

Our Land Park home is less than a mile east of the Sacramento River and sits in a designated floodplain. As a longtime Sacramentan who still gets chills thinking of the floods of 1986 and 1997, I didn’t hesitate to renew our federal flood insurance through the past five years of drought conditions.

I feel reasonably confident the diversion weirs upstream from Sacramento and the recently strengthened levees around the city will get us through the present crisis. Check out this Bee interview with a local expert for more assurances.

But the Sacramento and American rivers are running high from the near-record rainfall this season, and another storm is headed our way later this week. Shasta Lake, which is even bigger than Lake Oroville, has risen 25 feet since the start of February and was at 92 percent capacity a few days ago. Folsom Lake, which receives flows from three forks of the American River, rose 33 feet in the past week, according to the S.F. Chronicle.

At this time, the thousands who fled their homes have received no word on when they might be allowed to return home. Although the main dam itself appears safe, the stability of both spillways remains in doubt and the effect of erosion is uncertain.

It is disturbing to learn that federal and state agencies in 2005 rejected concerns by three environmental groups about the safety of the earthen emergency spillway, according to the San Jose Mercury News. In a motion filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the groups said Oroville Dam didn’t meet modern safety standards. They raised these points:

In the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream.

The agencies rejected the need for such repairs, perhaps partly because of pressure from some big water contractors opposed to incurring higher costs.

The wide, sudden crack in the concrete main spillway should be the focus of future investigation. I have to wonder how the spillway could have passed inspection in recent years.

For the time being, let’s hope nature gives Northern California a break.

Posted in Sacramento | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment