Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Declaration of media independence

A journalism professor has issued a manifesto to turn the media upside down.
He declares that the media and journalism schools must “jettison the illusions of neutrality that have hampered their ability to monitor the centers of power” and develop “real critical thinking for students.”
The professor is Bob Jensen of the University of Texas, Austin. He comes from a profession not known for radicalism. Yet Jensen has written what may be the most radical statement ever made by a journalism professor.
His manifesto continues: “Journalism’s business problems provide an opportunity for journalism education to remake itself. It should start with a declaration of independence from the mainstream media and a renunciation of the corporate media’s allegiances to the existing power structure.”
Jensen, writing recently for the online CommonDreams, said “if journalism education is to be relevant in the coming decades, we must change course dramatically.”
Jensen sees the world on the brink of disaster: political, cultural, economic and ecological. He particularly frets about the tremendous gap between the rich and the poor.
Then, like a latter-day Marxist prophet, he argues truly: “We face a world that is profoundly unjust in the distribution of wealth and power and fundamentally unsustainable in our use of ecological resources.”
The traditional way of the media and journalism schools is woefully inadequate for a world with multiplying crises.
Jensen: “The task of journalism is to deepen our understanding of these challenges and communicate that understanding to the public” while fostering “meaningful dialogue necessary for a real democracy.”
Journalists, he rightly argues, are “trapped in corporate-directed subservience to the status quo. What is needed is a journalism that ”speaks truth to power” instead of echoing “the platitudes of the powerful.”
“In a world in which an increased predatory global capitalist economy leaves half the population living on less than $2.50 a day, can we ignore the cry for justice?”
No, we can’t.
Jensen ends with a ringing call: “Mass media have a moral responsibility to produce journalism for justice.”
Yet few journalism faculties will even discuss Jensen’s argument. They prefer what they always have done.
As Jack Newfield of the Village Voice wrote decades ago: “The men and women who control the media are not neutral, unbiased computers. They believe in capitalism, God, the West, the family, property and the two-party system. These are the values in society in which publishers, editors and reporters operate.”
While some newspaper staffers agree with Jensen, they will not speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
Certainly journalism schools should train students for media jobs. But they must “search for the values and ideas that can animate a just society.”
The sacred canon of objectivity is the overwhelming problem of the media.
Journalists report the he said-she said but leave the truth dangling. Journalists too often rely on official sources, leaving out essential truths.
The late Molly Ivins put it well: “The press has always had a tendency to assume that the truth must lie halfway between any two opposing viewpoints. Thus, if the press presents the man who says Hitler is an ogre and the man who says Hitler is a prince, it believes it has done its journalistic duty.”
The media value impartiality more than validity.
Jensen writes in his book “Citizens of the Empire”: “I want to examine the intellectual and political collapse of the United States and confront the sense of alienation and isolation that so many feel in the face of the triumphalism common in the country.”
He wants Americans--and hence the media--to confront the “illegal and immoral war on Afghanistan.” He wants them to confront the fact that America has no business being in Iraq. He wants them to summon up “the courage to stop being Americans and become human beings.”
In another online essay, Jensen urges Americans to face their terrible war culture, face their everlasting wars, face their grotesque interventions in the affairs of other nations and their desire for world dominance.
As Henry Giroux has written in the online Truthout: “War is so anesthetized by the dominant media that it resembles an ad for a tourist industry.”
Jensen wants to change this. Perhaps he is hopelessly optimistic. But if the media abandon their bogus neutrality they have the power to make this a more civilized and humane nation.
A media drumfire against the injustices of wars and wrong-headed policies could put this country on the path of righteousness.
Even a CEO of Coca-Cola once admitted that the worst media trait is “preoccupation with objectivity and balance at the expense of context, perspective and judgment.”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Danish cartoons spawn gutlessness

The Yale University Press has carried political correctness to amazing depths: it has published a book about the 12 controversial Danish cartoons without printing a single one of them!
It is as if an author wrote a life of Christ without mentioning the Sermon on the Mount, omitting the Good Samaritan parable or failing to cite the passage from John about the woman “taken in adultery.”
Muslims worldwide were incensed by the cartoons, particularly one showing the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.
Rioting, burning and vandalizing ensued. About 200 people were killed. Ambassadors were withdrawn. A boycott of Danish goods was demanded.
But what provoked such outrage was difficult for Americans to assess. Almost no U.S. newspaper printed the cartoons. This censorship is understandable. Newspapers are short on courage.
Even the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, supposedly devoted to truth and learning, did not show one cartoon at a seminar supposedly about the Danish cartoons. What a wonderful lesson for journalism students: it’s OK to censor some things.
Irony aside, censorship is inexcusable in the Academy. And it is inexcusable for a university press.
The Yale book is called “The Cartoons That Shook the World” yet readers are unable to see what is so world-shaking.
The press also refused to publish such an innocuous illustration of Muhammad as a drawing for a children’s book. It refused to publish a sketch by French artist Gustave Doré showing the prophet being tormented, a scene from Dante’s “The Inferno.” Never mind that the scene has been depicted by famed artists like Blake, Botticelli, Dali and Rodin.
Reza Aslan, author and religious scholar, rightly deplored publishing the book without illustrations.
“What kind of a publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?” he asked. “This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. It’s not just academic cowardice. It is just silly.”
So let’s give an award to the Yale University Press: the Most Gutless Publisher in History.

Only in America
Sarah Palin, the erstwhile governor of Alaska and whilom pretender to the vice presidency, is a dimwit with nothing important to say. Yet the publisher of her 400-page memoir has already printed 1.5 million copies.
As the great H.L. Mencken wrote: no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

Ad link curse
The newspaper business has always been plagued by its reliance on advertisers.
The latest baneful example comes from Hartford, Conn. The consumer affairs columnist for the Hartford Courant was fired for the “crime” of offending advertisers.
The columnist, George Gombossy, had been with the Courant for 40 years. He started the consumer watchdog column three years ago after getting excellent performance reviews as business editor for 12 years. His popular column was heavily promoted by the paper.
But things changed in March. The Chicago-based Tribune Company took over the Courant and installed a business manager as publisher.
Gombossy was pressured by the new management to “be nice” to the angry advertisers. But he rightly insisted that “being nice” was a gross violation of newspaper ethics.
The last straw for management was his column about a state investigation of Sleepy’s, a mattress maker and a major advertiser. Sleepy’s was accused of selling used mattresses as new.
Gombossy was fired in August. “Crime” does not pay.

Chronicle deserves to die
I wrote this letter to the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I sympathize with the terrible plight of the newspaper business in this Digital Age, circulation declining and advertising plummeting. But severe dilution of the quality of your paper will hardly reverse the trend.
“You no longer publish Mark Morford, acerbic and excellent essayist. You no longer publish liberal columnist Robert Scheer,. You no longer publish liberal columnist E.J. Dionne. But you do publish many rabid conservatives.
“When you tear the guts out of your newspaper you deserve the death that many industry watchers forecast for newspapers.”
The letter was not printed.
You would think Scheer and Dionne perfectly suited for the liberal Bay Area. But Scheer made one intolerable “mistake”: castigating Israeli policies.
The truth is that the Chron is not really a liberal newspaper. America does not have one. The New York Times is Establishment to the core although it is liberal socially.
The Sparks Tribune stands out in the gloomy newspaper landscape. My column has regularly criticized the Jewish state. The column is socialistic and atheistic. It constantly criticizes U.S. policies at home and abroad.
It criticizes newspapers, universities and the seamy history of America. It criticizes mankind, manners and morals. It is often vitriolic.
Yet the Trib has run it for 21 years. No other newspaper or magazine would. My gratitude is immense.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama all hat, no cattle

An absurd world got more absurd recently when President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Republicans, right for the first time since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, asked what Obama had done for peace. The answer is obvious: nothing.

Obama is fighting two and one-half wars. He maintains a perpetual warfare state. He commands armed forces in 144 countries. He has just ordered 13,000 more troops to the wasteland of Afghanistan. That hardly merits a peace prize.

Obama, as they say in Texas, is all hat and no cattle. He makes wonderful promises but never delivers.

A man of integrity would have refused the prize, declaring that he was not worthy of it.

Obama admitted: “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by the prize, men and women who have inspired me and the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”

Nevertheless, he will accept the award as “a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century.” Noble rhetoric. But, alas, just words.
Obama’s one accomplishment is establishing an anti-Bush tone in the White House. He wants to cooperate with the world, not rule it unilaterally. He repudiates Bush’s imperial presidency. But that too is hardly worth a peace prize.

Moreover, it is just his pledge to close Guantánamo and deal with its prisoners constitutionally. It is just his pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It is just his pledge to combat global warming. It is just his pledge to abide by the Geneva Convention. It is just his pledge to end the don’t ask, don’t tell policy. He is just his pledge to achieve gay marriage.

Obama pledged universal health coverage but gave away the store by abandoning the public option in order to get Senate approval of a worthless bill.

He pledges to bring peace to the Middle East. But he lacks the intestinal fortitude to crack down on Israel’s refusal to do anything about its illegal settlements. Withdrawal of some of the billions in U.S. aid to Israel would greatly concentrate the mind of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Now look at some of the “illustrious company” Obama says he will join as peace prize winners:
• President Roosevelt (1906), cited for his “role in bringing to an end the bloody war” between Russia and Japan. Yet Roosevelt was a warmonger, helping seize Cuba from Spain, conquering the Philippines and congratulating one of his generals who massacred 600 harmless Filipino villagers.

• President Wilson (1919), cited for playing a decisive role in winning World War I. Yet he involved America in that bloody, senseless war. His bombardments of Mexico were despicable. His troops occupied Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

• Secretary of State Kissinger (1973), cited for negotiating a ceasefire and pullout of American troops from Vietnam. Yet Kissinger was a war criminal. He expanded the war unnecessarily and viciously into Cambodia and Laos. As songwriter Tom Lehrer put it: satire died the day they gave Kissinger a peace prize.

The Nobel Foundation in Norway has not always been that ridiculous. It did choose some worthy Americans. Among them:

• Martin Luther King (1964), cited for “being the first person in the Western World to have shown us that a struggle (for justice) can be waged without violence.” That struggle smashed apartheid in the South. King was the greatest moral leader in America since John Brown, who was so fanatic and so insane he urged freedom for four million slaves.

• Chemist Linus Pauling (1962), cited for his campaign against nuclear testing, opposition to the spread of nuclear weapons and antagonism to “warfare as a means of solving international conflicts.”

• George Marshall (1953), defense secretary and secretary of state, for the Marshall Plan aiding a Europe shattered by World War II.

• Secretary of State Cordell Hull (1945), cited for his role in establishing the United Nations.

• Jane Addams (1931), cited for setting up settlement houses, including Hull House in Chicago, to improve social conditions for the Have Nots: night school for continuing education, kindergarten, kitchen and bathhouse, coffeehouse, art gallery, gym, music school, a library and classes to combat the ugly tentacles of capitalism.

• Secretary of State Frank Kellogg (1929), cited for the Kellogg-Briand Treaty to renounce war as an instrument of national policy.

In short, the Nobel Peace Prize has ranged from the ridiculous--Obama, Roosevelt, Wilson and Kissinger--to the sublime, King, Pauling, Marshall and Addams.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wall Street and money rule

We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.
-- Economist John Maynard Keynes

Michael Moore has capitalism dead-on: it is immoral. Profits are all that matter to the immoralists.
The nation is governed by Wall Street, corporations, lobbyists and campaign bribes to members of Congress. Money and politics rule, not the pretense that the people rule.
For politicians it is mandatory to proclaim that America is a great country. Moore makes it plain it is not.
He ridicules the preamble to the Constitution which makes the false promise to “establish justice…(and) promote the general welfare.”
Moore’s answer to capitalism is socialism. Capitalism is taking. Socialism is sharing. Socialism is humane, caring, sensitive, everything capitalism is not.
Capitalism is a plutonomy. It means wealth for the few, skimping for the many. Capitalism is mean, oblivious to everything but big profits. It is evil. It is unfit for human beings.
Moore establishes these truths in his latest film, “Capitalism: a Love Story.”
He notes that the Treasury department and Wall Street run the country. Capitalism busts unions. It slashes pay and eliminates pensions. It exploits people. It pays low wages while overworking its employees.
Moore points out that capitalism has even hijacked Jesus, whose teaching argues for everything that capitalism opposes.
Capitalism is ghoulish. An insured employee is worth more dead than alive.
Some corporations are candid about it, referring to “dead peasants.” Yes, peasants, serfs, mere soil-tillers, uneducated, low class.
A grim joke in the airline industry: “Just don’t apply for welfare in uniform.” Many students leave college owing $100,000 and taking 20 years to pay it off. Civilized nations provide free college education.
Moore opens the film in ancient Rome, the rulers gathering all the money, the masses appeased by bread and circuses. He closes with a jazzy version of the leftist fight song, “The Internationale,” with its stirring phrase “a better world’s in birth.”
Moore shows that the federal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was once a well deserved 90 percent. Reagan and Bush II changed that, completing the reaction with tax cuts for the wealthy and abetting the capitalistic beast with deregulation.
Reagan once exulted in a speech to Wall Streeters: “You can now turn the bull loose!”
“Capitalism is the legalization of greed,” Moore said in an interview with Naomi Klein of The Nation. "We have a totalitarian situation allowing the richest 1 percent to have more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined.”
America has socialism for the wealthy, privatization for nearly everyone else.
Moore plays himself: wearing jeans in sharp contrast to the “suits” with their white shirts, neckties and jackets. As always, he wears his baseball cap,
He speaks slowly, solemnly, despairingly, mournfully. But he has the happy faculty of soothing his anger with humor.
He cordons off Wall Street with crime-scene yellow tape. He speaks of the “condo vultures” who get rich in Florida’s housing bust.
The one problem is Moore’s incurable optimism. He talks movingly of people rebelling. He speaks glowing of the few workers that win fights against capitalism. He brings tears to the eyes with accounts of struggling people.
But the incidents are so few. Moore forgets that so many people vote against their best economic interests. He forgets that the bulk of American people will reject socialism despite the far fairer life it offers.
He forgets that Americans are conditioned by schools, the media, churches and society. They drum in the message that capitalism is good, socialism is bad.
Moreover, the propaganda of the system is effective, the wonders of free enterprise and the idea that everyone can get rich.
No wonder America is a frightfully conservative country.
Nevertheless, Moore convincingly proves the point made by Chris Hedges earlier this year in a Truthout online article, “America is in need if a moral bailout”:
“We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding.
“The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered.”
Moore is always on the side of the angels. His films have included “Roger & Me,” an indictment of the auto industry; “Sicko,” a plea for universal health insurance; and “Bowling for Columbine,” a scathing look at America’s lust for guns.
He is the most important documentary filmmaker in America today. He speaks for the disenfranchised. He is one of America’s few heroes.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tracy Moore: reggae DJ

Tracy Moore is an ebullient, passionate, personable, aimable, smiling, upbeat, joyous and happy apostle of reggae in the Truckee Meadows.
Yet on his radio show he is cool, calm, soft-spoken and low key. The contrast is deliberate. He wants people who tune in to relax.
“I know one guy who listens every Sunday in his bathroom, draws water in the tub, lights a candle and lies back contentedly for two hours,” Moore says. (The show is on KTHX, 100.1 FM, from 8 p.m. to 10 Sundays.)
“Reggae moves me,” Tracy says. “It touches my heart. I enjoy reggae so much I want to share it with other people. When I hear a new song I can’t wait to play it on the air.”
Moore, in a recent interview, said he got his love of music from his jazz musician father who played tenor sax in Reno casinos. His dad, Babe Moore, is 94--and still noodles on the sax.
“I recall as a boy he’d call me in from playing outside and have me listen to a record,” Tracy says. “When it was over, he’d pick up the needle and say: ‘That’s Count Basie.’ ”
Another thing Tracy likes about reggae: it is message music. Its constant themes are liberation, freedom, justice, brotherhood and anti-racism.
Slavery is deeply embedded in the memory of Jamaicans. Even the ordinary guy on the beach knows that history with its “voice of the slave descendent and the darkness and pain of suppression.”
(Jamaica was seized by the British in 1655 and became a distribution point for slave ships arriving from Africa.)
Moore enthuses about Marcus Garvey, Jamaican-born exponent of black empowerment and the return of blacks to Africa. Like Malcolm X after him, Garvey proclaimed his blackness and his pride in it.
Another of Tracy’s musical heroes is the late Bob Marley, who he calls the greatest reggae singer ever.
“Marley was not only a profound lyricist who became an icon for people of the Third World, he was immensely influential in defining reggae’s musical approach,” he says. “Today’s artists are largely standing on the foundation he helped to lay.”
Moore agrees with Webster’s definition of reggae: “Popular music of Jamaican origin that combines native styles with elements of rock ‘n’ roll soul music and performed at moderate tempos with the accent on the off beat.”
Tracy, 47, graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1988 with a degree in psychology and a minor in journalism.
He wears his environmenal concerns “on his sleeve.” At the interview he wore a green T-shirt adorned with those graceful power-generating wind propellers.
He is blondish with long, stringy hair. Wire glasses rest on his nose between a small goatee and an ever receding hairline.
Tracy hosted Reno’s first reggae radio show, “The Kingston Jam,” on KUNR from 1988 to 1998. In 2003 he started the Reggae Shack program on KTHX, broadcasting under his DJ name, Too Dread.
Too dread is patois for someone who deeply understands reggae and feels its vibes. “You have a sense of kinship, a deep-in-your-heart feeling.” Or, as the communists say: comrade.
Tracy has been to the Land of Reggae seven times, loving the laid- back people, the mountains and the beaches splashed by the Caribbean Sea.
For a living, Tracy drives for the Northern Nevada International Center. He plays host and guides visitors who come to Reno for conferences and special events.
But his heart is in reggae. He started as a keyboardist and vocalist in 1989 for Reno-based reggae bands.
Tracy writes songs and performs at breast cancer fund-raisers with his band Jahzilla. It’s out of compassion, yes, but pays tribute to his mother who died of lung cancer.
One of his songs reflects joy over his infant daughter, lyla (correct) Sage Lore, 11 months old. (Her mother is Rubio.)
One stanza of the song, “Because This Baby,” goes: “In her smiling eyes / Even when she cries / How her spirit flies / Like a flower essence sweetly unfurled.”
I knew nothing about reggae and couldn’t have cared less--until I talked with Tracy.
I am a classical music old fogy. Beethoven and Bach, Mozart and Haydn, Schubert and Tchaikovsky, Dvorák and Mahler, Rossini and Berlioz, Verdi and Puccini, Franck and Offenbach, Ponchielli and Wagner.
To my ears, reggae is caterwauling, cacophony. Harsh sounds, shrieks, groans, shouting, chanting, whistling, raving, pounding, drum beat and futuristic sounds.
Yes, there are some toe-tapping rhythms. And I heartily approve of the message lyrics. But it’s not my kind of music. Nevertheless, as the French say, Chacun à son goût.
When it comes to reggae, Tracy’s taste matters, not mine.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thunder from the Left

G.W. Bush did get a third term after all. The sellouts of President Obama have been monumental.
His presidency was supposed to be transformational, a “breath of fresh air.” That air is now fetid. The rancid Bush policies continue.
• Terrorist suspects at Guantánamo (Cuba) and Bagram (Afghanistan) are still being imprisoned indefinitely: no trials, no charges and no chance to prove their innocence.
• The Bush policy of “extraordinary rendition” is still in place.
• Obama continues to swell the largest military budget in the world. Capitalistic militarism still reigns supreme.
• Obama is still fighting 2 1/2 wars, one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and one-half of one in Pakistan.
• “Enhanced interrogation techniques” still is policy. (The moon-baying Dick Cheney can be heard nightly on Fox boasting of torture.) Obama’s CIA director says it would “gravely damage national security” to release torture documents. (National security is the lame excuse for “covering your ass.”)
• Blackwater goes by a new name but it still gets fat government contracts for its dirty work.
• Promised transparency? A CIA report is heavily censored and four pages of its recommendations blacked out. (Defense Secretary Gates, odious Bush holdover, is furious that the AP filed a photo of a Marine killed in Afghanistan. Nearly all newspapers did not publish it, including the gutless New York Times. The sooner Establishment newspapers begin to show war’s grim realities the sooner the war will end.
• Immigration reform? Embarrassing Obama silence.
• Campaigning, Obama opposed don’t ask, don’t tell. Today the military fires a winner of nine air medals for valor because he is gay. The Obama silence is deafening.
• Obama, the apostle of gay marriage, has grown chary, murky and cowardly on the issue.
• Obama, the proponent of medical pot, is silent on the issue.
• He is silent on union card-signing except when uttering applause lines at labor gatherings.
• The House passes a vastly watered down bill on climate change. Not a peep from him.
• Obama issues signing statements, ignoring Congress just as Bush did.
• The president’s pay czar won’t reveal details of corporation compensation because it might make the Fat Cats “targets of populist anger.” Obama should study FDR. Roosevelt would have said to hell with what the rich bastards think. He would welcome their hatred instead of cowering like Obama.
Universal health? Every industrial nation has it except America. Obama says the public option is only a sliver of the solution. No, it’s the whole solution. No public option, no solution. His bipartisan approach is wasted on such cretins as Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley and the Blue Dog Democrats.

America may have the world’s best medical system but it is two and one-half times more costly than elsewhere.
Some things Obama can do nothing about. Universal health care is a lost cause in reactionary America. Vested interests are spending $1.4 million daily to bribe Congress to halt any meaningful legislation. Congress always follows the money. Re-election depends on it.
Government can’t negotiate the horrendous prices of drugs. That was Obama’s gift to Big Pharma for its support.
We have also seen the recrudescence of what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: “heated exaggerations,” “distorted judgment” and “leaps into fantasy.”
Obama is falsely labeled a socialist, an antichrist. He is called downright evil. His health plan means death panels that designate grandma to die.
John White, professor of political science at Catholic University, offers a reason for such madness: the old order has changed. The country that older people grew up with no longer exists. Where America was 87 percent white in 1970, today it is 70 percent. It now has 50 million Latinos and 40 million blacks.
The “apostles of the absurd,” as columnist Bob Herbert calls them, are angry that America has a black president, an alien with no right to be president.
The racist South will never acknowledge the legitimacy of a black president. It persists in fighting the Civil War.
Nevertheless, Obama has failed to use the White House as the bully pulpit it is. He should forcefully promote his agenda instead of deferring to the negative GOP.
He should denounce the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate and call for its abolition. The filibuster is what The Nation calls it: “that undemocratic holdover from the days of slavery and segregation.”
The darkness at noon that fell under Bush has barely been lifted by Obama.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chappaquiddick stains Kennedy legacy

President Obama called Sen. Ted Kennedy “the soul of the Democratic Party.” But the Democratic Party hasn’t had a soul since the halcyon days of President Johnson’s domestic policies.

Kennedy himself sometimes lacked Democratic soul. He sided with corporate America in its passion for deregulation, acquiesced in tax cuts for the rich, urged globalization and pushed so-called “fair trade” accords that killed union jobs.

Kennedy even yielded on the self-proclaimed cause of his life: government-run universal national health. In 1971 he introduced a bill to do just that. Later he abandoned it. Up to his recent death he was willing to accept just some private role in health insurance rather than the all-public role it should be.

But it was more than policy differences that left this political observer with queasy feelings about Kennedy. It is Chappaquiddick.

His legacy will forever be tarnished by his irresponsibility and cowardice in that 1969 tragedy. A drunken Kennedy drove into the pond and swam to safety. He left a young woman in the car to drown.

Then, for nearly 10 hours he failed to report the accident to police. And: he dispatched a family lawyer to the woman’s family before the press got word. A “small shot” might have spent time in jail for doing less.

The womanizing by President John Kennedy can be overlooked. But what is unforgivable is that he was a scurvy politician, not a leader. He said he would consider pulling troops out of Vietnam--but not until he was reelected in 1964.

The vaulting opportunism of Bobby Kennedy can be forgiven. Yet he did not seek the presidency in 1968 until Gene McCarthy showed that President Johnson was vulnerable on Vietnam. Bobby realized that his antiwar message would play even in Peoria.

But it is difficult to forgive Ted Kennedy for leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to die. Indeed, he felt so guilty he never forgave himself. His conscience haunted him the rest of his life.

The tragedy also left unanswered questions. The New York Times obituary writer asked: “Why was the car on an isolated road? What sort of relationship did he and Kopechne have? Could she have been saved if he had sought help immediately? Why did he tell his political advisers about the accident before reporting it to police?”

Questions aside, Kennedy made a horrendous political error out of hubris: challenging President Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980. He mistakenly thought that all he needed was the Kennedy mystique.

Nevertheless, Ted Kennedy had some laudable traits.

Dennis Myers, a Reno columnist, notes the incredible thoughtfulness of Ted Kennedy. He contacted all 177 families from Massachusetts connected with 9/11.

“Kennedy kept calling family members year after year,” Myers writes. “One woman told a reporter last year, ‘I can’t imagine getting through the last seven years without him.’ ”

After he abandoned playboyism. boozing and rakism, the Kennedy political record was mostly good. As Jack Newfield, no bleeding-heart liberal, wrote in The Nation in 2002:

“Kennedy has drafted and shaped more landmark legislation than liberal giants like Robert Wagner, Hubert Humphrey, Estes Kefauver and Herbert Lehmann. He looks like the best and most effective senator of the past hundred years.”

Kennedy was a proud liberal even after the right-wing made liberal a dirty word.

He voted against authorizing the Iraq War, calling it the best vote he ever cast. It was. He championed civil rights and women’s sports rights under Title IX. He supported the Immigration Act of 1965 which did away with the favoritism to those of northern European decent.

He backed sanctions against South Africa for trying to maintain its abominable apartheid. He sponsored the disabilities act banning discrimination against the handicapped. He fought to ban the reprehensible poll tax.

He supported federal funding to combat AIDS. He backed an increase in the minimum wage. He fought for a program of low-cost health insurance for kids of working class parents. He won a $50 million appropriation for 30 community health centers, since expanded to 1,200.

Kennedy led the fight to save Social Security from the rapacious and retrograde privatization of President Bush. He led the successful fight to thwart the effort by President Reagan to weaken the Voting Rights Act.

Fair Housing law. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Meals on wheels. Insurance that can be carried from job to job. Medicare drug benefits. All Kennedy platforms.

Of his more than 15,000 votes in the Senate, many were in favor of racial minorities, gays and lesbians, the elderly and the poor.

America’s debt to Kennedy is large. As Matthew 25:21 says: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”