‘Front Page’ to Ferguson: A memoir of half a century of St. Louis journalism

As a rookie reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch five decades ago, I sat directly in front of Ted Link, a Post-Dispatch legend.

Link never said a word to me. I never said a word to Link. But I looked up to him as one of those crusty veterans who had made the Post-Dispatch great.

One thing about Link unnerved me. Each morning, he walked to his desk, opened the bottom right drawer, took his gun from his gray suit and put it in the drawer. No one questioned whether Link had a good reason to carry a gun–the man wrote about the mob.

Link seemed a little dangerous. The police chief at the time, Eugene Camp, had told me Link should have been convicted for killing his gardener, even though he beat the charge. A Jefferson County deputy added to the mystique telling me Link was so well-connected he once had filed a story on a mob killing before the killing. That’s probably apocryphal but it gave new meaning to getting a scoop.

One of my early stories was about corruption in St. Louis’ municipal court and the bail-bond system. Considering the municipal court corruption uncovered in Ferguson 40 years later, it seems big stories return every 30 or 40 years–like comets. It’s also a reminder that injustice persists across lifetimes. 

The municipal courts beat reporter, John J. Hynes, was a friend of Link’s. Hynes, an intimidating presence at 6-foot-6, had covered the mob too after a stint with the CIA. Once, upset at a young rewrite man, Dana Spitzer, Hynes stalked down 12th St. and punched him out. When I found out Hynes was accepting bribes, such as TVs, from bail bondsmen, he was removed from the court beat. Link’s friends made it clear Ted wasn’t happy with me getting his friend demoted.

There were other instances when punches flew among reporters. One famous one was when the otherwise mild-mannered political reporter Fred Lindecke punched the Globe’s John V. Colt  in Jefferson City because Colt had broken the release time on a press release. 

As the reader may have gathered, the Post-Dispatch newsroom of the 1970s was closer to “Front Page” than the modern newsroom with its computers and band of survivors breaking news on Twitter.

Link’s heyday was a period when he and other reporters, such as Roy J. Harris, won five Public Service Pulitzer prizes during the 15 years between 1937 and 1952. The last of those Public Service Pulitzers was for Link’s disclosure of “widespread corruption” in Truman’s IRS.

Over a period of several decades, the paper also won Pulitzers for editorial cartoonists Daniel Fitzpatrick and Bill Mauldin, editorial writers Robert Lasch and Bart Howard and three Washington Bureau reporters–Paul Y. Anderson for his Teapot Dome disclosures, Charles G. Ross for his essay on the Great Depression, “The Plight of the Country” and Marquis Childs for his nationally published columns. 

Has the Post-Dispatch of the past 50 years lived up to that heritage and to Joseph Pulitzer’s eloquent, progressive platform?

Not always, but the Post-Dispatch has done a lot of good work to make St. Louis a better community.

Some of us in the Washington Bureau joined Laszlo Domjan and other St. Louis reporters to dig deeply into dioxin contamination in Missouri. “Dioxin: Quandary for the 80s” may have been an exaggerated headline. But it was a big story and part of the even bigger scandal at Reagan’s EPA. Jon Sawyer dug into defense fraud at General Dynamics. He, Bob Adams, Rob Koenig, Charlotte Grimes and J.B. Forbes, a photographer from the St. Louis office, told international stories with a local sensibility. Thomas Ottenad was the first reporter to identify Jimmy Carter as an up-and-comer and my wife, Margie, wrote groundbreaking stories on women in politics – including Phyllis Schlafly. 

Grimes told the tragedy of five nuns from Ruma, Il. who were murdered in Liberia in 1992. Koenig brought us back pieces of the Berlin Wall. And Sawyer, following in the steps of Richard Dudman and Childs, traveled the world, writing stories a reporter couldn’t get from the safety of the American consulate. He was there with photographer Odell Mitchell Jr. for Nelson Mandela’s triumphal election in 1994.

Lou Rose and Michael Sorkin disclosed the sexual escapades that landed the law-and-order Circuit Attorney George Peach in prison. Terry Ganey uncovered Missouri Attorney General William Webster’s misuse of the Second Injury Fund. Bill Lambrecht wrote about the environmental degradation of Native American lands when no one else was paying attention. Most people still aren’t.

The editorial page helped block Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Jay Nixon’s attempts to kill the St. Louis school desegregation plan and crusaded for the sales tax that continued it for two decades into the 21st century. In the tradition of Irving Dilliard, Richard Dudman and Robert Lasch’s pieces exposing the folly of Vietnam, Jon Sawyer and the editorial page challenged the false narrative that weapons of mass destruction justified the invasion of Iraq.

Who can forget the PD photographers’ Pulitzer images of the Ferguson protests or Tony Messenger’s Pulitzer winning columns that grew out of an enlightenment brought on by Ferguson. And just last year Jeremy Kohler’s disclosures helped send the St. Louis County executive to prison.

Martha Shirk wrote about children as no other reporter in the country; her stories reformed Missouri’s handling of child deaths. Sally Bixby Defty was the first woman to lead the City Desk and provided a model for young reporters. Jo Mannies dished political scoops at the P-D and St. Louis Public Radio. And no other paper in the country was graced with the elegance of the column Editor William Woo wrote weekly to readers.

Kevin Horrigan was a terrific sports editor and editorial writer. He and I competed each year to write the most editorials; he alway won. Harry Levins had a gift for making complicated things simple and Tim O’Neil for bringing St. Louis history alive. And Bill McClellan was the franchise player as the local columnist.

Dave Nicklaus and Jim Gallagher have outlasted us all at the Post-Dispatch covering business, which also was the domain of  Roland Klose and Ed Kohn. 

This list leaves out many great stories and people with a big impact and is slanted toward events and people I knew best.  I apologize for its egocentricity. It is a memoir not a balanced history. So it’s a quirky recreation of some important events, leaving out many others – Pat Rice’s coverage of the Pope’s trip to St. Louis, the sports and photo staffs’ great work on the World Series, Vahe Gregorian’s singular Olympics coverage to say nothing of the Rams’ Superbowl and Blues’ Stanley Cup.

I confess my contributions to sports and business were nothing to brag about – poor coverage of the purchase of the Rams and later complicity with a terrible editorial stand favoring taxpayer support for the new Busch Stadium.

The events recounted here certainly looked different to other journalists who have their own stories to tell about events that seem much more important.

And, like a lot of what I’ve written over my career, this memoir is way too long.

But the point is the Post-Dispatch often has lived up to the Pulitzer platform. It and other media newcomers often have made St. Louis better.

Yet, much has been lost in 50 years. The Post-Dispatch newsroom has lost more than two-thirds of the reporters. The seven-person Washington Bureau is gone. So is the Springfield, Il. Bureau. The days of Fitzpatrick, Mauldin, Engelhardt, Sherffius and Matson are over – although Dan Martin and his Weatherbird hang on gamely. The Editorial page is a shadow of itself and has been out of touch with the Black community, although it recently hired Antonio French, a strong Black commentator. Still the paper blasts popular black officials and recently editorialized to keep the Workhouse open without addressing whether too many people are locked up before trial.

Other robust news organizations also have lost muscle. The robust At Your Service news programming of KMOX is a distant memory. Who remembers that Jack Bush inaugurated it in 1960 with an interview with Eleanor Roosevelt? Search for At your Service and KMOX today and you get Second Amendment Radio. And from 11-2 each day Rush Limbaugh proselytizes the faithful with fact-free propaganda.

Other important news providers were born over the past half century — St. Louis Magazine, the Business Journal and the Riverfront Times, for example. The St. Louis Beacon thrived and merged with St. Louis Public Radio, cutting its teeth with in-depth coverage of Ferguson. And Emily Rauh Pulitzer’s support along with Jon Sawyer’s drive have turned the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting into one of the nation’s most robust new sources of news, taking its content into schools in St. Louis and around the country.

Chapter 1 – The 1970s: Ignoring civil rights

The Link era may have been golden and the city desk a bustling place with more than a hundred reporters. But it was almost all white and male and old. Ted Wagner and the veteran rewrite men would go off to Miss Hullings for breakfast after the first edition – although others traveled a shorter distance to the Press Box bar across the street to have mid-morning drinks.

Some of the jaded rewrite reporters would laugh when Ed O’Brien, the Globe-Democrat’s lone Washington reporter, beat the fancy pants crew in the Washington Bureau. Sometimes news gathering by these rewrite men devolved into calling up the cops or city hall and asking – “The story on p-1 of the Globe – is it right?” If the answer was yes, the rewrite man would just copy it.

Blacks and women were just arriving in the newsroom. Robert Joiner, Ellen Sweets, Fred Sweets, Don Franklin, Tommy Robertson, Tony Glover and Damian Obika joined the staff with Gerald Boyd, Sheila Rule, Kenneth Cooper and Linda Lockhart soon to follow. A number of the Black reporters were the product of the visionary Pulitzer scholarship at Mizzou. Cooper later won a Pulitzer prize and Boyd won three Pulitzers as managing editor of the New York Times. Carolyn Kingcade became the PD’s top-ranking Black editor and Cynthia Todd the recruiter.

Most of the women, including my wife Margaret Wolf Freivogel, had to start on the Women’s Page. Sally Bixby Defty, Connie Rosenbaum, Linda Eardley and Charlene Prost were among the first women on the city desk. By the time Margie and I arrived on City Desk in the spring of 1972, there was a sprinkling of women in the rear rows of the city room. Margie, Sally Thran and Karen Van Meter were among them. The brilliant, irascible E.F. Porter Jr. sat among them. That was about 12 rows back from the editors and almost out of sight.

Mike Milner, the short, gruff, military veteran who was assistant city editor, was shocked when Van Meter, in her 20s, threatened to throw him out the 5th floor window for butchering her copy.

Seated in the front rows were the gray-haired or balding veteran rewrite men who took stories from legmen on the beats. They were the graying princes of the newsroom. Eardley once described them as “row after row of white men typing, smoking and screaming.”

Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had outlawed sex discrimination, newsrooms weren’t paying attention. This was before Betsy Wade Boylan sued the New York Times. It was six years before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the same year Title IX passed.

Newspapers openly discriminated. When my wife tried to get a job at the Boston Globe in 1971, the interviewer asked why he should hire her when she would just get pregnant. He could do that. It was legal.

The Post-Dispatch didn’t live up to the Platform in its coverage of civil rights. The second Joseph Pulitzer favored Brown v. Board but cautioned editorial editor Dilliard not to push for desegregation of hotels and restaurants. When Richard Dudman happened upon a civil rights sit-in in the 1950s and rushed back to the paper, he was told not to cover that kind of story for fear of riots. James C. Millstone, a mentor to many of us, filed stories on the civil rights movement in the South, but his dispatches never ran as written but were blended into wire stories – to his horror. Coverage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” was buried far down in the story. The liberal editorial page patronizingly advised the Jefferson Bank demonstrators in 1963 to pull back from blocking bank entrances, lecturing, “does it not not owe the business efforts to end discrimination a chance to prove successful?” And in 1972, when Percy Green’s ACTION group unmasked Monsanto VP Tom K. Smith Jr. as the Veiled Prophet, the Post-Dispatch joined the Globe in keeping his identity secret.

One day in 1972 Charlie Prendergast, a beloved executive city editor, assigned me to investigate the death of Joseph Lee Wilson in police custody. Wilson was white. Police said he had fallen off a barstool; Mike Royko, the witty Chicago columnist, quipped the barstool must have been on top of the John Hancock building. Prosecutors confided that the damage to Wilson’s ribs was in the shape of an imprint of an officer’s shoe. No officer was charged.

As Prendergast sent me off on the story he gave me a final warning. He opened the bottom left drawer of his desk and pointed to a stack of stories. He told me it was a big project on racism that never had made it into publication. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake, he cautioned.

It wasn’t the only time a big racism project at the Post-Dispatch that failed to make it into print. A months-long project in 1999 also never saw the light of day.  

Meanwhile, the Globe-Democrat was an accomplice of J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO undercover intelligence program intended to hound King into killing himself. One 1968 document obtained by the Post-Dispatch read:

“The feeding of well chosen information to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, a local newspaper, whose editor and associate editor are extremely friendly to the Bureau and the St. Louis Office, has also been utilized in the past and it is contemplated that this technique might be used to good advantage in connection with this program.”

Another read: “The St. Louis Globe-Democrat has been especially cooperative with the Bureau in the past. Its publisher [name deleted] is on the Special Correspondents List.”

And just before King’s assassination in Memphis, the Globe carried an FBI ghost editorial complete with a misspelling. The March 30, 1968 editorial read: “Memphis could be only the prelude to a massive bloodbath in the Nation’s Capitol [sic]”

 The only blood spilled was King’s in Memphis.

(For a more detailed account of how the press flubbed coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, see our special issue on race.)

The Globe, where Pat Buchanan wrote editorials before becoming a Nixon speechwriter, also attacked Dudman, the Washington Bureau Chief. Dudman reported from Vietnam about the Pentagon’s lies about the war and obtained the Post-Dispatch’s copy of the Pentagon Papers on a tip from I.F. Stone.

Dudman had reported after a trip to Vietnam, “The South Vietnamese government…may be losing and the Viet Cong winning.” Nixon blew up. A week before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Alexander P. Butterfield relayed to Henry Kissinger Nixon’s view that “Dudman is a ‘violent leftist’ and that these statements are completely opposite from the truth.”

The Globe ran an unheard of front-page editorial – “For America or For Hanoi” – essentially calling Dudman a traitor. Nixon put Dudman on the Enemies List.

On its news and editorial pages the Globe championed Juvenile Court Judge Gary Gaertner who had replaced Theodore McMillian, a splendid Black judge who went on to serve on the federal appeals court. The Globe praised Gaertner for bringing down crime after years of McMillian “coddling” young criminals. It turned out some of the court’s top staffers were horrified by Gaertner’s operation of the court. Gaertner and the Globe were cooking the figures on juvenile crime and Gaertner even was holding juveniles in custody to keep control of detention cells.

A court source mentioned Gaertner had appointed the publisher of the Globe, G. Duncan Bauman, to serve as “guardian ad litem” in some cases. This was a cushy, well-paid court appointment. I was having trouble confirming the tip. But Rep. Bill Clay volunteered to help get court records through his patronage employees in the circuit clerk’s office. Those records proved payments of taxpayer money to Bauman.

The Post-Dispatch wouldn’t run my story even after it was confirmed because it was critical of the competitor’s publisher. So I went to Charles Klotzer whose St. Louis Journalism Review, which had disclosed that the Post-Dispatch and Globe were in league having signed a joint operating agreement. I had been in Klotzer’s living room along with Ted Gest during one of those inaugural meetings of the Journalism Review. Klotzer gladly published the story on Bauman.  

About 20 years later, when I had returned from the Washington Bureau, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt put forward Gaertner’s name for a federal judgeship. I reprised my stories and women’s and Black groups voiced their opposition, with Harriett Woods in the lead. The Clinton White House took the extraordinary step of rejecting Gephardt’s choice and Catherine Perry was named instead. 

The Wall Street Journal reacted to Clinton’s action by accusing me by name of “Borking” Gaertner – in other words getting him rejected for politically unpalatable positions like Robert Bork had been rejected. A top PD executive who palled around with Gaertner complained to the publisher and I was asked to defend my reporting, which I did. It was the only time that ever happened. 

Perry in place of Gaertner made a difference. Recently, Perry has written groundbreaking opinions protecting peaceful protesters from police abuse during Ferguson and beyond.

Chapter 2: Getting things done

After witnessing the municipal court system and its corrupt mix of bail bondsmen, disreputable defense lawyers and prosecutors on the take, I shelved the idea of going back to law school.. “Let’s get something done,” Prendergast, my editor would say. And I soon discovered that journalism was a force for getting things done.

With Paul Wagman we cleaned out a brutal Maplewood police department where Thomas Brown had been shot dead in the police station in1977 and other officers forced suspects to play Russian roulette with guns in their mouths. Gov. Christopher S. Bond sent me a pen he had used to sign a bill reforming the bail system. The head of the St. Louis pound, a color announcer on the Football Cardinals broadcasts, quit soon after a story about how he spent most of his time running his tavern – a story that required many hours of drinking beer at his bar. Monsanto Co. ended its questionable political contributions program after I met confidentially at a hotel near the airport with a top executive who provided a checkbook showing Monsanto’s Washington lobbyist directed executives’ donations to CREEP – the Committee to Re-elect the President. 

I lucked out and spent a day in 1972 observing lax security at Lambert; it happened to be right before Martin McNally hijacked a plane and parachuted from the rear with his cash. When a judge ordered the St. Louis School Board to negotiate with the teachers union, I put my ear to the door in the Jefferson hotel room where they were negotiating and got a scoop. The judge laughed the next day that I had overheard how the mediators excoriated the School Board for a proposal “straight out of the 19th century.” When the South County bomber frightened St. Louisans in 1977, a six-pack of Michelob outside the hotel door of a St. Louis County cop got me a big scoop – the boyfriend of the first victim had been seen at later bombing scenes.

There were threats along the way. I started getting calls from Franklin V. Chesnutt who announced he was a card-carrying member of the KKK – literally a card carrying member because he sent me his business card and threatened to burn a cross on the lawn. City desk got a bomb threat in connection with stories about bail bondsmen. Paul Wagman – my partner on Maplewood police stories – started getting threatening calls at home, sending him to a friend’s house to spend the night. I put plastic tape on the door to our garage in Parkview because I was covering car bombings involving labor leaders connected with the mob.

So in 1980 I welcomed the idea of going to Washington and covering the Supreme Court. 

But Margie and I had a new idea about how to do it. We had just had our third child, Meg,  and proposed splitting a job. That way we could each have time with the children and keep our careers going.

Dudman, the bureau chief, was a liberal but had strict ideas about work. He wasn’t so sure about our proposal. One night, at a dinner party on his front porch, he asked his friend, Betty Friedan, what she thought. She told Dudman it was exactly what she was writing about, the second wave of feminism.

Joseph Pulitzer Jr.
Courtesy of Pinterest

Dudman became a believer the day Reagan was shot. Margie went to George Washington Hospital. Close to midnight I loaded our kids into a Barwood taxi and met her at the hospital. She took the kids, I took her notes. And Dudman got what he always wanted – a reporter who could work 24 hours a day without sleeping.

Joseph Pulitzer Jr. called it “our little experiment” and we thought it might pave the way for more job-sharing. A couple of other reporters tried it, but it wasn’t the wave of the future. Still it was the best decision we made for our family.

Chapter 3: The 1980 – Chronicling Reagan’s demolition of civil rights

For the next eight years I watched as the affable movie star president charmed the American people while turning his back on civil rights, trying to kill the Legal Services Corp., ignoring toxic wastes, closing his eyes to defense fraud, campaigning against “welfare queens” and conspiring to send arms to Iran in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Some thought the big Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau was a luxury. But it was a way to explain to readers back home how St. Louis fit into the national picture.

As soon as Reagan took office, Missouri interests began lobbying the Justice Department to abandon cases and prosecutions. The Justice Department dropped a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution against four McDonnell Douglas executives, including James McDonnell III, son of Mr. Mac, the McDonnell Douglas founder. The charges were dropped after Associate Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani met secretly with the corporation’s lawyer.  Yes, same Rudy Giuliani same shady practices. Line prosecutors sharply criticized the secret meeting, held without them present, and blasted dismissal of the charges that grew out of paying bribes to sell aircraft to Pakistan.

About the same time, Attorney General Ashcroft was busy getting the Justice Department to reverse the Carter Justice Department and announce opposition to the St. Louis-St. Louis County interdistrict school desegregation program. The program, crafted to remedy decades of legal segregation, was just getting underway in St. Louis.

When I walked into the office of the Justice Department lawyer handling the case, I found the documents reversing the position sitting on the desk. But the lawyer wasn’t there. Having studied at the elbow of investigative reporter Lou Rose, I simply read the papers upside down on the desk and filed a story for the last edition. It wasn’t the best move for a person who later became a professor of journalistic ethics. And for a while I was persona non grata at the Justice Department.

It turned out that backtracking on school desegregation in St. Louis led to a story on a much bigger Justice Department offensive against civil rights enforcement. That retrenchment, led by Assistant Attorney General Civil William Bradford Reynolds, included attempts to end affirmative action, reverse the belated desegregation of the University of Missouri, stop suing state prisons and hospitals for unconstitutional treatment and to reinstate tax breaks for segregated institutions like Bob Jones University.

The Bob Jones case blew up on Reagan. It went to the Supreme Court, which batted down Reagan’s initiative. The Supreme Court also ignored the Ashcroft attempt to stop the St. Louis school desegregation program, which went on to become the largest and arguably most successful school desegregation program in the country. It was responsible for desegregating thousands of classrooms in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The dioxin contamination of Missouri horse corrals and Times Beach soon became an all-consuming story. The mismanagement of Superfund sites like Times Beach by Assistant Administrator Rita Lavelle contributed to her conviction on perjury charges. The broader mismanagement of EPA doomed Administrator Anne Gorsuch as well.

Christmas 1982 was wrecked because the Centers for Disease Control recommended the Times Beach buyout on Dec. 23. To make matters worse, the Globe beat us to the story.

Working with Jon Sawyer on the General Dynamics defense fraud story was a lesson into the power of congressional chairmen and investigators. The General Dynamics investigation was led by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mi., – who always had “powerful” attached to his name – and his wily investigator Pete Stockton.

Reporters loved Stockton because he leaked information the committee had subpoenaed from companies. He’d usually leak the day before the hearing in order to raise interest. The day before General Dynamics Chair David Lewis was to testify, Stockton leaked juicy tidbits to us and other media.

One of those tidbits concerned General Dynamics charging the government $155 a day kennel fees for Furston the dog at Silver Maple Farm in St. Louis.

Sawyer and I were a high-minded pair and this story about the dog seemed beneath us. Of course, none of the other reporters saw it that way. Mary McGrory, the Washington Post’s great columnist, wrote a wonderful take down of Lewis all centered around Furston.

Before we left Washington to return to St. Louis there was one last big story with repercussions back home – the retirement of Thurgood Marshall and his replacement by Clarence Thomas. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., was Thomas’ mentor and political ace, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” with him as he prepared to denounce his “high-tech lynching” before the cameras.

Thomas had worked at Monsanto Co. and in Danforth’s Missouri Attorney General’s office before moving quickly up the Reagan administration until he headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Marshall, the legendary civil rights lawyer, had won Brown v. Board in the Supreme Court. I remember, him enfeebled, walking with a cane, to his retirement press conference. He didn’t make it a secret that he considered the man in line to replace him to be a “snake.” Thomas went on to cast the deciding vote to end the era of court ordered school desegregation in Kansas City in 1995 – bringing down the curtain on what Marshall had begun 41 years earlier..

Having interviewed Thomas when he was head of the EEOC, I knew he was nothing like the taciturn, silent judge he projects, but rather a gregarious raconteur who enjoyed telling funny stories while smoking a good cigar. And having talked to Thomas’ colleagues in the Missouri Attorney General’s office, I also knew his jokes could sometimes be blue enough to make one devout young colleague, John Ashcrfoft, stomp off indignantly.

Anita Hill could well have viewed Thomas’ “humor” as sexual harassment – a phrase just beginning to take on a legal meaning as a form of sex discrimination.

The anger that our Post-Dispatch coverage of the Thomas hearings induced on the talk radio in St. Louis was an introduction to the deep partisan divide that was approaching.

Chapter 4 – Woo v. Campbell – journalism as a public trust vs. public journalism

When Joseph Pulitzer Jr. named  Bill Woo as editor, many staffers hoped he would bring a new golden age. Pulitzer saw Woo as his protege and a believer in what Pulitzer called a “tradition of conscience.” 

William Woo , professor and longtime journalist
Courtesy to Stanford University

Two careful, novel decisions as editor ended up backfiring. One was to offer Mayor Vince Schoemehl a front page response to a tough series called “The Mayor’s Money Machine,” linking campaign contributions to city contracts. Schoemehl’s response called the series ”Half-truths, innuendo and bold faced lies . . . (reminiscent of the Nazi propaganda machine of the 1930s.”  Some reporters who worked on the stories never forgave Woo for giving Schoemehl a front-page platform for his diatribe.

Woo also was proud to have set up a staff committee to replace Managing Editor David Lipman, the brash, aggressive managing editor who had been chosen over our mentor Millstone. Woo’s committee chose Foster Davis from the Charlotte Observer. Soon Davis and Woo were at odds  over such things as the role of the Washington Bureau.

By 1995 Woo had become one of the nation’s leading critics of a popular form of journalism referred to as “civic” or “public” journalism. In the 30th Press-Enterprise Lecture he delivered that year, Woo advocated instead for journalism as a public trust.

He described public or civic journalism this way. “Editors sit on public boards or commissions or action committees. Newspapers are becoming the conveners of their community, the master of ceremonies of the new democracy. Journalists no longer serve or inform the electorate; they become it.”

Woo argued that traditional values of objectivity and detachment shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. “Can a paper objectively report on a burning community issue when the editor sits on the commission that is promoting a particular point of view on the matter?” he asked.

“ ….Damn right …we should listen to the public. But should the consensus at the town meeting automatically become our agenda?”

As eloquently as Woo argued for journalism as a public trust, his days as editor were ending. Joseph Pulitzer Jr., had died in 1993 and Michael Pulitzer’s choice of a successor was the anti-Woo. It was Cole Campbell, one the nation’s champions of public journalism.

Campbell’s editorship was tumultuous and short. Harry Levins likened his demise to the Caine Mutiny and sent Publisher Terry Egger a copy of that novel after Egger forced Campbell out in April, 2000. 

Don Corrigan wrote in the St. Louis Journalism Review about the drastic shift from the opponent of public journalism to a leading evangelist. And Ellen Harris wrote a damaging 1998 SJR story about Campbell picking Christine Bertelson to be editorial editor at a time they had a social relationship.

Trying to head off the story, Campbell wrote Ed Bishop, then SJR’s editor, “If you publish any statements alleging that [editorial page editor Christine A. Bertelson’s] appointment was made for personal reasons, that will be libelous on its face — to her and to me.” Campbell denied this was a threat to sue but added his legal understanding had been “confirmed … in connection with this inquiry with counsel for the Post-Dispatch.”

It didn’t help Campbell’s reputation that a few years later the Pulitzers had to send attorney Bob Hoemeke of Lewis Rice to apologize to a top editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for Campell making a pass at his wife.

By the time Campbell arrived at the annual James C. Millstone Memorial Lecture in March, 2000 and joined a discussion with Gerald Boyd – former Post-Dispatch reporter and New York Times managing editor – Campbell looked haggard and was deeply unpopular.  

Cole Campbell Public Journalism book Courtesy of Amazon.in

Boyd did not want to debate Campbell about public journalism. But Campbell immediately took after the Times as a paper for “elites” drinking Bombay martinis. He said elites buy the Times “so at cocktail parties they can say to each other: ‘Did you see the story about such and such in the New York Times?’ And then they can say: ‘Yes, I did see that.’ And then they give each other high fives. ‘We are elite. We are elite.’ “

Although Campbell bragged of having been a debating champion, it was the kid who grew up bagging groceries in North St. Louis and attending Soldan High School who won the day.

Egger, the publisher, asked for a recording of the exchange with Boyd. He also met at the Missouri Bar & Grille with Levins, the respected writing coach, McClellan, the star columnist, Carolyn Tuft, an investigative reporter, and John McGuire, a legendary feature writer. As Alicia C. Shepard reported in the American Journalism Review, Levins told Egger,  “We are the officers from the Caine, and this time we are not going to chicken out.”

A few days later, on April 5, Campbell was out.

One person who stabilized the paper during this era was Managing Editor Richard K. Weil, long a source of good judgment in the newsroom. Campbell pushed him aside toward the end of his editorship. 

Chapter 5: Legacy of the Editorial Page

I spent my last 10 years at the Post-Dispatch on the editorial page, which I considered the  conscience of the newspaper. 

I joined under Ed Higgins, the smart, blunt, clever writer who was editor. The staff was loaded with talent – Susan Hegger, who knew the ins and outs of TIFs; Bob Joiner, an authentic Black voice; Donna Korando, who published the best op ed page in the country; and the deputy Dale Singer, who knew everything about Missouri politics and education. All four later were a core staff for St. Louis Public Radio a decade later.

I regret I didn’t listen more carefully to Joiner. He was highly critical of the disparity between crack and cocaine sentencing as well as the Clinton compromise cutting back on welfare. He also immediately saw the disaster of a former Brooks Brothers executive coming in to manage the St. Louis schools. I rolled over him and later Linda Lockhart in what I now realize was a white privilege sort of way. Bob was right; I was wrong but able to control the editorial position.

Campbell threw Higgins overboard and put Bertelson in charge. He claimed the editorial page was “moribund” under Higgins. Not true. But the page was lively and had notable accomplishments during Bertelson’s tenure.

An editorial campaign by the brilliant Philip Kennicott helped defeat a voter referendum to allow carrying concealed weapons – although that victory was short-lived because the Legislature overrode the people–as the Missouri Legislature is wont to do. 

When Attorney General Jay Nixon came to the steps of Vashon High School and launched his effort to end the St. Louis-St. Louis County school desegregation program, the editorial page opposed him as did Rep. Clay, former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth and the NAACP. Danforth lined up Civic Progress and an editorial-a-day series urged St. Louis voters to tax themselves to keep the interdistrict program going. Miraculously, they did and it has continued to function while gradually phasing out.

We put out a special edition within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks. “WE are living through another day of infamy. September 11, 2001, will live alongside December 7, 1941, as a day when America changed,” said the editorial. “The United States will be a different, more vulnerable place. Daily life as an American will never seem as safe or as free.”

And we cautioned in the third paragraph, “Inevitably, this fight will constrict our everyday freedoms. It could test our commitment to civil liberty.”

It did. John Ashcroft, had been named attorney general after President George W. Bush’s election and Achcroft’s loss to Mel Carnahan, who had died in a plane crash before the election.

We had opposed Ashcroft’s confirmation because of his history of opposition to the St. Louis school desegregation program and his racially fraught and successful effort to block confirmation of Ronnie White as a federal judge. I had even gone to Washington D.C. to write daily editorials in opposition to Ashcroft’ AG appointment, although that plan fizzled because the new editor, Ellen Soeteber, had promised Egger to tone down “red meat” editorials – or so I was told.

Soeteber was an excellent journalist and rebuilt the credibility of the paper. But this was one of a couple of run-ins I had with her. Another occurred when she forced out the talented cartoonist John Sheriffius for a cartoon blaming Republicans for protecting “pork” in a spending bill.  She wanted more donkeys in the cartoon; Sherffius angrily drew them in and quit.

Soeteber was supportive as we criticized Ashcroft’s civil liberties abuses in the wake of 911, including rounding up 5,000 Middle Eastern men with no evidence of wrongdoing. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” – aka torture – approved by the Justice Department made a mockery of the Geneva Conventions.

A couple of things temper my criticism of Ashcroft as I look back. One is that Ashcroft stood up to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card when they pressured him to approve anti-terrorism measures that Acting Attorney General James Comey refused to approve. Comey tells of putting the flashing light on the top of his car as he and FBI Director Robert Mueller raced the White House crew to Ashcroft’s hospital room. Ashcroft, his wife at his bedside, backed Comey.

In addition, when Matt Blunt was inaugurated governor in Jeff City in 2005, Ashcroft handed Ronnie White a note of apology for the way he had blocked his federal court nomination. White told Ashcroft he was too late, but in a day when no one apologizes, I thought Ashcroft deserved credit. I also remember the old days, before the bitter election of 2000, when Ashcroft was often charming when he’d pull off his suit coat to debate Post-Dispatch editorial writers around our conference table.

The legacy of Irving Dilliard and Bob Lasch was an important reminder when Bush turned the war against terrorism into the invasion of Iraq in the fall of 2002. Dilliard had warned against U.S. involvement in Vietnam as early as 1954. Lasch had won a Pulitzer in 1965 for making the Post-Dispatch among the first newspapers to oppose the Vietnam War.

There are times when newspapers outside the Washington-New York media axis can exercise greater independence from the power structure. Vietnam was one; Iraq another.

Sawyer’s stories and our editorials challenged Bush’s claim that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction justified an invasion of Iraq. But the Pentagon’s brilliant tactic of embedding journalists with the troops in Kuwait meant that Ron Harris’ stories on local troops preparing for the invasion were on page 1 and while our work was farther back in the paper.

Most editorials take an afternoon to write. This one opposing the Iraq war took two months under Soeteber’s close supervision. She was nervous enough that we were talking on the phone even after the first edition of the Sunday paper had gone to the presses.  

The editorial – A War Too Soon – explicitly harkened back to Dilliard’s and Lasch’s thinking: “The echoes of Vietnam provide a clearer warning. America feared a series of threats in Asia as nations fell to communism like dominoes; Mr. Bush sees a series of evil states threatening U.S. security. America’s military seemed omnipotent in 1964; it seems unstoppable today. America sought to contain the powerful idea of anti-colonialism wrapped in communist ideology; now it confronts a threatening strain of Islamic pan-nationalism that also has anti-colonialist roots.  The Lyndon Johnson administration created a ‘credibility gap’ by stretching the facts; the Bush administration has strained its credibility by unconvincingly trying to link Iraq to bin Laden and arguing that Iraq is a more of a threat than North Korea.”

Chapter 6 – Leaving the PD and entering the 21st century  

When it became known that the Pulitzers were selling the Post-Dispatch, Jon Sawyer, Bob Duffy, Margie and I had a truly bad idea – an employee buyout. Jon and I sat through a meeting one afternoon during which financiers told us how easy it would be for an employee-owned PD to take on $400 million in mezzanine – whatever that is. Suffice it to say we didn’t get too far and Pulitzer sold to Lee Enterprises. Emily Pulitzer, the chief stockholder and a friend, invited our buy-out group to lunch and nicely said this was the only sensible way to go.

Whenever we think back on our crazy idea, we breathe a huge sigh of relief that we failed. The 2005 sale date was the moment newspapers fell off a cliff. The Pulitzers walked away with $1.46 billion, while Lee Enterprises ended up filing for bankruptcy by 2011.

The class of 2005 was what Richard Weiss called the big cohort of reporters and editors leaving the PD at the end of that year. https://www.weisswrite.com/about/post-dispatch-class-of-05

We joined the communications revolution and started online news operations. Many of us started the St. Louis Beacon in 2008 with Margie as editor, Weil chair and Duffy fundraiser extraordinaire. Meanwhile Sawyer had started the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in D.C. and soon was joined in that enterprise by his wife Kem. The Pulitzer Center has become a burgeoning new media nonprofit telling untold stories from abroad and at home. They are the biggest source of funding for international reporting in the country. Emily Pulitzer was key to both startups. 

Margie decided to try again to publish a race project at the Beacon. She travelled around town to line up media partners. Many said it was a good idea but all had reasons they could not participate. One media executive actually said it was “too soon” to write about race in St. Louis. The Beacon ended up publishing the project with the Missouri Historical Society as a partner. It was called: Race Frankly, which included my stories on Kirkwood’s Journey.

Charles “Cookie” Thornton had killed five officials in the Kirkwood City Hall in 2008. I spent a year listening as people in my hometown described the racial hurt they still felt from racial discrimination.  

I remember Harriet Patton, the strong leader of Meacham Park, tell of a junior high teacher at Nipher ripping up an English essay she had worked hard on as a child. The teacher ripped it up because it was too good – no Black child could have written it without cheating, the teacher claimed.

A few years later when Mizzou’s doomed president Tim Wolfe tried to block the Beacon’s merger with St. Louis Public Radio, Emily Pulitzer and other St. Louis civic leaders were again key to closing the deal.

As a result, the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio newsroom had merged by the time of Ferguson and provided some of the best coverage. St. Louis Public Radio devoted the entire staff to Ferguson reporting, curating a live blog to keep up with the rapid news developments, recreating what happened in One Year in Ferguson, explaining the legal investigations and launching the “We Live Here” podcast on race and class. 

Now, only six years later, the newsroom is troubled by persistent complaints about discrimination against staff members of color. Tim Eby, a champion of the merger, didn’t address the complaints effectively enough. After he acknowledged systemic racism last summer, he was forced out under intense pressure.

Overall, Ferguson was a journalistic revolution that marked the triumph of the citizen/activist journalist over the traditional mainstream media. Gone forever was the day when an editor at the Post-Dispatch or KMOX could decide a black kid killed by a police officer on a Ferguson street wasn’t big news.

The first tweet reporting Michael Brown’s death was two minutes after he crashed to the pavement on Canfield Drive. There were five million tweets in the week after Brown’s death and 35 million in the months that followed. There was no putting this story back in the bottle.

Protesters with cell phones seized the national agenda, told the story from their points of view, knit together a new national civil rights movement and scratched the scabs off the nation’s racial scars. 

The Black Lives Matter movement came alive and journalists here and across the nation realized that what they had done to cover civil rights was not enough, just as what the nation has done to remedy the sins of slavery and segregation was not nearly enough.

In the Front Page days of Link, the police reporter on Saturday afternoon would have just called up the Ferguson police and asked, “Anything happening?” I know. It was my job. The police would almost always say, “Everything’s quiet.”  

Police shooting a suspect from a strong-arm robbery on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer wouldn’t have made the front page on a Sunday paper back then. The story – which would have been based entirely on what police told a reporter – might not have been published until the following week, if at all. It would have been forgotten by mid-week. 

But the communications revolution had changed everything. Never before in America had a story exploded so fast from the people who were disenfranchised. Even though the Twitter story had big mistakes, it told the essential truth about white police officers killing black suspects. And it awakened journalists to the wider truth about race in America and their responsibility to finally tell the truth about it.

William H. Freivogel is the publisher of Gateway Journalism Review.

Jan. 6 insurrection raised misunderstood 1A issues about censorship and incitement

The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol raised a host of questions about free expression where the law of the First Amendment is widely misunderstood.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who went to Stanford, graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, claimed Simon & Schuster assaulted the First Amendment by canceling his book contract because of his effort to throw out the results of the 2020 presidential election. He was wrong.

Donald Trump Jr. said “Free-speech no longer exists in America” because Twitter and Facebook suspended the president’s social media account after he stirred up supporters to march on the Capitol Jan. 6. He was wrong.

Protesters gathering outside the Capitol

The New York Times Editorial Board claimed the president “incited his followers to violence” for which he should “be held accountable” through possible “criminal prosecution.” It was probably wrong.

Rather than violating the First Amendment, Simon & Schuster and the tech companies were exercising the First Amendment – the free editorial discretion they possess under the First Amendment to decide they did not want to publish what Hawley and Trump had to say, legal scholars said. 

As for criminal incitement described by The New York Times, the inciter must specifically urge unlawful acts when there is an imminent likelihood the acts will occur. Calling on people to “fight” and to march to the Capitol wouldn’t constitute illegal incitement, absent additional evidence.

Even though Hawley, Trump and the Times’ editorial page were wrong on the law, they have a point in the broader discussion of a free society.

Many people see free speech as more a cultural norm than a legal one. They view it much broader than protection from the government. Big tech seems just as ominous a threat to many people as the government. And many conservatives, such as Hawley, argue Big Tech acts as an arm of “cancel” culture, directing most of its editing toward conservative speakers – a claim not supported by research but believed by many conservatives.        

In addition, one important theory of free speech is that it serves as a “safety valve” to allow partisans – even ones spouting QAnon fictions – to let off steam – whether it’s in conspiratorial postings or in marches on the Capitol.  Justice Louis Brandeis expressed it this way when, a century ago, prominent San Francisco suffragist Charlotte Whitney was prosecuted for helping form the Communist Labor Party of America. Brandeis wrote: “fear breeds repression; . . . repression breeds hate; . . . hate menaces stable government; . . . the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.”

The “woke mob”

Conservative and liberal legal scholars ridiculed Hawley’s statement “on the woke mob at Simon & Schuster.”

Hawley said: “This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.”

Donald Trump Jr. also brought up Orwell after his father’s social media accounts were shuttered.  “We are living Orwell’s 1984,” he said — on Twitter. “Free-speech no longer exists in America.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Ted Cruz, R-Tex., chimed in with Pompeo likening the actions to the Chinese Communist Party, Rubio to “erasing” political opponents and Cruz to censorship. 

One basic of the First Amendment is that it protects people from the government – Congress shall make no law – not from private parties such as a book publisher and social media companies.

If the government were to force a book publisher or social media company to publish certain statements – that would violate the First Amendment. But for the private companies to refuse to publish a public official’s claims – widely debunked –  is an exercise in editorial discretion.

Mark Sableman, a First Amendment lawyer at Thompson Coburn LLC in St. Louis, said in an email that he supported both Simon & Schuster’s and the tech companies’ editorial decisions. 

“I support publishers who make editorial decisions about the books they publish, and I think S&S made a credible decision in concluding that, now that they know more about Hawley, they don’t want to be associated with him and they no longer trust (or at least have much less faith in) his judgments.”

Sableman said he supported Facebook and Twitter exercising their editorial discretion rather than sitting back and doing nothing.  Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media companies from lawsuits growing out of third-party postings – such as Trump tweets – so social media companies can sit idly on the sidelines while their platforms are abused. That’s what most social media companies have done until recently. 

But Section 230 also has a so-called “Good Samaritan” provision intended to encourage social media companies to remove indecent or otherwise objectionable posts. Still for many years the social media giants didn’t fully exercise that power to delete highly objectionable content – partly because there were no consequences for leaving it up and because more traffic meant more business.

Sableman is glad they are now acting more deliberately.

“There was one plainly wrong call by the social media companies.  It was what they often did until a few months ago – stand on the sidelines, let their facilities be used for great harm, cover themselves with Section 230 immunity, and disclaim any responsibility for how their facilities were used (even though section 230 both encourages them to take action and even immunizes them from liability for doing so).  Morally, it is indefensible to turn a blind eye to seriously misleading, harmful content.”

Don’t worry about Trump 

Gregory P. Magarian, a First Amendment expert at Washington University law school and former clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens said he is concerned about the power of social media giants but glad to see them dulling the power of leaders to use social media for ill.

“I want a wide range of ideas, even those I loathe, to be heard,” he told The New York Times and I think Twitter especially holds a concerning degree of power over public discourse. (but) The First Amendment doesn’t require any private forum to publish anyone’s speech. Neither Twitter nor Simon & Schuster has any obligations under the First Amendment.” 

He added: “Any suggestion that people like Trump and Hawley, and the viewpoints they espouse, will ever lack meaningful access to public attention is ludicrous. We should worry about private power over speech, but presidents and senators are the last speakers we need to worry about.”

Magarian added in an email, “Donald Trump and Josh Hawley will always get their messages out.  Almost nobody else enjoys that unearned advantage. These men used their expressive power to do world-historically terrible things.  Private publishers are responding by dulling their expressive power. Thank goodness that little thing, at least, is going right.” 

American Civil Liberties Union Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane put out a statement of concern about the social media companies actions.  “It should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter yield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable to the speech of billions – especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”

Clarence Brandenburg in a farm field

Clarence Brandenburg, a KKK leader, invited a Cincinnati TV reporter to cover a KKK rally in a Hamilton, Ohio farm field in August 1964. The small Klan crowd dressed up in the obligatory sheets and even had a goose-stepping Nazi there giving a Heil Hitler salute.

Brandenburg promised “revengeance” (sic) if the federal government and courts continued to  “suppress the white, Caucasian race.” He also announced that the Klan members were planning to march on Washington, D.C., on Independence Day.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington had occurred the previous year and the Civil Rights Act had just passed.

Although Brandenburg was convicted of criminal syndicalism in the lower court, the Supreme Court decided there was no way he was about to take over the government. The Supreme Court held that advocacy of violent overthrow of the government is protected speech unless “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

The Brandenburg test of imminent lawless action elevated the protection of free speech and long has been celebrated by civil libertarians.  

The test supports the view that Trump may not have engaged in illegal incitement. Legal experts point out that Trump didn’t specifically advocate illegal action.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. He told his supporters to “show strength” and to “fight much harder.”

But he also stated, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Advocating that protesters fight or fight harder is not clearly advocating illegal action, particularly when followed by advocacy of peaceful protest. 

On the other hand, Trump still was tweeting about Vice President Mike Pence’s betrayal as rioters were pursuing senators. 

In a much-watched video, rioters pursued Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman up stairs to the corridor leading to the Senate chamber. That was 2:14 pm., one minute after the Senate suspended it election debate. Ten minutes later, with rioters invading the Senate chamber, Trump tweeted this:

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”  

Chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were heard in the Capitol and it became a trending Twitter handle until Twitter deleted it.

Benjamin Wittes, editor of the politically balanced Lawfare blog, wrote that, “With several people dead and the Capitol invaded, and the president having both called the rioters to town and told them to march on the Capitol, there is no way that Trump’s role in the events of last week will escape investigation…

“Did Trump merely give an incendiary speech and then sit back and watch with pleasure as the mob attacked Congress? What was his role while these latter events were taking place? Did he have contact with anyone actively involved in the mayhem during the attacks? Did anyone do so on his behalf or with his blessing? Law enforcement needs to seek answers to these questions, and for public accountability purposes, Congress does too. These investigations need to happen—and they will.”

On the day of the attack, Wittes tweeted about Trump’s action, “it doesn’t border on sedition. It is sedition.” He went on to cite the Seditious conspiracy statute that makes it crime punishable for up to 20 years in prison to conspire “by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” 

Trump’s War on Truth: Year 4. The final act?

The 2020 election and Trump presidency are stress tests for American
democracy and its first principles of freedom, equality and democratic
elections. In our democracy, an enlightened citizenry, informed by a free
press, renders its judgment and a losing incumbent peacefully transfers power
to a new president. 

The transfer of power has happened so many times we take it for
granted. Yet, with this self-absorbed man in the White House nothing can be
taken for granted.

Will the pillars of this freest and most successful democracy in
history withstand this one man’s assaults on values, customs and norms that
have made our republic an example to the world? Will they withstand his
four-year assault on truth during which he has set loose upon the world a Pandora’s
box of 20,000 lies?

The great story of American democracy is the ever-growing equality,
freedom and enfranchisement that have turned a nation of propertied white slave
owners into a land where every man and woman has a piece of sovereignty – that
piece of sovereignty being the ballot.

The ever-expanding temple of democracy rests on the pillars of five remarkable stories of nation-building, all of which Trump works against.

1. The 400-year fight against slavery, segregation, lynching, discrimination and racism has brought legal equality to Blacks. Yet the knee on the neck of George Floyd showed true equality is elusive especially with Trump calling Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate” while pleading with suburban women to love him for saving their suburbs from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

2. The centuries-long expansion of suffrage transformed a country founded by propertied white men into a nation of near universal suffrage. The 15th and 19th amendments and the Voting Rights Act paved the way. Yet the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and GOP-controlled states continue to this day to disenfranchise voters based on Trumpian fictions about voter fraud. Trump is even planning to change reapportionment to base it on voters, not all people.

3. Women’s Suffrage and the women’s rights movement stopped schools from firing pregnant teachers and employers from paying women less. Advocates for LGBTQ rights won their own victories against sex discrimination, including same-sex marriage.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrought many of the changes. Yet Trump brands strong women nasty or monsters and the Equal Rights Amendment’s simple statement of legal equality remains unfinished business that will stay unfinished with another Trump term.

4. The Statue of Liberty’s invitation to the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” gradually led to a nation of immigrants living up to the E Pluribus Unum motto on the Great Seal of the United States. Yet Trump built a wall and branded many immigrants as drug dealers, rapists and criminals. He used that language of hate again in the final presidential debate just days before the election.

5. Over the past century the First Amendment has become a powerful shield protecting free speech, freedom of religion and the press from government interference. The press became a fourth estate to check the Congress and president when they lie about wars, weapons of mass destruction and pandemics. Yet Trump invents an alternative universe of false information as he wars against the legitimate news organizations he calls “enemies of the people.”

Without this national story of ever-expanding freedom, equality, diversity and enfranchisement, America would be a false promise. The greatness of our nation isn’t the freedom and equality that existed at our founding but the ever-growing freedom, equality and enfranchisement won by wars, rights movements and votes.

The thing is that this republic only works smoothly when all of these elements
are working together. Everyone – man, woman, gay, straight, Black, white,
Republican, Democrat, old, young, rich, poor – must have a vote and must feel
they have an equal stake. The free press must sort facts from fictions to
inform an enlightened citizenry to make the best democratic decisions.

But this election is different. These past four years have been

Unlike any other president, Donald J. Trump threatens to arrest his
opponent, his last opponent and his predecessor for invented crimes that not
even his lapdog attorney general will prosecute. These desperate actions follow
four years of evading investigation, obstructing justice and flouting the rule
of law by freeing henchmen convicted of crimes related to the last election.

Unlike every other president Trump won’t promise to turn over power if
he is beaten, instead threatening weeks or months of court challenges on a
Supreme Court he just packed. That is the act we expect from a tinhorn dictator
in some remote corner of the globe, not of a U.S. president.

Unlike every other president Trump freely spreads false claims about
his opponents. Recently he retweeted the claim Joe Biden “had SEAL Team 6
killed” to cover up President Obama’s supposedly failed assassination of Osama
bin Laden. Trump admitted he did not have proof because there is no proof. He
said he was just getting “it out there.” Journalist Savannah Guthrie reminded
him he was president, not a “crazy uncle.”

Unlike every other president, Trump has flatly called fake news real
and real news fake. When it was reported that he had ordered White House
counsel Don McGahn to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump called it
fake, even though McGahn said it was true.

Unlike every other president he has appeased the Russian dictator,
finding it impossible to criticize President Vladimir Putin for interfering
with our elections or for placing bounties on the heads of U.S. troops. 

Unlike every other president, the most respected leaders of his party
and his highest appointments say he is unfit for office. Read the words of
Mattis, Kelly, Tillerson, Powell, and Bolton. The military leaders whom Trump
once called “my generals” aren’t taking orders any longer.

Unlike every other president who praised war heroes, this president
ridiculed them. In a fit of anger he complained about having to fly the flag at
half-staff for the late Sen. John McCain, a true war hero idolized by Democrats
and Republicans.

Unlike every other president who released his tax returns, Trump
didn’t.  He’s claimed in TV debates for
four years that he really wants to release them, even as he has fought in court
to keep them secret. Turned out he paid only $750 the year he was elected, less
than tens of millions of hard-working Americans who voted for him.

Unlike every other president, Trump continued to profit from his
businesses while serving as president, even trying to force world leaders to
meet at his resorts.  In fact, Trump’s
personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted negotiating with Putin’s aides for a
Trump tower in Moscow until a few months before the 2016 election.  Cohen went to prison for lying about it to
Congress, but Trump blithely went on making money and ignoring the Constitution’s
prohibition of emoluments.

Unlike every other president, this man uses the bully pulpit of his
Twitter account to actually bully Blacks, women, Hispanics, immigrants, black
professional athletes, female athletes, Gold Star parents. He insulted hundreds
of people on Twitter and told more than 20,000 lies, by the Washington Post’s
count, with the rate of lies doubling this past summer.

Unlike every other president, this president when faced with the
national crisis of Covid-19 has failed to bring people together but has instead
separated them by floating false information about ineffective cures and by
ridiculing those who take safety precautions such as wearing masks. He lies
again and again about the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci on masks and repeatedly
pressures scientists to bend to his political will.

And then there is this man’s indecency.  He brags about the way he assaults women,
calls women who complain about his assaults liars and writes checks while in
the White House to reimburse his lawyer for hush-money to an adult entertainer
who said she had sex with him.

Oh, and don’t forget there were some good people among the torch
carrying Nazis in Charlottesville, or that the Proud Boys should “stand by,” or
that Q Anon is working hard against pedophelia when it is falsely claiming top
Democrats are operating a sex ring. And yes, lock her up – the her this year
being Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, even if that’s what the 14 Michigan
militia members were trying to do as part of their terror plot.

But there is nothing so disturbing as the president’s ineptitude
during the Covid crisis and its 220,000 deaths. Trump stubbornly refused to get
the message, even after he got sick himself after ignoring his experts’ safety

The 220,000 death toll is more than five times the battlefield deaths
in Vietnam and approaches the 290,000 battlefield deaths in World War II when
losses reached into every American community and altered the lives of families
forever. That’s happening again today but there is no FDR.

And, yes, World War II is another lesson Trump refuses to learn as he
offends European allies, cuddles up to dictators, supports Saudi leaders who
cover up the torture and murder of a U.S. 
journalist and undermines the carefully constructed world alliances
created to avoid a World War III.

The question is whether  the
temple of democracy can stand when the president is undermining all its pillars
– fighting against expanded suffrage, against racial equity, against women’s
rights, against immigrant rights, against reliable news organizations, against
the rule of law, against the post-World War II order, against free elections
and the peaceful transfer of power.

If all these pillars are weakened can the temple of democracy stand?
And if there are four more years of this unprecedented assault on the American
story, will we still be the freest most successful democracy in history?

William H. Freivogel is the publisher of GJR, a former editorial page deputy editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and contributes to St. Louis Public Radio. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.

Clarence Thomas ‘documentary’ was no documentary

Clarence Thomas is not evil as many of his critics say nor the hero his backers worship.  He’s not the legal incompetent his detractors ridicule. Nor is he the legal visionary many conservatives describe. He’s not the Uncle Tom of racist caricatures drawn by some liberal cartoonists. But his vision of equality couldn’t be more at odds with that of the first black justice Thurgood Marshall, who ended segregation.

Amidst the warring and often misleading caricatures of Thomas, it is often hard to get a clear picture of this unique and uniquely important American. For that reason a movie of Thomas describing his life in his own words is appealing.

For portions of the two-hour “documentary” – “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his own Words” – the viewer sees the real Clarence Thomas and gets new insights into the Supreme Court’s second African-American justice.   

They see his self-reliance, his sometimes angry independence. His Ayn Rand individualism of the superhero guarding individual values against a collectivist society. His still simmering anger at the bitter confirmation hearing almost 30 years ago that came close to denying him a seat on the court. A time when he said the old Clarence Thomas “died.”  

The viewer is also treated briefly to the funny, gregarious Clarence Thomas his friends know, having fun with his law clerks. Former court clerks say Thomas was the most enjoyable justice to meet on the court.

But overall, the “documentary” fails because it isn’t a documentary. It’s more a piece of right-wing propaganda. Those accustomed to high-quality, deeply reported documentaries that are the norm on PBS, will be sorely disappointed.

The fault lies in the husband-wife producer-director team, Michael and Gina Cappo Pack, who have 30-hours of interviews to work with. The only voices on the documentary are Pack’s, Justice Thomas  and his wife,  Virginia.

The Packs are so intent on getting across their propaganda points of ridiculing Sen. Joseph Biden and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that they distort history. These distortions and legal questions about Pack’s nonprofit are reasons the Senate has put off confirming him to head the agency that would oversee the highly professional Voice of America.

As Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik put it: “If you want a one-sided, right-wing celebratory version of the life of Clarence Thomas PBS has just the ticket.” He adds, “What surprises me is that PBS (aired)… this film…in prime time no less. That’s surprising and tremendously disappointing as to the state of public television in the age of Donald Trump.”  

High-tech lynching

Thomas’ retelling of his life in the segregated South is compelling but the movie has big omissions that would be unlikely in a reported documentary. We don’t find out what happened to his sister, whom he rebuked early in the Reagan administration for taking welfare. We don’t learn what became of his first wife. Nor do we find out how it happened Thomas didn’t know his revered grandfather – his bust in Thomas’ court office – had died until hearing it from his brother some time after the event.

The film clips used to portray Thomas as a falsely accused victim – a paradoxical portrayal for a  man who rejects victimhood – are heavy-handed and awkward.

Thomas recalls in the film that after the FBI visited him in September 1991 after his confirmation hearings seemed over and asked him about Anita Hill, he felt like Joseph K, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in the movie based on Kafka’s The Trial where the accuser can’t figure out what he was supposed to have done wrong.

“You’re minding your business and suddenly you are arrested one morning. I had no idea what I was supposed to have done,” says Thomas as Perkins in the movie clip backdrop is saying, “You won’t find any subversive literature or pornography,” as agents search his apartment.

Thomas says he didn’t listen to Hill’s testimony. “I was tormenting myself, trying to dig through like endless memories, did I do something, did I say something, was it a joke?” When his wife told him the specifics Hill had testified to, he said he was relieved because he knew he hadn’t done them.

But the White House wanted Thomas to immediately return to the committee so that Hill’s testimony wouldn’t capture an entire news cycle. He recalls he was exhausted and that Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., long his champion, turned off the lights in his Senate office and he lay down on the couch. 

Drifting between wakefulness and sleep, he says in the movie, “I must have been thinking of To Kill a Mockingbird….I had lived my whole life knowing that Tom’s fate might be mine. Strip away the fancy talk and you were left with the same old story. You can’t trust black men around women. This one may be a big city judge with a law degree from Yale, but when you get right down to it he is like the rest of them.”

He said he told Danforth, “Jack this is like a high-tech lynching. And he said if that’s what you think say it.”

He did. Thomas denied categorically that he had sexual conversations with Hill, discussed pornography with her or tried to date her. Then, in some of the most famous words ever uttered in a Senate hearing, he said he was facing a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas. It is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order…you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree. ”

“…I would have preferred  an assassin’s bullet to this kind of living hell,” he told the committee.  “The day I received the phone call last Saturday night  and was told this was going to be in the press. I died. The person you knew died.” He added, “I’d rather die than withdraw.”

In the movie, Virginia Thomas said she and her husband had “put on the armor of God because it felt like the demons were loose.”

The high-tech lynching speech was God speaking, she said. “When Clarence gave the high-tech lynching speech I knew how little of my husband was sitting in front of me and I knew that God was with him because I knew he wasn’t doing that on his own because I knew how weak he was at that point.”

It probably did feel like a high-tech lynching to Thomas. No public figure had been accused of sexual harassment at that level before, so it’s not surprising Thomas thought it was a desperate effort to defeat him at any cost because he wouldn’t adhere to liberal orthodoxy.

But making the suggestion that these novel charges were like the invented infractions of The Trial or the false rape allegation against Tom Robinson is gross exaggeration and fails to recognize how much has happened in the intervening 29 years – with decades of court decisions treating sexual harassment as discrimination and the advent of the  #MeToo movement.

The film implies Anita Hill made up portions of her harassment allegations as she went along, a claim for which there is little if any corroboration. The film doesn’t mention that four other women were prepared to testify that Thomas harassed them, but were not called as part of a compromise between Biden and the Republicans. Nor does it include any portrayal of Clarence Thomas as a young lawyer in the Missouri Attorney General’s office whose crude jokes would send young, religious John Ashcroft stalking off.

The film focuses on opinion polls showing two-thirds of Americans believed Thomas, not Hill. Not mentioned are the subsequent polls showing public opinion had turned around by 1994.

Michael Pack, in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox several weeks ago, joined his host in smiling broadly about the irony that just as Thomas predicted liberals would find themselves in the Tower of London, Biden himself was in the Tower facing a sex harassment allegation  – a connection that looks increasingly like a false equivalence as the Biden accuser has suffered blows to her credibility that Anita Hill never did. 

Natural rights – what’s he talking about?

Especially misleading is a long clip of Biden asking Thomas about his belief in “natural rights.” The clip makes it appear that Biden’s questions about natural rights were out of left field and designed to trick Thomas into talking about abortion.

Thomas says he doesn’t know what Biden was talking about.  “Who knows? I have no idea what he was talking about,” Thomas says in the film. “…I have to be perfectly honest with you. You sit there and you have no idea what they are talking about. One of the things you do in hearings is you have to sit there and look attentively at people you know have no idea what they are talking about….Natural law was nothing more than tricking me to talk about abortion.”

The filmmaker’s intent seems to be to show Biden as simultaneously trying to trick Thomas and to do it awkwardly.

In reality, Thomas’ writings about natural rights were discussed extensively before and during the hearing and were one portion of his background that made his legal philosophy interesting and unpredictable.

The natural law issue revolves around the phrase from the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator  with certain unalienable Rights, that among  these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas, like Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, argued that the Declaration’s promise that all men are created equal and have natural rights cleansed the Founding Fathers of the evil of slavery and their willingness to include slavery compromises in the Constitution.

Women’s groups were wary of Thomas’ embrace of natural rights for a specific reason. Thomas had made a speech in 1987 praising a trustee of the conservative Heritage Foundation who said the natural rights of the unborn fetus should be protected by natural law.  Thomas called it “a splendid example of applying natural law.” 

During testimony at his confirmation hearing, Thomas said he had only skimmed the article and disagreed with it at the time but included it to persuade his conservative audience that conservatives should recognize the natural rights of blacks and support the civil rights movement.

He also said during the confirmation hearings that he never had talked to anyone about Roe v. Wade, a preposterous claim that he doubled down on during the documentary.

“They refused to believe a lot of things,” he recalls in the film. “Isn’t that fascinating. I had to have discussed it because they wanted me to have discussed it. It goes back to the thing about affirmative action because we think you ought to believe in affirmative action. Well how is that different from slavery? How is that different from segregation? How is that different from being told you can’t walk across that park….I prefer to be excluded from the park because I can live my life quite freely being excluded from the park. But you can’t live it freely without having your own thoughts.

“I felt that in my life I have been looking at the wrong people who were going to be problematic toward me. We were told it is going to be the bigot in the pickup truck, it’s going to be the Klansman….but the biggest impediment was the modern day liberal who would discount all of those things because they have the power to caricature.”

Reliving the scorching events of the Thomas confirmation battle it is understandable the Clarence Thomas, who “died” and was reborn during them, would spend his judicial career overturning the verities of the “modern-day liberal” and the legacies of the black justice who preceded him – like the unorthodox superhero of Fountainhead.

Thomas succeeded in bringing down the era of court-ordered school desegregation in the Kansas City, Missouri school desegregation decision in 1995. He succeeded again in gutting the Voting Rights Act a decade later. The court still upholds narrow affirmative action, but it won’t be long until Thomas has his way there too.

Thomas hates that Yale officials said he was admitted on affirmative action, that he was pigeon-holed in civil rights positions in the Reagan administration and chosen for the court partly because he was black.

To Marshall, segregation stigmatized blacks as inferior and enforced that inferiority. To Thomas, affirmative action stigmatized blacks as inferior.  Court-ordered busing was just a crazy liberal experiment that sent blacks from bad segregated schools to bad integrated ones in hostile places like South Boston.

Though not a documentary and often misleading, Clarence Thomas in his own words explains a lot about the self-reliant, don’t tread on me man and his legacy the Supreme Court. As the most conservative justice on the court, he often does not control the court’s ruling.  But on the issues of civil rights the second black justice of the Supreme Court has been largely successful at undoing the work of the first.

William H. Freivogel is publisher of GJR. He wrote about Thomas as a Supreme Court reporter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s  Washington Bureau. He covered portions of the 1991 confirmation hearings.

Little St. Louis coverage of U.S. attorney’s role in helping Trump rewrite history

St. Louisans may be surprised to hear it, but their U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen had a lead role in recommending that Michael Flynn be cleared of lying to the FBI – even though Flynn had been convicted and twice admitted the crime in open court. 

The Flynn dismissal is a key element of President Donald Trump’s attempt to rewrite the history of the Russian investigation. Trump is trying to sell the American people a phony scandal – he calls it “Obamagate” – in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was a Deep State plot to unseat a duly elected president.

As important as Jensen’s role was in whitewashing the Flynn case, his activity hasn’t received much attention from St. Louis media, with the exception of Ray Hartmann’s coverage in the Riverfront Times. Hartmann calls Jensen the “stealth fighter” who manages to escape unscathed from scandals that could hurt his reputation.

In a Facebook post last week, Hartmann pointed out that the Post-Dispatch failed to cover Jensen’s role with its own reporters, but at the same time published a Jensen op-ed warning that prisoners shouldn’t receive a “get-out-of-jail-free card”  because of the Covid pandemic.

It’s ironic, Hartmann wrote, that, “After failing to cover our hometown US Attorney Jeff Jensen’s central role in a historic ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ national mission on behalf of Gen. Michael Flynn during pandemic–one that just prompted more than 2,000 former FBI and DOJ officials to demand resignation of Atty Gen William Barr–our hometown St. Louis Post-Dispatch just published a hometown op-ed from Mr. Jensen headlined ‘Criminals must not receive a get-out-of-jail-free card during pandemic.’”

Gilbert Bailon, Post-Dispatch editor, noted in response that paper had published an Associated Press story on Jensen’s role on May 7.

Unprecedented DOJ surrender

Legal experts say the Barr-Jensen effort to clear Flynn is unprecedented and rests on an extraordinarily weak legal argument. The effort is so transparently political that it threatens the rule of law, they say.

Never before has there been a case in which the government moved to withdraw a conviction where there was no admission of prosecutorial wrongdoing or claim that the defendant’s constitutional rights rights were violated and where the defendant has admitted to the crime twice in open court, while represented by one of the country’s silk stocking law firms.

Brandon Van Grack, the prosecutor who had worked on the case for two years, withdrew from it the day the DOJ filed a motion to dismiss the charge to which Flynn had pleaded guilty.  Not one line prosecutor in the Department of Justice signed on to the brief.  

Attorney General Barr said he based his decision on Jensen’s review of the case. Jensen said in a DOJ release: “Through the course of my review of General Flynn’s case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case. I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed.”

Veteran prosecutors with bipartisan credentials say that the government’s legal position is shockingly wrong.

Former U.S. Attorney and top FBI official Chuck Rosenberg said on a Lawfare podcast: “I’ve never seen anything like it…the reasoning is completely vacuous. You could imagine a situation in which the government generally believes in good faith that the prosecutors did something wrong or there wasn’t a material lie or that there was a procedural flaw. 

(Photo by Shubert Ciencia via Flickr)

“But the brief filed….was just made up. It didn’t accurately state what happened and then the misstatements in the pleading were material, the characterization of Flynn’s lies as immaterial were laughable, and the so-called procedural flaws…don’t matter at all.”

Rosenberg and Lawfare executive editor Susan Hennessey said they could not think of any explanation “other than that the attorney general, apparently assisted by the U.S. Attorney in Missouri, is trying to align the Justice Department with the prejudices, instincts and rantings of the president.”

“The Attorney General has been on a systematic campaign to undermine and discredit the Mueller investigation and the Mueller report,” Hennessey said. “We’ve seen him attempt to do that through the John Durham review, we have seen him do that by intervening in Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendations, we’ve seen it now with dropping the charges against Mike Flynn. So this is part of an ongoing campaign….

“There is no question this is politically motivated…and this is about..protecting the president’s political cronies and also offering the president a cudgel to go after his enemies by rewriting history to somehow suggest that nobody did anything wrong even when they admitted to criminal conduct and instead this was just a Deep State plot to go after the president.”

Plenty of predication

One absurd claim in the Flynn filing is that there isn’t enough evidence to prove the charges in court beyond a reasonable doubt, the lawyers said. But the filing failed to mention Flynn has pleaded guilty in court twice and that his statements during those plea hearings can be used against him.

The central argument the Justice Department, led by U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, makes in its new filing is that there wasn’t a sufficient “predicate” for an investigation of Flynn. In other words, there wasn’t enough evidence to even start an investigation. Justice Department guidelines require there be a factual basis to believe that a crime or national security threat exists–a very low bar.

Barbara McQuade, a professor at Michigan Law School and former U.S. Attorney in Michigan, says,  “This argument not only lacks merit—it also opens the door to the same frivolous argument from future defendants in other criminal cases. And it creates a dangerous incentive that could dissuade the FBI from fulfilling its duty to fully investigate criminal and national security threats.”  

The Justice Department began its investigation of Flynn during 2016 because he had travelled to Russia, received $40,000 from government-controlled Russia Today, and dined next to Vladimir Putin. The Justice Department’s nonpartisan inspector general reviewed this decision and agreed the FBI had enough of a predicate to start the investigation.

But by January, 2017 the FBI had not collected much additional information and had prepared a memo to close the inquiry. Before closing the case, the FBI learned Flynn had spoken to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016. By that time Flynn had been designated as the future national security adviser. In the call to Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia not to retaliate for the sanctions Obama had imposed for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win.  “We’ll review everything,” Flynn assured the Russian ambassador.

In other words, don’t respond to the sanctions of the sitting American president because we’re about to take over and may change the sanctions.

A few days later Flynn lied to Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the conversation, saying he hadn’t discussed sanctions. Based on that assurance, Pence made public statements on Jan. 17 saying the Obama sanctions had not been discussed with the Russians. 

The events alarmed the Justice Department, which feared Flynn was now vulnerable to Russian blackmail. The FBI decided to keep the Flynn investigation open and interviewed Flynn who lied about talking to Kislyak about sanctions.

The Barr Justice Department now insists that with the initial investigation on the verge of being closed, there needed to be a new predication for an investigation, and that the discovery of the Flynn-Kislyak call was not sufficient. With the initial predication lapsing and the new one insufficient, Flynn’s false statements to the FBI did not involve a fact “material” to an ongoing investigation – because neither the earlier or later investigation had a sufficient predicate to continue.

But McQuade, Rosenberg and many former prosecutors disagree. “There is no need for a new predication for the interview – because it had already been properly predicated, as found by the inspector general,” says McQuade.

“Even if new predication were somehow required, the content of Flynn’s calls, along with his apparent lies to Pence, provided a sufficient factual basis for further inquiry,” she added.

Rosenberg agrees.  “You don’t need to reassess predication every day,” he says.  “If it (the initial investigation) had been closed, all you have to do is open it up again.” He also points out it is impossible to claim Flynn didn’t lie about a “material” fact when the president himself fired him for it.

The Barr Justice Department brief also mentions “newly discovered information” that Jensen found of discussions within the FBI about how to approach the Flynn interview – whether to warn him at the outset that lying to the FBI is a crime or to wait until he has lied. Barr calls this a “perjury trap,” but most former prosecutors say discussions about how to approach an interview are common.

It’s uncertain how this will end. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, known for his independence, named a retired New York federal judge John Gleeson to oppose the Justice Department’s attempt to kill the conviction. Depending how the courts act, the case could still be live during the next president’s administration.

In the meantime, Fox News has reported that Jensen is now helping U.S. Attorney John Durham with the larger review Barr has ordered of the Russian investigation. Stay turned in the fall campaign for President Trump and his legal puppets in the Justice Department to expand on their fictional account of how Mueller’s Russian investigation was a hoax.

Barr did seem to set an outer boundary on Monday to how far he is willing to go with this legal charade. He said he didn’t expect Durham to investigate Obama or Vice President Joseph Biden, even though Trump has said recently that Obama and Biden “should be going to jail” for crimes, which might even include “treason.”

Earlier this month Barr was asked by CBS how he thinks history will judge his decision on Flynn. “Well, history is written by the winners,” he said, “so it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”

And that depends in part on how thoroughly reported the first draft of history is for the voters making their decision in November.

William H. Freivogel is the publisher of Gateway Journalism Review. He covered the Justice Department for the Post-Dispatch in the 1980s.