‘We live in an era of bombasity because there’s no political upside to acting with humility’

When I reflect on all that has happened, there are certainly reasons to be discouraged. For six years, I’ve watched politicians foment hatred and mistrust of the press, demonizing us with the label “enemy of the people.” The stream of lies and disinformation has become a flood. And now our democracy has reached a new low, with a former U.S. president this week calling for the termination of the Constitution. 

This torrent of undemocratic words and deeds has swept others along, emboldening them to persecute the press in unprecedented ways. That’s why I’m standing before you tonight. 

When the governor of Missouri learned of my discovery that a state website was publicly exposing the private information of hundreds of thousands of teachers, he had a choice in how to respond. He could have owned up to the state’s failures, taken responsibility, and pledged to fix the state’s web infrastructure. He could have apologized unequivocally to Missouri’s teachers. If he was feeling generous, maybe he could have thrown in a thank-you to the Post-Dispatch for our ethical and entirely lawful handling of this discovery.

But that doesn’t happen anymore. We live in an era of bombasity, because there’s no political upside to acting with humility. 

The 2022 Fourth Estate Award Gala honored Clarissa Ward, CNN’s multi-award winning chief international correspondent, with National Press Club’s highest honor during a dinner and award’s ceremony in Washington, DC. on December 7, 2022. Ward is the 50th recipient of the Fourth Estate Award, which recognizes journalists who have made significant contributions to the field. The evening also will honor the winners of the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards, Rana Ayyub and Josh Renaud. Ayyub is an investigative journalist living in India and a Washington Post Global Opinions contributor. Her journalistic work and criticism of the Indian government has been met with an assault on her rights and freedom of expression. Renaud is a Missouri reporter who designs interactive journalism projects for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was threatened by the Missouri governor with criminal charges for uncovering a security flaw in a state database. PBS Frontline will be recognized as the 2022 Neil and Susan Sheehan Award for Investigative Journalism. (Photo by Melissa Lyttle)

And so the governor was persuaded to attack me, to falsely accuse me of committing crimes. He ordered the state Highway Patrol to investigate me, and then he repeated his false accusations again and again in interviews, in letters sent to teachers across the state, and even in a bizarre internet attack ad.

Our political climate gave him room to act this way, and insulated him from any consequences. In fact, Missourians learned recently that the governor is rewarding the deputy counsel who advised him to attack me, by promoting him to attorney general. 

So, yes, it’s discouraging. And I worry that there may be worse to come.

Yet, I’m encouraged, too. In my situation, I saw glimmers of hope. The governor wanted to deflect attention from the state’s failures. Instead he _drew_ attention — and scrutiny. Teachers were not fooled. They understood that I had done them a service. That my work was helpful and good, within both the spirit and the letter of the law. People of all kinds across Missouri, the nation, and the world, saw through the smokescreen and spoke in my defense. Even some Republican state legislators gently chastised the governor publicly. 

And that tells me that the truth isn’t dead. People can still recognize the truth among a torrent of lies. Our work, the important work of journalism, still matters.

Six years ago, I never would have dreamed I would one day get caught up in all this. At that time, most of my shifts were spent toiling behind the scenes with the night desk, designing the front page of the Post-Dispatch. It was highly visible work, seen by thousands of people each day, and yet it was anonymous. Designers don’t get bylines.

At that time, like many of you, I recognized dangerous trends in the presidential campaign. I wanted my friends and family to understand the importance of our free press. And I wanted to remind them that they had at least one journalist in their lives — me. So I wrote an essay. “What can men do against such reckless hate?” I asked, borrowing a question from The Lord of the Rings. My answer? Pray. Show love. Open your ears to hear.

That’s the way I’ve tried to live, and I believe it helped me come through all of this unscathed.  

Editor’s Note: St. Louis Post-Dispatch Data Journalist Josh Renaud was awarded the 2022 Domestic John Aubuchon Award by the National Press Club for his watchdog reporting exposing vulnerabilities on a website belonging to the State of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson responded by attacking him and his work.This is an excerpt of the speech he delivered in accepting the award. 

Ed Martin Wears the Schlafly Mantle in Comfort

Ed Martin’s success in claiming Phyllis Schlafly’s mantle has brought him not only continued prominence but also a comfortable income.

Martin is president of at least three Schlafly-related entities. Very little money passes through one of them, Phyllis Schlafly’s American Eagles, and Martin draws no income from it.  But that’s not the case with two others.

As president of the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, Martin received $200,342 in 2019, the organization’s latest IRS Form 990 shows. This was an increase of more than $36,000, or about 22 percent, from just two years earlier, the 2017 Form 990 shows.  

No other officers or directors received any compensation whatsoever at the organization, and no other employee made as much as $100,000.  Over the same two-year period, the organization’s total assets – nearly $19 million at the end of 2019 – showed a decline of about 26 percent.  

The Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund defines its mission as “to study and research problems concerning the status of women … and to defend the civil liberties, legal, economic, and social rights of women.” 

Martin, the former Missouri Republican Party Chairman and successor to Phyllis Schafly, has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, which said he was an “organizer, both individually and through your organization” of the Stop the Steal protest.

Also based at 7800 Bonhomme is America’s Future, Inc., a nonprofit whose Form 990 describes its mission as to “strengthen, and nourish the principles and traditions of our free society,” primarily through radio and other media. Until his recent death at age 100, the chairman emeritus of the organization was John K. Singlaub, a former U.S. Army Major General who was forced into retirement after publicly clashing with President Jimmy Carter in 1978.  Together, Singlaub and Martin signed a letter in 2020 to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr seeking the dismissal of charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Barr did not comply, but Trump later pardoned Flynn, who had admitted lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. 

As president of America’s Future, Martin received $52,503 in 2019, the latest Form 990 shows.  As at the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, he was the only officer or director who got paid and the only individual whose compensation is itemized. Martin’s 2019 pay represented a pay cut from his 2017 pay of $59,423. 

Adding his pay from the Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund to his pay at America’s Future, Martin received a total of $252,845 in 2019 from the two organizations.  The 990s report that Martin worked an average of 32 hours a week at the Eagle Forum job and just eight hours a week in the America’s Future position. 

These facts suggest that John and Bruce Schlafly, two sons of Phyllis who sided with Martin against one of their sisters in a dispute over control of their mother’s legacy, are largely letting Martin have his way,   a source familiar with the family dynamics said. Both brothers are on the boards of both organizations, and John is Secretary/Treasurer of both as well.  Neither of Schlafly’s two daughters plays any part in the ostensibly female-oriented organization, the source noted.

“This doesn’t surprise me,” he said.  “It’s not like he’s getting $500,000.  It doesn’t shock the conscience completely. 

“But it’s what a lot of people expected would happen. He (Martin) is pushing it about as far as he can. He’s making $250,000-plus in the nonprofit sector for just 40 hours a week. Board members have a duty to prevent the squandering of assets, but that’s what Martin appears to be doing.”   

Paul Wagman is a former Post-Dispatch reporter and FleishmanHillard executive who is now an independent writer and communications consultant.

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Differences don’t divide us. What divides us is our inability to accept that we are different.

This is the commencement address that GJR Editor Jackie Spinner delivered at the graduation ceremony for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts on May 8. Spinner received an honorary doctorate in media arts.

Thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Eid Mubarak all of you who are celebrating next week.

And congratulations to everyone of you who walked, crawled, ran, rode or were carried to this point. Whether you are here or joining us virtually. It’s an amazing achievement even under typical circumstances. 

These are still far from normal times.

I want to challenge you as you depart on the next part of your journey to take a moment to consider the world “normal.”

In my house, I’ve pretty much banned it. I have three small children who were born in Africa. They are now Black in America. My oldest son is autistic. We don’t look like most of our neighbors. It’s not just the fact that we are a transracial family. Or that my kids came to America as immigrants. I am a single mother and most of the families on our block have two parents. 

I’m not the only filmmaker but I am the only journalist. I’m the only one who has been to war and so much of my experience even now is shaped by the time I spent in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Washington Post. 

What is normal for us? 

GJR Editor Jackie Spinner receives an honorary doctorate in media arts on May 8 at SIUC commencement. She is being hooded by Provost Meera Komarraju. Chancellor Austin A. Lane stands behind the podium. (Photo by William H. Freivogel)

It’s probably not the same for you. In fact, if you look to the person to your left and the person to your right, you may see differences or you may not. Your journey to this point is shaped by where you grew up, how much money you had, the color of your skin, your age, your gender. All of those things have made our experiences difference even if we are now roommates or live on the same street. 

I think about the neighborhood where I grew up in central Illinois, the kids on the block there. I babysat for a Jewish family. But most of the families went to church on Sunday. The neighbors who lived next door to us were Black. But most everyone else was white. We had mostly two-parent households but not always. We had teachers and Union workers like my dad. We had accountants. We had neighbors who sold insurance and bought insurance or couldn’t’ afford insurance. A few of my neighbors had disabilities, some more visible than others. We had neighbors with mental health issues and physical health issues. We had neighbors who were born in America and neighbors who were born in other countries. 

You might be asking yourself? Why are you focusing on all of their differences? 

These differences are important because they not only inform who we are but they also inform the work we do. They will inform the relationships you will have at your first jobs after graduation. Your business partnerships. Your network.

Our differences are not what divide us. What divides us is our inability to accept that we are different. What divides us is our refusal to listen to a different viewpoint.

My challenge then is for you to suspend this idea of “normal.” Maybe you ban it from your own vocabulary.

Start with a hypothesis but be willing to abandon it.

Go with a hunch. Be open to the fact that it was wrong.

Tell your story. But tell other people’s stories, too.

This approach has made me an infinitely better professor and journalist and filmmaker, for sure.

I don’t assume all of my students learn or process information the same way I do.

I don’t assume that all of my colleagues have the same struggles. 

I don’t only interview or film people who look like more or grew like me or who think like me. 

College gave you a chance to break out from everything you’ve known, to learn new ideas, to challenge conventions, to have new experiences, to meet people who didn’t grow up the same way you do. It also affirmed the things you like about yourself, the values you have that are important to you.

Keep those.


Be open to change.

Be open to difference. 

Be open to the idea that your normal is not the best, the right way, the only way.

Congratulations, however you got here, wherever you’re going. 

Walk with purpose. 

Be the change the world needs to be a better place for all of us.