Sally Defty: Heralded journalist and first woman executive city editor at Post-Dispatch dies

Sally Bixby Defty, a heralded journalist known internationally for the depth and beauty of her writing and editing, as well as her ability to take on a variety of subjects, died Wednesday. June 29, In a nursing facility at Ticonderoga. NY., of the infirmities of age. She was 89 years old , just a month shy of her 90th birthday.

She lived most of her life in St. Louis, but  had lived in Bolton Landing, NY, for 14 years where her family had long had a summer outpost. Her house  there was designed by her  son Matthew Defty, a Chicago architect.

Sally Defty (Photo courtesy of Robert Duffy)

She was a long time member of the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was the first woman to be named executive city editor at the P-D. She was highly regarded by her colleagues, and her resume of stories was extraordinary for  variety, great style and readability and accuracy. She covered everything from a mass murderer’s grisly graveyard to the doings of debutantes at St. Louis’s annual society ingathering, the Veiled Prophet Ball.

Sarah Tuttle Bixby Defty was born and reared in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from John Burroughs School in St. Louis and from Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. NY.

She held a variety of jobs after graduation, and once was in the movies as body double for Jane Russell. She was proprietor of a popular restaurant in St. Louis called Sarah’s. When times were tough, she and her sister, the late Lucy Bixby Bertelson, worked sorting mail at the downtown Post Office during the Christmas crunch

But her true calling was journalism, which she pursued with vigor and enthusiasm at the Post-Dispatch. She began her career there as Women’s Editor, then worked her way into the newsroom as a reporter, the first woman to have a desk amongst a population of men in white shirts, many of whom resented having their male bastion infiltrated by a woman. She proved her value quickly and was a respected member of the staff.

Borrowing from the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore,” she, as a member of the highly peopled Butler and Bixby clans,  is survived by cousins, nieces and nephews, whom  she reckons up by the dozens; as well as  her sons Matthew Defty of Chicago;and Stephen Defty of Berlin, Germany; and her daughter, Sarah Defty McCutcheon of Elkhart, Illinois; and five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Details of her memorial service are incomplete, but will be announced here at a later date.

Robert Duffy is a former editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio

Post-Dispatch correspondent who circled the globe with LBJ dies

The first assignment that David Bowes got when he joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 61 years ago was to cover a coroner’s inquest for Maye Trainor, the city’s premier madam and hostess to Babe Ruth when Ruth’s New York Yankees were in town. 

In the years that followed he interviewed Dr. William Masters, the sex researcher, reported from a Florida nudist colony as part of cross-country examination of cultural change,  traveled around the globe with President Lyndon B. Johnson and was tear-gassed at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Bowes died May 13 at 88. After his years with the Post-Dispatch, he was a vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, an associate editor of the Cincinnati Post, and a contributor to Mid-Atlantic regional magazines.

Bowes, a St. Louis native, earned degrees from the University of Virginia and University of Michigan journalism program.  He joined the newspaper as a reporter in 1961, moving to writing editorials in 1967 and serving as a Washington correspondent from 1967 to 1970.

He didn’t always find that his editors wanted to run more risque stories.

Bowes arranged for a rare conversation with Dr.  Masters, the acclaimed sex researcher who had been working under cover in the conservative city. When the doctor’s first book was published, the Post-Dispatch declined to acknowledge or review it on grounds that “some readers might be offended,” according to an obituary prepared by his family.

On another occasion, Bowes filed a story from a Florida nudist colony. Bowes had been sent coast to coast to measure cultural change; the headline he chose, given Oh! Calcutta!’s acclaimed run on Broadway, was “Nudism vs. Nudity.” The story was spiked despite its scholarly context. 

Bowes was the youngest member of the paper’s editorial board, where he wrote about topics including arms control and disarmament, the seasons of weather, continental Africa, science and medicine, literature, merchant shipping, the Mississippi River lock system and Southern Illinois politics.

Bowes was a specialist in urban affairs journalism, he was cited by the Scripps Howard Foundation for “outstanding editorials that produced results” by saving an historic Cincinnati hillside neighborhood from demolition for an interstate highway.  The American Political Science Association recognized him in 1970 for 60 essays written while roving nationally; their insights informed his commentary on city planning, urban design and historic preservation. 

He is survived by his wife, psychologist Rosemary Tofalo Bowes, of Washington, D.C.; three children from his first marriage, to Judith Gregory, and two grandsons.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. He formerly was a reporter and editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and U.S. News & World Report. He was a founding member of the St. Louis Journalism Review in 1970. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

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.

Media personalities look back

For its 50th anniversary, Gateway Journalism Review asked eight journalists from print, broadcast and online media to share memories of their careers and the stories that they remember most vividly. GJR also asked them where they get their news, where they think the news business is headed, and which reporters and editors from past decades have had the most influence on them and St. Louis journalism as a whole.

Ellen Futterman

Editor, St. Louis Jewish Light; former reporter and editor at the St. Louis PostDispatch

First job in journalism:

General assignment reporter at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the late 1970s: “There was no getting anywhere in L.A. in a reasonable time because of the traffic. I remember the first time I ever saw a dead body; it was in a plane crash. I got to the crash site before the FAA did. The body was still strapped into the seat. That was crazy.”

Memorable stories:

“Not long after I got to the Post-Dispatch was when the AIDS epidemic started coming to the forefront. I knew this was going to be a big, important story, so I kind of jockeyed to get on that beat. This was in the middle or late 1980s. Nothing had really been done at the Post on the gay community before then. I wrote a three-part story about what the epidemic looked like. It was striking how many people wouldn’t allow their names to be used. It was a difficult story to do; it was also hard to get it into the paper. But I had some great editors, and we got it in.

“Another was when we had an interview scheduled with Bob Dylan. I was the entertainment editor; our critic Harper Barnes was supposed to interview him on a Friday. On Tuesday the phone rang. And it was Bob Dylan. And you don’t say to Bob Dylan ‘sorry but this interview is scheduled for Friday, can you call back then.’ So I did it. I love music. (Reporter) Paul Hampel was passing me pieces of paper with questions written on them. The funny thing was, other journalists were calling me after the story came out, asking me about Bob Dylan, because he did so few interviews.”

Influential people:

“Jim Millstone (Post editor) was extremely helpful, and a good voice of reason. Sally Bixby Defty was one of the first women on the news desk. She is a role model. I have a great deal of respect for (former Post reporter) Martha Shirk; she carved out a great path covering women and children. John Brophy (Post newsroom manager) was a very even-tempered, kind person. I learned a lot from him as an editor myself.”

Where I get my news:

“The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, and the ‘Letters From An American’ newsletter that Heather Cox Richardson (U.S. history professor) sends out every night; she researches the history behind the news. I admit I get some of my news from People magazine, too.”

Where the news business is headed:

“The pandemic has shown how much work we can do from our homes. The future is digital. And it will be curated. For example: You’ll get your sports news from one source, world news from a different source, and Jewish news from another source. I see more publications going to a not-for-profit model.”

Illustration by Steve Edwards

Carol Daniel

News Anchor, KMOX Radio

First job in journalism:

“A small country music station in Jefferson City. I did the weekends; there was a top hits show and I would break in and do the weather and a couple of news headlines. I had to do sports, too. I would call my mother – she’s an avid sports fan – and she would tell me how to pronounce the players’ names.”

Most memorable stories:

“Mel Carnahan’s plane crash (in 2000). I had interviewed Carnahan on several occasions. It was a surreal experience to have a man of that stature die in such a way. He was a generous interviewee. It was as if he enjoyed just talking to me. That made it more of a conversation than an interview. “And Ferguson. From a news standpoint, it’s one thing that your town’s on fire. There’s such pain and anger and anguish. But as the mother and wife of Black men, I reacted to it in that way as well, understanding what I knew about the polarizing points of view in our society about race. That’s what was so impactful for me. “At the time, our pastor took part in a prayer vigil at the Old Courthouse. We took our youngest son with us – he was 14 then. He was so upset. Later on, I realized he wasn’t mad; he was just afraid. He said: ‘I don’t know why you brought me out here, when a (Black) boy who looks like me was just killed.’ I could only empathize with that. For me, news has always been not only about information, but information that can change people’s lives. Ferguson was personal.”

Influential people:

“Karen Foss was influential: a trusted voice and no agenda, which I think is what has always been needed. And Sharon Stevens (longtime education reporter at KSDK and KTVI). Reporters covering education – that is so important to have.”

Where I get my news:

“I watch network news, mostly CBS. I read the Business Journal, some of the articles in the Post, and the Washington Post. Also a couple of print publications focused on the Black community. Some Vox. And I work every day with [stories from] the Associated Press.”

Where the news business is headed:

“The trust factor has been so deeply impacted; we have to address that. For journalists today who are out there talking about ‘fake news’: Can we do some soul searching of our own? Can we look back at the example of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ’70s, and the way journalism specifically portrayed the Black community then? “As journalists, if you don’t take the job seriously, this is going to be a tough battle for you. But even if you do take the job seriously, it’s still tough. Building trust and reclaiming it – this is a tough battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting.”

Ray Hartmann

Founder of the Riverfront Times and its current columnist; former CEO/owner of St. Louis Magazine; panelist on the Nine Network’s Donnybrook; radio host for Big 550 KTRS-AM

First job in journalism:

Copy boy for St. Louis Globe-Democrat Editorial Page Editor Martin Duggan in 1968

Memorable stories:

“One of the defining stories for the RFT was during the mid to late ‘80s, when the powers that be in Civic Progress were taking a big chunk of the local tourism budget and just giving it to the VP Fair. One year it was $650,000; they were just giving it to them, with no bid process. They were doing it to give some guy a job; it was an absolute raid on the treasury. “Another story the RFT did was about Joe Pulitzer (Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of Pulitzer Publishing Co.) and a unique arrangement he had with the Saint Louis Art Museum. He would donate millions of dollars of artwork to the museum, and then it was ‘loaned’ back to him so he could use it at his home. It was a singular arrangement. It was not the most important story we did, but it was one that we were known for.”

Most influential people:

“Bill McClellan Media personalities look back by Jack Grone Daniel Hartmann Futterman 9 has been one of the most consistent and best writers anywhere. Certainly Bob Hyland (former KMOX-AM general manager) was impactful. And Duncan Bauman (GlobeDemocrat publisher from 1967 until 1984); I think one of the first stories we did at the RFT was about how Duncan played his aces. And my old friend Martin Duggan: He was really the driving force behind Donnybrook.”

Where I get my news:

“I’m constantly devouring material online; I write articles for Raw Story and I throw in a little bit of work with search engines. It’s always amazed me how little publications use their own morgues and story files.”

Where the news business is headed:

“Print media are really endangered. I would be surprised if the Post lasts too much longer in its printed format. The Post has done as good a job as it can with STLtoday and trying to save its business.”

Sarah Fenske

Host of “St. Louis on the Air” on St. Louis Public Radio; former editor in chief of the Riverfront Times

First job in journalism:

At the Lorain (Ohio) Morning Journal: “I covered the suburbs at first, then switched to city hall.”

Most memorable stories:

“I was the editor on a story that Doyle Murphy did at the RFT called “Seamstress for the Klan.” It was about this woman who murdered the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (in Leadwood, Mo. in 2017). She had been sewing the robes for the people in the KKK. It was this crazy, kind of gothic story about Missouri. “Another thing: Back when I was managing editor of the RFT I did some stories (in 2011) about our lieutenant governor (Peter Kinder), who had gone to some ‘pantsless parties’ at this bar. It started with a funny blog post; from there, I started getting all these interesting tips. It ended up being six or seven blog posts. It wasn’t intended to be a serious story, but it turned into one.”

Influential people:

Tom Finkel, the editor of the RFT who brought Fenske to St. Louis. Also Bill McClellan: “The man is a genius. The way he sees the world, and the affection he has for it, is very much a St. Louis trait. He approaches the city with sympathy; with kindness. He’s a perfect St. Louis journalism avatar.”

Where I get my news:

“I have to give credit to the Post-Dispatch. They still set the agenda in this town; they do good work. I also think St. Louis Public Radio is increasingly doing a lot of stuff that you can’t ignore. The Business Journal also does some great work.”

Where the news business is headed:

“It’s a tough time for smaller and midsized cities. St. Louis is still doing a lot better than other comparably-sized places. We still have a good city magazine; we still have an alt-weekly. St. Louis journalism is hanging on in ways that are very impressive.”

Ellen Sherberg

Former editor and publisher of the St. Louis Business Journal; now a consultant for American City Business Journals

First jobs in journalism:

Copy desk intern at the Providence Bulletin; later city desk secretary at the Globe-Democrat

Most memorable stories:

“Probably the crash of Ozark Airlines Flight 809 right near UMSL (July 1973). An airplane crash takes precedence over everything. I was at the Globe at the time. To be fair, I didn’t report the story myself; I just carried the batteries for the reporters’ walkietalkies. The destruction at the crash scene – it was overwhelming. “Also, the first profile we did on Sam Goldstein, the chairman of Apex Oil, right at the beginning of the Business Journal. We were doing our list of the biggest private companies in St. Louis. Apex was at the top, and nobody knew anything about them, so we wrote a long profile. Mark Vittert (Business Journal co-founder) came up with the headline: ‘Sam Who?’”

Influential people:

William Woo (former editor at the Post); Martin Duggan at the Globe “although I didn’t agree with him. They were both very clear voices, and important voices in print journalism.” Sally Bixby Defty at the Post: “She taught me about second chances. She was a real role model for women in journalism.” Mark Vittert: “His vision for covering business news impacted news coverage in general.” Al Fleishman (a founder of Fleishman Hillard PR agency): “He taught me about people and power as well as people in power.”

Where I get my news:

“For local news about St. Louis, I read the Post online, and the Business Journal online. And then the Times and the WSJ. And Axios and Politico. And television, too.”

Where the news business is headed:

“It’s going to be hyper-local. A lot of the big, national coverage will be industry-segmented. I think more news outlets will charge for subscriptions what they should be charging, and people will then make choices based on what’s important to them.”

Sylvester Brown

Former Post-Dispatch columnist; former publisher of Take Five magazine; author and not-forprofit executive

First job in journalism:

“At a local black-owned publication called Tryst that was distributed at restaurants and bars. I was at community college studying art and graphic design. It was like an unofficial internship; I started writing stories and interviews.”

Most memorable story:

“In 2003 there was a group of people going to Powell Symphony Hall in a car when another car plowed into it, killing two of them. The driver of the second car went through the windshield; he woke up after the accident and ran off. He was wanted. I had an activist lawyer friend, Justin Meehan, who called me two days later and said: ‘I’ve got the guy in my office and he wants to talk to you.’ When I got there he was wailing. He wanted to tell his story before he turned himself in. “I told his story verbatim in the paper. They held the presses for it; it was my first frontpage story. I covered the trial a year later. The family members of the victims spoke about forgiveness. [Prosecutors recommended a 14-year sentence, but the judge ended up giving the defendant 120 days in jail plus five years’ probation, according to Brown’s story at the time.] “The judge said the victims’ families had saved his life. It was the most beautiful story of redemption and humanity that I had ever written. And it changed the outcome of that trial.”

Influential people:

“When I started Take Five, I wanted to emulate the Riverfront Times. I thought Ray Hartmann was one of the boldest journalists in St. Louis. His voice and his take on things were very influential on me.”

Where I get my news:

“I’m a Facebook Fenske Brown Sherberg Continued on next page I think more news outlets will charge for subscriptions what they should be charging, and people will then make choices based on what’s important to them.” — Ellen Sherberg “ 10 junkie. I’ve also got a subscription to the PostDispatch, and The New York Times and the Washington Post.”

Where the news business is headed:

“Now anybody can go out there with a cell phone or camera and report the news. There’s this site called Real STL News; they remind me of myself back in the ’80s. They’re showing up at crime scenes; they’re talking to people in the street. But the internet is a double-edged sword. Everybody’s ideas are validated, no matter how wacky and crazy they are. We can use the media for good, but there’s always the threat that it can be used for bad.”

Jeannette Cooperman

Prolific feature writer, former staffer at the Riverfront Times and St. Louis Magazine, and staff writer at The Common Reader at Washington University

First job in journalism:

Managing editor of an earlier incarnation of St. Louis Magazine in the early 1990s. “It was fun, chaotic and disorganized.”

Most memorable stories:

“Going back and researching the history that put Ferguson into context (for the magazine). That really opened my eyes and helped me gain perspective. “Another one was writing about the River Des Peres for the Riverfront Times (in 2000). It was kind of a depressing story. I was going to community meetings; architects had ideas to clean it up and develop it and turn it into a real center for St. Louis. But you could see people’s caution and fear about trying to do something; people seemed to prefer an open ditch. It was maddening trying to cover that. It has a history of environmental toxins, but nothing ever got done. I think they should clean it up and turn it into something that’s an asset.”

Influential people:

Sarah Fenske: “She brought the RFT back to what it used to be; now she’s doing an amazing job in her show on St. Louis Public Radio.” Bill McClellan: “He gives people something to hang onto that feels human and accessible.”

Where I get my news:

Local news is hugely important. I get a lot of my news through online newsletters; I love the Atlantic; I also read The New Yorker and The New York Times. We watch the local news because it’s something to talk about in the evening. I’ll read the Post, but not with the same kind of excitement I did years and years ago. St. Louis Public Radio is probably my favorite source of local news. I feel like they have the chops that used to be the purview only of the daily newspapers.”

Where the news business is headed:

“Online, for sure. I do think it’s going to be a lot more newsletterish; a lot more niche. This is to our detriment; every city needs a local version of the NYT, but we haven’t figured out a way to pay for that investigative reporting. I would love to see more public funding.”

Karen Foss

Former anchor at KSDK-TV NewsChannel 5; now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

First job in journalism: “A fill-in secretary at the CBS station in Kansas City in the mid-‘70s. I couldn’t type, but my communications professor told me I should apply for the job. So I put on a skirt and went downtown. I worked my way up through the station and ended up being an anchor there – for a general manager who had said he would never have a woman anchoring the news.”

Most memorable story:

“The flood of 1993. It was a local story that made international headlines. It was both professionally and personally a big story. I had a little cottage on the Mississippi between Elsah and Grafton; I remember helping sandbag in Elsah. The most heartbreaking image was when our reporter Jean Jackson was standing by when this enormous farmhouse – two stories plus an attic – was swept away by the water (during a levee breach in Monroe County, Illinois).”

Influential people:

Bill Bolster (former KSDK general manager): “He brought a fresh and much more aggressive tone to the station, but not in a negative way. He really believed in promoting what we were doing, and putting the money behind it.”

Where I get my news:

“We have a remarkably good local newspaper, the Sante Fe New Mexican. It’s a family-owned paper. The owner sold it to Gannett, but he became so frustrated with how they were running the paper that he bought it back. And The New York Times and the Washington Post online.”

Where the news business is headed:

“The most important thing lies with consumers; for them there needs to be media intelligence. We’re bombarded with so much information, and so much opinion that is labeled as news. For many people it’s hard to distinguish where the information is coming from, and whether it’s from a reliable source.”

GJR Publisher, William H. Freivogel, asked three St. Louis journalists to look back and ahead.

Don Marsh, Don Corrigan, and Linda Lockhard (left to right)

Don Marsh

TV and Radio reporter and longtime host of St. Louis on the Air

We’ve come a long way since my early television days in the sixties when local television news crews of three or four would haul 600 pounds of camera gear to cover stories. Then came video tape and mini cams, satellite technology, and now TV reporters shooting their stories themselves with cameras they can hold in their hands, and edit in the field. Not to mention Zoom interviews in these days of pandemic.

Technology has changed everything. The future will certainly include further technological advances resulting in more blogs, podcasts, and news distributed by, and consumed through, social media. Everything we need to know will continue to be at our immediate disposal on devices we hold in our hands, wear on our wrist or perhaps from chips embedded in our skin, dispensed by a wide variety of sources…including everyman journalists…with myriad motives. They will be capable of reaching us with fewer editorial firewalls and minimum fact checking while traditional print media resources drift into the shadows. Can the Post Dispatch become what it once was again? Can traditional television networks remain relevant? Can radio? Cooperman Foss Marsh Everybody’s ideas are validated, no matter how wacky and crazy they are. We can use the media for good, but there’s always the threat that it can be used for bad.” — Sylvester Brown “ The most important thing lies with consumers; for them there needs to be media intelligence.” — Karen Foss “ 11.

Will they be like today’s major cable networks presenting opinion as news and play to audiences who, like Lemmings, flock only to politically comfortable sources leaving them unexposed to opposing points of view. That’s seenn by many as a major source of today’s political and social polarization.

While it’s impossible to predict the future of journalism and how it will be produced and consumed, it is not difficult to imagine much of it as a potential threat to democracy as we have known it requiring new levels of vigilance and media literacy.

Don Corrigan

Webster University professor and former editor Webster-Kirkwood Times

It’s hard not to think of the 50 years that Charles Klotzer has devoted to the Journalism Review and wonder if there is not some disappointment – maybe even a bit of sadness. Let’s face it, has the situation for journalism in St. Louis and in our nation gotten any better after all those issues, all those articles and bylines? Newspapers have folded forever. Venal politicians yell “fake news.” Our city and our country is divided. We cannot even agree on basic human health measures in a 100-year pandemic. Charles Klotzer might, with good reason, feel some disillusionment in these dark days.

The truth is, however, that Klotzer has made a difference. His legacy journalism and his journalism legacy have made a difference. I saw it personally after the Hazelwood Supreme Court decision in 1988, when young people were told that free speech was a First Amendment gift that was not meant for them. Klotzer wasn’t having it. He argued otherwise. Young people were moved by what his publication had to say – and many of them became reporters and editors and parents who carried that message forward. When I see new generations of young people bravely speaking out that black lives matter, that climate change is real, that the carnage of gun violence has to end – I know that the philosophy of free speech espoused by Klotzer is somehow a factor in all of this.

Klotzer’s Review has argued for many of the causes that young people have embraced today and many, many more important issues over five decades. He has criticized the press when it has looked the other way, when it has not wanted to confront and cover issues that make people uncomfortable. At the same time, Klotzer also has been a steadfast ally of the press, especially in these times when the chips are down and, frankly, the chips are in short supply to fund vibrant and much-needed media voices. Perhaps, Klotzer’s biggest accomplishment is having fostered a nucleus of concerned citizens who care about journalism. These are people who will not sit quietly when demagogues try to silence journalists and call them “enemies of the people.” These are people who have been inspired by the 50-year legacy of Charles Klotzer.

Linda Lockhart

Interim editor St. Louis American and former editor and reporter at St. Louis Public Radio and the PostDispatch

The media landscape in St. Louis has been changing and continues to change at a pace that makes my head spin.

I set out on my path to become a journalist in 5th grade at St. Stephen’s Lutheran School in the old Gaslight Square neighborhood, some 57 years ago. The school newsletter for which I reported was cranked out on a mimeograph machine. Not quite the hammer and chisel of the earliest scribes. But pretty primitive, still.

Fast forward through nearly a half dozen decades, I’ve gone from using manual typewriters, to electric ones; on to several generations of computers, until the convenient laptop I use today.

Fewer people are reading print editions that I prefer, shifting instead to getting their headlines not just on the aforementioned laptop, but on phones that fit in the palm of their hands or even on their Smart watches. They look to Twitter to see what’s happening rather than picking up a paper at their doorstep.

The methods for gathering, presenting and obtaining the news may have changed, but the mission and goals, at least for me, remain the same:

Give the audience stories that help them learn more about what’s happening Give them something I believe they need to know

Give them something that they wouldn’t get, if not for me; something that will make them say, “hmmm, that’s interesting.”

That was my mantra when I worked as an editor on the national/international news desk at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It remains true for me as I serve now as the interim managing editor of the St. Louis American.

None of us knows what the landscape of the future will look like. But I expect for the journalists and the audiences we serve, we’ll just keep pushing forward to do what we are called to do: educate, inform, enlighten, no matter which tools we use.

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.”