Our day that will live in infamy

R-J editorial page from Sept. 16, 2001

R-J editorial page from Sept. 16, 2001

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”


R-J front page from Newseum poster.

R-J front page from Newseum poster.

First posted on Sept. 11, 2016.


Newspaper editorial suggests ‘fitting memorial’ for Reid

Yucca Mountain (AP file photo)

Yucca Mountain (AP file photo)

The editorialists at the Washington Examiner have come up with a fitting way to honor the three decades of service in the U.S. Senate by Nevada’s Harry Reid.

They note that Reid, with an assist from the Obama administration, has defied, circumvented and defeated the law as passed by Congress that would turn Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste repository — or suppository, as Chic Hecht called it. The 1987 law has been less than affectionately referred to as the Screw Nevada Act.

The editorial notes that utility companies with nuclear reactors have paid $21 billion to the Energy Department for the purpose of disposing of their waste, but Energy has failed to act.

“Its failure, due to political sabotage, is both dangerous and expensive,” the opinion piece relates. “The Yucca Mountain repository, in a deserted, uninhabitable section of Nevada, was supposed to begin taking in nuclear waste on New Year’s Day 1998, so that the material would not have to be stored in communities across the nation. Nineteen years and countless scientific studies later, Yucca is just a $15 billion hole in the ground, thanks mostly to ferocious opposition from the retiring Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid.”

It is estimated that by 2020  taxpayers could be on the hook for $50 billion in damages to the utility companies on top of the construction costs at Yucca Mountain.

The newspaper suggests Energy Department secretary nominee Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, has the persistence and drive to make the repository a reality, and “a fitting memorial for one of America’s most memorable legislative leaders. Taxpayers deserve no less than to see the Harry Reid Nuclear Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain become a reality, at long last.”

Cover of Jim Day book.

Cover of Jim Day book.

As originally envisioned, Yucca Mountain’s U-shaped shaft would have been filled with 70,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods, each covered by titanium and palladium drip shields to protect them from water seeping through the mountain. After 100 to 300 years the hole was to be sealed and pictographic warning signs erected. The material would still be hazardous for thousands of years.

Local newspaper promises more while laying off experienced editors

Editorial in today's R-J.

Editorial in today’s R-J.

Could the management at the Las Vegas Review-Journal be any more boorish and insensitive?

On the morning after laying off at least a baker’s dozen of long-time, loyal employees — with the word being that there are still more to come — the editorial page trumpets that the newspaper will be adding more coverage and more journalists. It is long on generalities and short on specifics.

“We’ll have more reporters on the street covering things people care most about, the editorial says. “We’ll provide more expertise and more hard-hitting content by going in-depth in some areas while adopting a more efficient production process.”

By “efficient production process” they must mean less editing and fewer people in production. I got word this morning that four people in production and advertising and the newsside, all with several decades at the paper, were let go today. Two sources confirm the newsside person was Lynn Benson.

Atop page 3A on Wednesday was contact information for Deputy Editor Mary Greeley, the long-time head of the newsdesk, where copy is edited, laid out and headlines written. Today her name is gone, as is she and several experienced editors. The editorial makes no mention of this, nor the fact that the top newsroom management is now all male.

Among the few specifics: “Education: The Review-Journal now has two reporters assigned to this important beat.” Well, the paper used to have someone covering K-12 and someone covering higher ed as full-time beats, with general assignment reporters filling in as needed. Old is new again.

The only specific “addition” was a third court reporter. There was no promise of an additional warm body, just a person with that assignment, and perhaps a few others.

“One reporter will be assigned to a consolidated beat, which will include McCarran International Airport, issues related to taxis, the Regional Transportation Commission and Nevada Department of Transportation. The reporter on this beat also will write the Review-Journal’s popular Road Warrior commuter Q&A column,” the editorial says. One person, more hats? Actually, I think all those were part of that beat already, except McCarran.

As for the editorial page: “The plan is to make better use of space on our daily opinion page to include more perspectives.” Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means. Fewer pages, perhaps?

“We’ll have plenty of syndicated and locally written columns, and we know our print readers love editorial cartoons because we heard as much when we briefly cut back on their use,” the paper says, though they fail to mention they just laid off talented illustrator Dave Stroud or that the pervious, now ousted, “new management” canned veteran cartoonist Jim Day. Back to the future? If the readers like cartoons, wouldn’t they love local ones?

There will be no more Taste section on Wednesdays, which means they’ve thrown in the towel on ever attracting grocery store ads on that day, which was once the nationwide newspaper standard.

Reportedly the staff of the business section is panicking today, because the editorial made no mention of that section.

“We are increasing the number of journalists covering Southern Nevada,” the last graph promises. Names and numbers, please. I’ll believe it when I see it.

If they plan to save all this money with fewer editors and “more” reporters, I have one word for them: libel.

I can’t count the number of times over my too many decades as a harried editor that some savvy copy editor or news desk editor held up a hand and said: “You better take a look at this. It might get us sued.”

“We’ll provide more expertise …” they say, while jettisoning decades of that vaunted expertise.

I spoke to still another person last night who recently stopped taking the print version of the newspaper. This person is heavily involved in politics and community matters. He said he missed the comics but reads what he needs online.

As for that editorial, don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining, Boss Moss. That editorial adds insult to injury.

Editorial board circa 1997

Editorial cartoon by Jim Day circa 1997 that I have hanging on the wall. It depicts the editorial board of the R-J at that time. None remains.

Cartoonists are not wild about Harry

If you liked Michael Ramirez’s cartoon about Harry Reid conflating the training exercise deaths of seven Marines at the Hawthorne ammo depot with the White House’s budget sequestration measure, then you’ll surely appreciate these cartoons courtesy of Townhall.com:

Eric Allie cartoon from the Pioneer Press of St. Paul

Steve Kelley cartoon from Creator’s Syndicate

Glenn Foden cartoon distributed by King Features

There’s nothing funny about seven dead Marines, you say.

Well, as I quoted former Las Review-Journal cartoonist Jim Day as saying in the preface of his 2002 book “Screw Nevada!” — a collection of cartoons about Yucca Mountain — “Editorial cartoons must contain the essence of truth. The way that truth is expressed may range from the whimsical to the morose, but it is still a truth.”

I would quote further from the wit and wisdom of Mr. Day from several of my columns in the R-J, but the recent redesign by the newspaper, of which they seemed to be so proud, has screwed up the online archives. While a search engine will find all the archived columns and stories from past years, the links give you “page not found.”