Orchids and Onions for Our Sole Surviving Daily

It’s Orchids and Onions, Darts and Flowers for Curmudgeon’s home-delivered Enquirer.

Apr 15, 2014 at 4:13 pm
click to enlarge More exclusives, less editing
More exclusives, less editing

It’s Orchids and Onions, Darts and Flowers for Curmudgeon’s home-delivered Enquirer. I’m not paid to re-edit our Sole Surviving Daily, but given its central role as an information source, there are times I’m moved to comment. So here goes:

• Orchid: Few journalistic traditions are as wasteful as unsigned editorials stating management’s opinion on something it wants us to think or do. I can’t help thinking how much more useful it would be if those same journalists were reporters.

It didn’t matter whether it was The Thunderer (pre-Murdock Times of London), the Zambia Times (where I wrote the editorials) or the Enquirer

I don’t care what the Enquirer editorial board thinks about most issues — whether I agree or not — except that I measure those opinions against Enquirer news coverage. When news stories adequately describe some issue or event, we can form our opinions.  

Happily, the space sometimes dedicated to an unsigned statement of management policy is filled by literate, informed guest columns. Often, they articulate a cause in ways that fragmented reporting sometimes cannot. 

I was reminded of this by two pieces last week, one by Aaron Renn and the other by Jean Geoppinger McCoy. 

Renn’s opinion piece follows news stories about relative growth of regional cities and Cincinnati’s pathetic achievements. 

Renn is identified as an urban consultant/analyst. He identifies growth ingredients and missteps in a way that belongs on the editorial page. Quietly and reasonably, he slaughters sacred sows and debunks conventional wisdom: 

“Unlike its fabulous core, Cincinnati’s sprawl isn’t even that good for the most part. So Cincinnati has chosen to fight its battle where it has few marketplace advantages instead of leveraging its unique and compelling assets. This has proven a demographically, economically and financially unimpressive strategy.” 

McCoy is a local lawyer whom I’ve admired for decades. Her point: Ethical rules limit federal judges’ ability to publicly defend their decisions. To insulate them from partisan attacks, federal trial and appellate judges are appointed for life. 

In part, her column reflects ways that some Americans love to hate our unelected federal judges, whether trial, appellate or High Court justices. They work long after presidents who appoint them and few are impeached; when they leave the bench, it’s usually retirement, incapacitating illness or death.

More specifically, McCoy responds to Ohio Rep. John Becker’s call to impeach Judge Timothy Black in Cincinnati. Republican Becker rejects Black’s recent rulings supporting same-sex marriage. 

McCoy notes that Becker isn’t a lawyer and niceties — including the U.S. Constitution — could escape a nonlawyer. She’s too professional to call the Union Township legislator an idiot, so she explains why the law protects the judge. 

 • Orchid: Over the years, I’ve complained (right up to publisher Margaret Buchanan) about brain-dead delivery people. One paper-tosser couldn’t hit our yard. Another found it too intellectually challenging to double-bag papers on rainy days. Still another double-bagged with both openings at the same end, handily defeating the apparent intention to keep it dry. 

Our current carrier couldn’t do better. Granted, the increasingly thick paper makes it easier to sail the wrapped missile over the sidewalk to the yard, but it’s there. When it rains, our Enquirer and New York Times are double-bagged in one large waterproof orange wrapper with a knotted opening.  

• Orchid: I was skeptical when editor Carolyn Washburn announced reorganization of Enquirer news sections to move national and international news into a new section from USA Today

She said more space would be devoted to local news. That’s the Enquirer franchise, its niche, its monopoly if it will exercise it. 

Washburn’s plan works. Today’s USA Today section in the Enquirer carries more national and international news than local editors managed before the redesign. Most of the first two sections are local news plus overwhelmingly local sports in its own section. 

Forget USA Today’s early “McNews” image. Its investigative and enterprise reporting go well beyond most wire service offerings the Enquirer used to shoe-horn into the then-anemic A section of the paper.  

• Onion: There was a curious throw-away line in the original USA Today story in the Enquirer on Medicare reimbursements. Some physicians reap stunning amounts.

We learned this because the Wall Street Journal forced the federal Center for Medicare Services to release reimbursement figures after decades of objections from the American Medical Association. 

USA Today did a pretty good job of explaining why raw CMS numbers could be deceptively high: Expenses were not shown and some procedures are far costlier than others.

A USA Today example was ophthalmologist Saloman Melgen was paid $20 million in 2012. Feds are investigating his practice, and that’s where USA Today gets weird:

“The terms of the data release by CMS prevented USA Today from contacting Melgen in advance of this story.”  

It takes a pretty light touch on the ethical button to accept that at face value. The story suggests criminal activity by the named physician. However, in exchange for advance information about his Medicare reimbursements, Gannett (owner of the Enquirer and USA Today) said it agreed not to give Melgen a chance to rebut that suggestion of fraud/dishonesty. 

A scoop is a scoop and access is access. But what would have happened if Gannett — with scores of dailies, TV stations and USA Today — had rejected the Obama administration’s unethical conditions? CMS released the data after an injunction was lifted that blocked public access. What would it have cost USA Today and Gannett to wait until Melgen or anyone else tainted with a suggestion of dishonesty could respond? 

• Medicare Onion 2.0: The next day, USA Today/Enquirer described top Medicare recipients, including Melgen, adding that he had not responded to requests for comment. But it also noted that like many ophthalmologists, he treats a debilitating vision problem with an approved drug that costs $2,000 a shot. I’m still waiting for the rest of the story. 

• Onion: Charlie Keating was an important Cincinnatian, and not just because his brother, Bill, went to Congress and published the Enquirer when Carl Lindner bought it. Charlie was a national star athlete at UC, a founder of Citizens for Decent Literature (a national anti-porn group), Lindner lawyer and, later, a banker. Not all of his ventures turned out well. Charlie was jailed on a federal charges arising from financial dealings out West but that conviction was overturned. He deserved an honest obit — not just a news story on his death — in the Enquirer

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]