SDX 2000 Awards Gallery
By Mark Plotkin
Reporters are trained and told to be fair, balanced and objective.
But most of all, they're trained to present both sides.
I have no quarrel with that. As a political commentator for WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., I try to incorporate those qualities into my commentaries. I am not interested in just expressing my opinion without first researching the issue and talking to as many people as possible.
But after that process concludes, I do not hesitate to state my view as strongly and emphatically as I can.
You get the personal satisfaction of letting the world know what you really think -- no equivocating, no blurring, no murkiness on where you stand.
I can cite one commentary that meant the most to me and that I believe most affected my listeners. On the very day Richard Nixon was buried, I wrote what I really thought of him and what damage I felt he had caused. I remember saying that he "brought shame and dishonor," that he "cheapened the profession of politics," that his entire career was an attempt to "divide and deceive" and finally that the "flag of our country should not have been lowered in tribute to him."
When I was writing these words, their clarity in some way overwhelmed me and I said to myself, "Can I really say this? He was the President of the United States. And am I being fair?"
And then I realized that truly memorable sentences are written only when it is raw and comes straight from the gut.
Commentators have a professional obligation and a personal responsibility not to fear the reaction, not to ever shy away from saying how they truly feel.
That's the joy of commentary.
Mark Plotkin is host of "The DC Politics Hour," a weekly program on WAMU-FM. He won the SDX Award for radio editorials (a category that has since been discontinued) in 1999.
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Dan Moffett, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, Dishonoring the Vets
Text from this entry
"... too proud to whine, but too stubborn to give up."
That's how The Palm Beach Post editorial page editor Randy Schultz described the nation's disabled veterans. In Florida, those veterans some living with service-related disabilities faced a daunting, bureaucratic system that did more to discourage its people than to solve problems.
The St. Petersburg office of the Veterans Benefits Administration the only such office in the state had reported a backlog of more than 25,000 claims. Veterans often had to wait up to 16 months or more for a decision about their cases, leaving them with the impression that the agency was stalling, simply waiting for them to die off.
This cumbersome process was unacceptable to The Post, and the paper decided it was time to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for its actions. It responded with a series of editorials describing the current system and calling for change.
Here in the Veterans Benefits Administration was the classic portrait of the dysfunctional bureaucracy contorted by inefficient procedures, encumbered by an assembly-line mentality, infected with incompetence and seemingly impervious to criticism, much less reform. The more the government invests in the VBA, the worse it performs. The agency spent $238 million during the past nine years to upgrade its computer system, with the promise of shorter waits for veterans seeking claims. Instead, the time needed to process a first filing actually increased from 164 days in 1991 to 205 days last year.
The three-part editorial series "Dishonoring the Vets" ran during Memorial Day weekend. Editorial writer Dan Moffett interviewed dozens of veterans, talked with the politicians and spoke with the government bureaucrats involved in the system. Moffett told of 87-year-old Henry Friedman, a World War II Army engineer. In 1945, both his eardrums were perforated when the plane he was on made a steep dive to avoid enemy fire. His claim for hearing benefits "isn't well grounded," says the VA.
In addition to personal stories, Moffett's statistics drove home the need for immediate reform. "During the typical seven-month wait for a first claim to crawl through the system, about 200,000 World War II vets will die," Moffett wrote in the final editorial. And he reminded readers that, at 50,000, Palm Beach County has the nation's largest concentration of World War II veterans.
The paper says is doesn't intend to halt its coverage now. Moffett has made the issue one of his beats, and the paper will keep up its campaign with the new Presidential administration and with Congress.
" ... Dan Moffett has exposed a great national shame that is perhaps worst in Florida," wrote the judges. "In so doing, he has given a voice to elderly heroes who have lost theirs in the vast bureaucracy that is supposed to be taking care of them. He did it with a savvy combination of 'real people' and well-chosen statistics. And he did it with deft writing that left little doubt that the Veterans Administration was simply waiting for its customers to die. But the real reason 'Dishonoring the Vets' was chosen is that it made us mad mad at our shoddy government, mad at our national incompetence to take care of those who paved the way for us."
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Nick Anderson, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.
Editorial cartoons do more than break up the gray areas of a newspaper. They offer insight and change beliefs. They influence politics. They spark discussion. And they give life to ideas.
"I think editorial cartoons are supposed to provoke thought. Through my cartoons, I strive to defend the sensible center from the extremes of ideological dogma," said editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson. "I try to neutralize the self-importance that corrupts our political system and highlight the intellectual dishonesty that corrupts the marketplace of ideas."
The real work in editorial cartooning is not what is drawn, but the thought process in place before the pen hits the paper. Anderson stays well informed of the day's current events -- always keeping a "creative eye" open for those things that will afford him the means to offer readers a fresh perspective on an issue.
The Courier-Journal's opinion editor Keith Runyon wrote that Nick "has emerged as one of the nation's most impressive young voices in this very special area of commentary."
A good editorial cartoon should be able to stand on its own and be more than a mere graphic depiction of the editorials it shares the page with. It is important for editorial cartoonists to have opinions of their own, ideas they believe in and are willing to sign their name to. Anderson is one of those people.
"Anderson creates some truly lighthearted original satires and parodies in which the art expresses his ideas and thoughts without requiring a lot of explanation," the judges wrote. "Not only does Anderson cut to the heart of the issue, but he does so in a manner that serves as a catalyst for serious thought and discussion. His subject matter is current and very relevant to readers and what they are thinking."
Anderson has been The Courier-Journal's editorial cartoonist since 1995, but his work began gracing the pages of the newspaper in 1990 while he was still an intern.
Anderson's work is syndicated by the Washington Post Writer Group and appears in more than 40 newspapers. In 1998, Anderson began making his cartoons available to The Courier-Journal's online readers.