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Archive for March, 2015

During my 35-plus years in journalism I worked with some reporters and editors who left the field and went on to become well known in other arenas.

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Copy editor/Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier

One such person is Carol Beier, who was a copy editor at The Kansas City Times for two years back in the early 1980s. It was her first job after getting a B.A. in journalism from KU…What I remember most about her is that she wore an ankle bracelet and turned the heads of the male reporters in the newsroom. In 1983, she bagged journalism and entered law school. She worked in criminal and civil law for several years, and in 2003 former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed her to the Kansas Supreme Court. She is still there.

Another defector was Elizabeth “Betsey” Solberg, a Kansas City Star reporter when I arrived at The Kansas City Times in 1969. Betsey was spunky, effervescent and ambitious. For reasons I don’t know, she bore the nickname Betsey Two Shoes. Her husband, Rick, was a Star photographer.

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Reporter/P.R. executive Betsey Solberg

In the mid-1970s, Betsey Two Shoes was recruited away from The Star to open the Kansas City office of FleishmanHillard, which went on to become either the biggest or one of the biggest public relations firms in the country. Betsey had a tremendous business career and held many civic leadership positions, including chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, an organization of the city’s leading businesses. Betsey is mostly retired. She and Rick, who left The Star not long after Betsey, live in Kansas City’s Sunset Hill area. (Thanks to Laura Hockaday for update.)

But the person I worked with who made the most startling transformation — at least to me — is Miriam Conrad, leader of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team.

I vaguely was aware that she was on the Tsarnaev defense team, but it didn’t hit me hard until today, when I saw a photo that ran with a New York Times story in today’s edition.

Here’s that photo. Miriam is on the left (dark hat with crimson trim), and Judy Clarke, an anti-death-penalty lawyer whom Miriam recruited to handle most of the courtroom duties, is at the right.

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Miriam Miriam worked in Kansas City a year or two in the mid-1980s and then entered Harvard Law School. After law school she went to work for the state public defender’s office in Boston. Since 2005 she has been chief of Boston’s Federal Public Defender’s Office, which represents indigent people accused of federal crimes in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Tsarnaev isn’t the first terrorist Conrad, who is either 57 or 58, has represented. Previous clients include convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen serving 17 years for his role in a 2011 plot to bomb the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model airplanes.

I didn’t get to know Miriam very well. She had come to The Times from the Miami Herald, about the same time that another Herald reporter, Ernie Torriero, came to Kansas City. I did become close friends — and still am — with Ernie, who is an editor at the Voice of America in Washington.

What I remember about Miriam was that she was intense, hard-working and gritty. I say gritty partly because she walked with a noticeable limp, the result of a shattered ankle from a 1982 auto accident. In Kansas City, she was always in pain, to varying degrees, from the ankle injury.

A Detroit Free Press reporter named Brian Dickerson, also a former Herald colleague, profiled Miriam in a 2013 story and related details of the accident and how it changed the course of Miriam’s life:

“Conrad was on her way home from a party at my apartment one night in 1982 when her car struck a median that the Florida Highway Department had installed days earlier with no notice to motorists.

“There followed repeated surgeries to repair her shattered ankle, months of litigation and eventually a modest insurance settlement. Conrad used the settlement money to finance her first two years at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1987.”

Like I say, she was gritty. She’d have to be, not only to go through what she has physically but also to take the slings and arrows that go along with representing some of the most nefarious, cold-hearted criminals to ever walk the face of the earth.

More important, however, as my friend Ernie said of Miriam in the 2013 newspaper profile, “She was a real street journalist, and smarter than the rest of us.”

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I’m starting to see red.

No, I’m not mad…I just mean I have the feeling that a tide that could sweep a Republican into the White House is rising.

In November 2012, after President Obama was re-elected, I said it appeared very likely that Democrats would hold the White House for the next 12 years –four more of Obama and eight of Hillary Clinton.

I also said it looked like all Hillary had to do was defeat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to win the presidency in 2016.

My, how things have changed. Christie looks like he’s finished politically, among other things for failing to deal with New Jersey’s public employee pension crisis and agreeing to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation.

And now I’m getting the sense that Hillary’s unrestrained arrogance is going to do her in.

The New York Times’ disclosure on Monday that she used, exclusively, a personal email account while secretary of state — instead of a Department of State email account — could be a crippling blow, in my opinion.

(By the way, The Star played this huge story on Page 2 yesterday and didn’t have anything about it in today’s paper. The Times, by comparison, had stories on Page One yesterday and today and has a new one on its website.)

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Who me?

Not only did she thumb her nose at the public by using a private email address to conduct public business, she and Bill established their own domain name, clintonemail.com, which had a server linked to the Clintons’ home address in Chappaqua, New York.

In its latest story, The New York Times says Hillary used the private address for everything — “from State Department matters to planning her daughter’s wedding and issues related to the family’s sprawling philanthropic foundation.”

Time magazine said that establishing the domain name and maintaining a private server “raised questions about whether Clinton was making a deliberate attempt to prevent her messages from being disclosed by open records requests or subpoenas.”

Hillary was already carrying a significant amount of baggage — the Benghazi debacle, among other things — and now here’s another damaging disclosure suggesting that her government business was none of the public’s business.

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It seems to me that most normal, logical-thinking people who were carrying baggage as heavy as Hillary’s would think along these lines when planning a run at the presidency…

“I need to be as transparent as possible, avoid any appearance of impropriety and do everything I can to convince voters that I’m a credible, trustworthy candidate.”

But, no, here comes another in-your-face, faith-shaking gambit. As Times’ columnist Frank Bruni said in an Op-Ed column today, “…this was reckless, given the questions that would surely be asked if it came to light the likelihood that it would, and how she’d wind up looking.”

“Does she have a political death wish?” Bruni asked.

I say, does she take the public for idiots?

The email scandal (let me be the first, I think, to apply that label) was the subject of a second Times Op-Ed piece, written by Matthew Connelly, a Columbia University history professor, and Richard H. Immerman, a Temple University history professor.

Here’s the sentence from their piece that jumped out at me:

“The revelation on Monday that Hillary Rodham Clinton used only a personal email account when she was secretary of state and did not preserve her emails on departmental servers seems to reflect a troubling indifference to saving the history she was living.”

Indeed, most of what the secretary of state does — like John Kerry trying to forge a nuclear deal with the Iranians — amounts to a lot more than a person going about a random job and consigning their actions and official interactions to their personal files.

Many Democrats are going to stick with Hillary regardless, but Hillary has handed the Republicans some powerful ammunition, which they will bombard her with and which undoubtedly will create, or reinforce, doubts about her judgment and integrity.

On another front, until now it appeared that a congressional committee examining the 2012 attacks in Benghazi was just a vehicle to lambaste Hillary on that subject one more time. But now the committee has fresh meat: The committee on Wednesday asked Hillary’s lawyers for all of her emails related to Libya. The intimation is that although she has surrendered 50,000 pages of emails from the personal account, she might not have turned over everything relating to Benghazi.

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It looks like Jeb Bush will be the Republican nominee. His biggest problem so far, it appears to me, is that, a la Abe Lincoln, his wife is a shopaholic. Pretty tame by comparison to Hillary’s failure to adequately secure the Libyan embassy and her use of a private email account to conduct State Department business.

If Bush can maintain an appearance of moderation and reasonableness, partly by resisting the urge to suck up to the far right, he could make off with a lot of Democratic votes. That’s where John McCain and Mitt Romney failed as presidential candidates. In abandoning their “maverick” and “moderate” mantles respectively, they sacrificed any hope of getting the votes of moderate Democrats…And, as we all know, there are a hell of a lot more moderate Democrats than there are right-wing kooks.

Along with the Clinton arrogance and presumptuousness (have you noticed that she hasn’t bothered to step forward and address the issue herself?) a Republican nominee who came off as moderate could put in GOP hands the Oval Office, as well as the House and Senate.

The question is: Will the Republican nominee see the light this time around, or will he fall into the same old muddy well? Because if he kowtows to the far right, most moderate Democrats will likely set aside Hillary’s astonishing indifference to saving the history she was living and run right back into her insincere embrace.

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