James G. Wieghart died

I'm guessing this was from the 1970s

“Uncle Jim” died last night  He wasn’t really my “uncle”–he married my mother’s first cousin and was my father’s age, so we grew up calling him “Uncle Jim.”  He lead a full and storied life.  He served in the army up in Alaska, graduated from University of Wisconsin (Madison) School of Journalism and became a reporter in Milwaukee, WI.  [As you might suspect he was a flaming liberal to the end.]  He then transferred to Washington, D.C. and became a correspondent for the New York Daily News.  Here is an article that he wrote in 1976, when I was a senior in high school.  He brought news back to my home town long before it came out that Richard Nixon was going to be impeached.  He also went to Vietnam as a war correspondent and told us ahead of time that we were going to lose the war.  Ppppshaw!  We didn’t believe him. 

He went on to become the Editor of the New York Daily News for awhile.  He was one of the three moderators of the first Reagan vs. Mondale debate in 1984, when I was a 1L in law school.  I remember watching it, saying “Wow! I know this guy!” For awhile he was a (the?) press secretary for Teddy Kennedy.  As I like to recall, he became disgusted by Teddy Kennedy’s drunken whoring antics, but don’t quote me on that–it just might be wishful thinking.  He was a press secretary to Lawrence “P.O.S.” Walsh during his investigation of the Iran Contra Affair. 

When he got older, and when most others would have slowed down, he moved to Michigan and became a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University, where he was eventually inducted into the CMU Hall of Fame   and continued to work until just a few months before his death as an advisor at The Dilenschneider Group, based out of New York City.  

My earliest memories of  him were of him and my father arguing politics.  I used to love to listen.  My father was a staunch conservative Republican and early fervent listener of Rush Limbaugh.  Uncle Jim was an ardent socialist (he often pointed to Sweden  as the model of how a country should be run) and social liberal.  [Update: Cousin Jay says that Uncle Jim was no socialist.  I do not doubt cousin Jay knew Jim’s views better than I did so I defer to him.  But I remember how Jim often pointed to Sweden as a shining example of how socialism “works“.)  After my father died, Uncle Jim told  me several times how he felt that he and my father were best friends.  Though they would sometimes get upset, they both loved to argue and loved each other despite their political differences.  The last time I saw him, last fall, he told me that he was losing interest in politics.  Politics had been his passion all his life.  He said something to the effect that he wondered if that was in preparation for dying. 

I loved Uncle Jim; he was one of the best men I have ever known.  He leaves behind 4 wonderful daughters, a wonderful wife, 4 wonderful sons in law, and 4  6 (sorry Queen kids–I’m mathematically challenged) wonderful grand children.  Rest in peace, Uncle Jim.  

Here is what was written about him when he was inducted into the CMU Hall Of Fame

“James Wieghart “stood up for principle on all occasions and had a commitment to the principles of justice and fair play in all he touched while on the campus of CMU,” wrote Delbert Ringquist, professor in CMU’s political science department.

“I’ve never worked with an individual with as much personal integrity, character, sense of justice as well as a commitment of service to students and colleagues as Jim Wieghart,” Ringquist continued. “His career is one of distinction and one that should be held up as a role model for those following in his footsteps in this honorable profession.”

“Though he began college at CMU and held a reporting position with Central Michigan Life, Wieghart graduated from the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism in 1958. He worked for the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel before moving east to join the Washington D.C. bureau of the New York Daily News, where he served as a Vietnam War correspondent and went abroad with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. In 1989, he became a CMU faculty member and chair of the journalism department.

“A terrific reporter and gifted writer, he’s been a national political correspondent and analyst, a Washington columnist, a journalism professor, and the editor of one of the largest circulation newspapers in America,” wrote Robert Keane, managing editor of Newsday and former New York Daily News reporter. “This is a dazzling resume, but it’s only a part of what makes him special.”

“Once Jim had developed a source, it appeared that he never severed the contact,” wrote Robert Wills, retired editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal. “Before long his stable of sources ranged from prostitutes to federal judges, mafia dons to street pickpockets, mayors to U.S. senators and ultimately presidents and members of their cabinets.

“Tall, with amused but penetrating eyes, an easy laugh and more than his share of energy, Jim remains today as casual, enthusiastic and upbeat as the first week that he began sniffing out corruption for the Milwaukee Sentinel,” he concluded.

He also apparently knew Paul Weyrich, who says here that Jim recommended him for his first job. 

Here’s an article that Jim wrote, apparently back in 1996, quoted in its entirety:

The bland output of today’s editorial writers sends readers to the strident invective of columnists for guidance.

Since I eased out of the frenetic  pace of Washington and retreated to an academic life in pastoral mid-America six years ago, I have had the opportunity to read more critically the work of my former colleagues who continue their labors in the vineyards of persuasive writing.  To my surprise, I have found that the major columnists have become increasingly strident, ideological, and categorical, while their more anonymous colleagues in the art of persuasion – the editorial writers – have become generally more measured, thoughtful, even-handed, and tentative.

Today most of the editorials I read in the local, state, and national press are loaded with facts, background information, and presentations on all sides of the issue. But for the most part, they seem curiously devoid of passion, and clear and direct guidance.

That seems too often to be the case regardless of the subject matter. On issues ranging from local zoning fights to questions about the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world, I too often find a bland, reasoned, and balanced presentation that leaves me without a clue as to what the Morning Sun or the Detroit Free Press  or The Washington Post thinks needs to be done.

But while the editorials are blander, the columns on the op-ed page are increasingly bellicose

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not advocating that route. Invective and name-calling, whether labeling Hillary Clinton a congenital liar or painting Newt Gingrich as a heartless monster, may make for livelier reading, but they do little to raise the level of political discourse or aid in the formulation of informed opinion.

What I fear is that left with these two alternatives on your opinion pages, readers will be more influenced by outside columnists in forming their opinions on important issues, than by the editorialist’s more thoughtful institutional voice.

If the editorial writer’s role is, as NCEW’s statement of principles declares, “to provide the information and guidance toward sound judgments that are essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy,” then turning over that function to outside columnists would be ill-advised.

Tell them what to think

I don’t think editorial writers can fulfill their mission by adhering to today’s prevailing notion that it is not their function to tell readers what to think, but what to think about. That notion is grounded on the assumption that if you simply provide readers with the facts, they are perfectly capable of forming their own conclusions.

If that is the case, why have an editorial page at all? Aren’t providing facts, background, and analysis the mission of the news department? And if readers have all the information they need to form an opinion, why do so many of the best-informed readers turn to the editorial page for guidance?

Americans are inundated

 with facts and information in their workplaces and their homes. It is the paradox of our times that in the midst  of all this information, the vast majority of Americans are more uncertain and less confident than at any time in recent history.

The challenge facing our readers today comes in trying to gain meaning from those facts, sort out what is really relevant to the issue at hand, and turn those facts into useful knowledge that can be applied wisely to the issue at hand. That is why the reader turns to the editorial page for help.

The editorial writer’s job is to marshal the facts and arguments on all sides of the issue, analyze them, think them through to a logical and sensible conclusion, then present the finished work to the readers in a manner as clear and unambiguous and forceful and persuasive as possible.

And if the issue is important enough, please add a bit of passion to the mix. It makes for livelier reading.

[And yes, he would not like this blog, or my political views, or my shoddy writing skills, but this is my way of remembering him, and grieving.]

ADDENDUM:  Here are a couple of professional obituaries that said it in ways I could never dream of saying it.  Forbes and The Morning Sun from central Michigan.  I believe the info was prepared by one or more of his daughters. If so, then obviously one or more of Jim’s daughters inherited their father’s writing talents.

4 responses to “James G. Wieghart died

  1. I have to say you have captured my grandfather better than I could have. He was the most passionate man I have ever met and the world’s biggest raging liberal who believed that politics had gone through a drastic change for the wrong. If anything he believed that the American public had lost interest and did not know or care about how badly big business was controlling the decisions our government made, in August the last time I saw him I remember him saying “This country needs a revolution but the people aren’t ready or willing”

  2. Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss. I will keep your extended family in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Thanks Lowell, you would have loved him.

  4. Sorry Caleb, your kind comment got stuck in moderation.

    Every time I visited him I went away feeling that I should be entering politics and saving the world. Thankfully for the world, that feeling always left me after a short while.

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