Sharing a Capital Feast for Ideas & Civic Reform

In the spirit of the recent holiday, today's column gives thanks for a recent feast of ideas.

Also, I share instruction on civic reform from two can-do pathfinders who showed on a daily basis how to make a better world. They were my first boss, Hartford Courant Managing Editor Irving Kravsow, and longtime George Mason University Professor Michael Kelley, both recently deceased.

The Justice Integrity Project necessarily reports on scandal in public life. That's our mission. But we like to report occasionally on how reform can be achieved. 

First comes assessment of problems.

The Atlantic Magazine and its two major partners posted last week a video link to their Fifth Annual Washington Ideas Forum, which convened 60 opinion leaders from across the political spectrum to discuss major issues and proposed solutions. I attended the sessions Nov. 13-14 at the Newseum, one of the magazine's partners along with the Aspen Institute.

Michael Froman and James FallowsThe first substantive session, for example, featured U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, shown at right in the photo as he responded to a question from Atlantic Senior Editor James Fallows.

Froman made the case for free trade agreements focused on non-Chinese Pacific Rim nations, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) amid persistent concerns that such agreements might hurt our nation's hard-won safety net, including environmental protection and minimum wages.

"Is it going to be a race 'to the top?'" Froman asked. "A race to the bottom [in terms of working and environmental conditions, etc.] is not a race we want, or that we think we can win."

Update: Lee Fang of the Republic Report reported Feb. 18, Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks.

Whatever one concludes, I recommend watching the Atlantic sessions to see key figures make illuminating arguments.

My publication later this week of more revelations about Washington's power structure prompt me to share background about how our Project conducts such research. 

Civic reform is the goal of any such revelations, which are compiled also in my new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama Romney and Their Masters.

Charles Dudley WarnerHere is our formula, albeit for a task that is both challenging and necessary.

In Washington and elsewhere, I've tried to apply lessons learned for research when as I began my career in 1970. Fresh out of college, I became a $120 a week newspaper reporter for the Hartford Courant, Connecticut's largest newspaper and the oldest in the nation still in business.

As a history buff, I like to understand the background of my surroundings.

For example, the Courant's co-editor a century previous to my start was Charles Dudley Warner, a lawyer-journalist who was also a top editor at Harper's Magazine. Warner, right, lived from 1829 to 1900. He was regarded as a leading national literary figure during "The Gilded Age" (the title of a book he co-authored) as well as an effective city planner striving to create parks, among other things.

Warner was the first to devise the slogan (often wrongly attributed to his friend, neighbor and co-author Mark Twain), "Politics makes strange bedfellows."

That has often been my experience in more than two decades in Washington, mostly as an attorney and business advocate. Since 2008, I have returned to my roots as an investigative reporter.

On behalf of our non-partisan Project, I try to begin any research with an open attitude welcoming inputs from across the political spectrum in Washington and elsewhere.

I meet many news makers, including at events near our offices on Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the Capitol and the White House. The Newseum is a frequent locale, as are the National Press Club and the National Archives. So are the libertarian Cato Institute, the liberal Center for American Progress, and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Capitol Hill hearings and the region's courthouses are familiar venues. I often attend the national conventions of expert groups. 

As regular readers know, our research usually begins with tips about serious abuses in the justice system. Scandals that persist usually involve complicity by powerful political players and their supporters and allies.

Most of us in this field hope that exposure will lead to publication reform.

But many participants in this process, sadly, are getting discouraged -- and for good reason. The system seems not only broken, but at times corrupt in ways that create vast harm to large numbers of victims across the country.

At the Ideas Forum, I encountered scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. He is one of the most widely quoted experts on politics in the capital. Also, he is co-author with Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann of the 2012 book about Washington, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. 

Ornstein joked to me about his best-seller, updated for paperback this fall, "We should call it, It's Even Worse Than We Thought." 

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann It's Even Worse Than You ThinkWith the outlook so dire, we all need to be inspired and effective in reform efforts, no matter what our specific goal.

To that end, I cite the example of two mentors who recently died after extraordinary lives.

One was my first boss at the Courant, former Managing Editor Irving Kravsow. 

A tribute by Courant columnist and Connecticut radio personality Colin McEnroe described Kravsow as "a titanic figure in Connecticut journalism for decades."

More important, Kravsow was a strong force for the good, both for the public and those who learned from him.

The remembrances excerpted below are well worth reading in full about the man, his times, the way things were, and how the times should remain.

Dr. Michael KelleyThe other was Dr. Michael Kelley, right, a professor of English at George Mason University. Also, he founded and led The Capitol Connection, a company that innovated public affairs programming in Washington and nationally.

The programming included C-SPAN (which his company first delivered to the White House), as well as important Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meetings that anyone could watch remotely (including by Internet).

I came to know Mike through my work from 1996 to 2008 as president of the Wireless Communications Association. He was our only board member who continued throughout that period as we implemented a long-term vision to create a wireless Internet industry in the United States. The goal required complex regulatory strategies at the FCC, Congress and elsewhere and business acumen to transition airwaves once used exclusively for video and education to mixed uses that could support modern "broadband" services.

He worked closely with our expert lawyers and productively with many diverse allies on our board and elsewhere to make the vision a reality at his university and nationally.

Most instructive was how he juggled diverse roles so effectively and typically with a jovial yet perceptive demeanor.

For example, he was both as an educator and as a businessman. Also, he served also for many years on the C-SPAN board of directors even though his wireless service competed with the wired operators such as Comcast and Time Warner.

C-SPAN is a public affairs network funded by the wired cable industry that has proven especially valuable to the country with the demise of independent reporting by the traditional news media, as I plan to illustrate in my next column here about its unique coverage this month of President Kennedy's assassination 50 years ago. Kelley was also a board member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

C-SPAN Founder Brian Lamb will lead a memorial service Dec. 16 at the university, where I have been an affiliated research fellow at the law school's Information Economy Project since 2008 (although my investigative work for the Justice Integrity Project here is entirely separate).

Many eloquent and inspiring words will doubtless be shared at the memorial service about Mike Kelley's contributions and sterling character. But I can already predict and share here one of the most valid and inspiring concepts:

We need ideas, of course. But even more important are those with the character, commitment and know-how to implement them effectively in ways that help sustain families, employers, local communities, and the nation.

Contact the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Related News Coverage

Atlantic.Live, Washington Ideas Forum, Staff video, Published Nov. 26, 2013 about the two-day event Nov. 13-14. In a partnership between the Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and the Newseum, the fifth annual Washington Ideas Forum gathered an audience of over 1,400 across two and half days of distinctive social events, main stage plenary sessions, and curated breakout meetings, further cementing its distinct reputation as DC's destination for fostering creative thinking about critical issues by some of the most newsworthy figures of our day. To watch highlights of the event and read coverage of the program's conversations, visit's dedicated Special Report.

United States Trade Representative Michael Froman with the Atlantic’s James Fallows:

Update: Republic Report, Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks, Lee Fang, Feb. 18, 2014. Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show. Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the Under Secretary for International Trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year. Michael Froman, the current U.S. Trade Representative, received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration.

Huffington Post, Obama Faces Backlash Over New Corporate Powers In Secret Trade Deal, Zach Carter, Dec. 8, 2013. The Obama administration appears to have almost no international support for controversial new trade standards that would grant radical new political powers to corporations, increase the cost of prescription medications and restrict bank regulation, according to two internal memos obtained by The Huffington Post. The memos, which come from a government involved in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, detail continued disputes in the talks over the deal. The documents reveal broad disagreement over a host of key positions, and general skepticism that an agreement can be reached by year-end. The Obama administration has urged countries to reach a deal by New Year's Day, though there is no technical deadline.

Hartford Courant via Hartford Courant Alumni and Refugee Camp, The Courant — 250 Years Old And Counting, Dec. 31, 2013. The Hartford Courant will embark on a year-long celebration to mark an unprecedented milestone in American journalism – 250 years of continuous publication – on January 1st. From the American Revolution to the digital revolution, The Courant has reported stories, events and ideas that shaped Connecticut and the United States. During 2014, the year that marks the 250th anniversary of The Courant as the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, the organization will look back at these unforgettable moments and stories and look ahead as the media landscape continues to change dramatically. Older than the nation, The Courant was founded on October 29, 1764 as a weekly newspaper (entitled then as The Connecticut Courant) and has never missed a publication since its inception. Thomas Green, the founder of the paper, sold clothing, stationary, hardware and spices out of a store in front of The Courant’s office in Hartford to keep the paper in business. Although the daily edition of The Courant began in 1837, the weekly Courant continued until 1896. At that point, the weekly became a tri-weekly for “country readers” who did not wish to take the daily Courant. In 1913, the publication launched its Sunday paper and one year later the tri-weekly edition was discontinued.See also, Introduction, by Jim Shea, Jan. 1, 2014.

In Memoriam: George Mason University Professor and Capitol Connection Founder Michael Kelley

Dr. Michael KelleyBroadcasting and Cable Magazine, Capitol Connection Founder Michael Kelley Dies at 73, John Eggerton, Nov. 15, 2013. Helped bring C-SPAN to official Washington in early days of service. In an academic career that spanned over four decades, Dr. Michael Kelley was a professor at George Mason University — English and Public Policy — and founder of GMU's nonprofit instructional video service, The Capitol Connection, in 1981, to deliver business "cable" connections for public affairs, local TV stations and news channels via rooftop antennas. Before cable came to D.C., Capitol Connection was used by the White House, government agencies, The Washington Post headquarters, and other key facilities throughout the city to give them access to C-SPAN for the first time, says C-SPAN VP Peter Kiley. (Editors's note: Among those was Broadcasting and Cable Magazine's former Washington headquarters, where the editors' relied on that access.) Kelley was founding director of the school's telecommunications master's program. But he didn't just talk the talk of communications policy. He was a former radio station owner and was a member of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board of directors. He was also author of the book, A Parent's Guide to Television.
In an e-mail to staff following Kelley's death, University President Ángel Cabrera called him "one of the longest-serving, kindest and most dedicated members of the Mason family. Mike was an entrepreneur in true Mason style. Just in the last few weeks he was helping us explore several innovative ventures to expand Mason's reach." C-SPAN Founder Brian Lamb presided at a memorial service Dec. 16 at the university. Speakers described Kelley wide-ranging and effective work, civic contributions and joyful spirit overcoming personal hardships. Among his varied accomplishments were serving as a tenured professor of English, specializing in Chaucer along with self-taught expertise as a telecommunications professor, pioneer, entrepreneur and radio station owner. Speakers described how he persuaded the Federal Communications Commission more than three decades ago to grant George Mason channels for a distance education service. He turned it into The Capitol Connection, which earned more than $5 million for the university helping fund its expansion, as well as providing educational and government affairs programming throughout the Washington metro region to customers. Kelley's board memberships included the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Wireless Communications Association, where he was an active and thoughtful leader. His love for bluegrass music led him to become a radio station announcer during his early career, when he worked also on Capitol Hill on congressional staff. He was a devoted husband and father of a severely disabled son who requires extensive care. Other accomplishments and accolades to many to list here were described by admirers at his memorial service.

In Memoriam: Hartford Courant  Editor Irving M. Kravsow

Ifrving KravsowHartford Courant, Irving Kravsow, Feisty, Savvy — And A Great Editor, Editorial board, Oct. 6, 2013. Former Courant journalist, the archetypal editor, dies at 87. Photo courtesy of family and Hartford Courant. Irving M. Kravsow was the archetypal editor: feisty, savvy, well-connected, hard-driving. He brought those qualities to the Courant's news operation for four decades after World War II. Mr. Kravsow, who died Friday evening at the age of 87, was full of sound and fury: Reporters lived in fear of a dressing down for making an error, missing a detail or, anything but this, being beaten by The Hartford Times (or worse, television news). If a reporter got to work and found a Hartford Times clip under his or her typewriter platen with the telltale note "See me. IMK," he or she could be pretty sure it was going to be a bad morning. But behind the periodic volcanic explosion was a sense of purpose, of getting stories — good, important, local stories — first and getting them exactly right, the goals that remain the gold standard of quality journalism. And most reporters grew to appreciate Mr. Kravsow's passion, tough-love discipline and high standards, and would break their butts for him. Generations of journalists remembered him over the weekend. We recall a day when a news story had somehow turned the name Douglas into Bouglas. "How did we do this?" he stormed. "No one in recorded history has ever been named Bouglas."
Hartford Courant, Irving, Colin McEnroe, Oct. 6, 2013. Irving died Friday night. When I came to the Courant first as an intern in 1975 and a year later as a full-time reporter, Irving was probably the biggest thing in Connecticut journalism. The Courant was by far the biggest newspaper and Irving — then its managing editor — was its embodiment. It was hard not to imagine that he had been there forever. He was not a visionary. He had a hard-nosed, old school day-to-day sense of how things ought to be done and a primal, Nietzschean way of making us do them. I feel as if I arrived in the middle of Act III. By the time I got here, Irving had done something rather unexpected: married the TV newswoman Jean Tucker. My vague, second- and third-hand apprehension of the story goes like this: Irving had been a confirmed bachelor, married to the job, married to the newspaper. And then he wasn’t. He married rather late in life, maybe approaching 50. And by all accounts, it softened him. A little. You couldn’t make Irving soft any more than you could air-condition hell. But the historic tirades I heard about were far more volcanic than any I ever saw. And, more than most newspapermen, he liked to go home. He was home with Jean every night by 7:30, long before bedlam tended to break loose. He had pretty much ditched any bad habits he ever had. Unlike everybody else, he didn’t smoke. I think he had a drink when he got home. But he never drank with us. Not once in all my time. People would spot him and Jean out doing something normal, like riding bikes, and describe it as if they had seen Godzilla at a yarn store.