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Reflections on a Troubled Time; Writer Comes Squeaky-Clean; What's Eating Gilbert?

font size=+1> Reflections on a Troubled Time

You will probably get tons of response on the Kent State story ["Bloody Monday," May 4], but here is what I can say: I was 10 years old, and I remember when this happened. May 4, 1970, was the day of the end of innocence in American culture.

The American Graffiti ideals of the '50s and "Home of the Brave" '60s lay dead on the plain of an educational institution. What a lesson of life our great country learned that day. I don't think the office of the presidency was ever again as sacred as it had been prior to that. No longer would we accept infidelity and believe in our leaders as we had in the past.

I remember when an old neighbor came home from the war in Vietnam. My parents and brother picked him up at the airport. He was a bit anxious on the ride home. I didn't know what a nickel bag was when my mother asked him if he was nervous. He went cold turkey that night on our front porch, and I'll never forget how my very strong father, a construction worker, had to call for help because he couldn't handle a skinny, mid-20-year-old who was kicking a bad habit he picked up while defending our country. I am proud to say that person has control of his life today -- for many years after, he didn't.

I remember the bumper sticker "War is good business, invest your son." We are such a highly advanced society today, hardly like the barbarians of the past, aren't we?

Joe Novicky
via the Internet

Writer Comes Squeaky-Clean

I don't mind the criticism you leveled at me and my work in the May 4 issue of Scene [The Edge], but you misquoted me twice in a one-paragraph story.

I never said Dick Feagler had to be "squeaky-clean." Nor did I say, "I don't believe Feagler is anywhere close to squeaky-clean." I did say I thought it was important that Feagler's writing be honest, especially when you consider that he makes a living, in part, by lecturing other people about right and wrong. "Squeaky-clean" made it sound like I was holding Feagler to an unusually high standard. I wasn't. Honesty is not an unusually high standard at daily newspapers. It's the bare-minimum standard.

Ken Gottlieb
via the Internet

Editor's note: Despite Mr. Gottlieb's protestations, the quotes are accurate. Still, it's interesting how memories can change -- sometimes over the course of 30 years, and sometimes in just a week.

What's Eating Gilbert?

Criminal defense lawyer Terry Gilbert's strange tirade against Scene Editor Frank Kuznik for his coverage of Sam Reese Sheppard's civil case against the State of Ohio was unfair and not particularly well-thought-out. But what boundless energy! Hundreds upon hundreds of words, written within weeks after losing a case that attracted international attention and took years to put together, and directed at, of all publications, Scene.

In the '80s, Frank and I were colleagues at Cleveland magazine. One would never mistake Kuznik for an "unseasoned trial reporter afraid of stepping on toes," as Gilbert rather unkindly and gratuitously puts it. Frank is a savvy, steady, middle-aged reporter, writer, and editor who spent many years covering business and politics in Washington, D.C.

In light of that, the core of Gilbert's putdown -- that Kuznik did not understand the "larger dynamics of the trial and the issues at stake," in short, that the criminal justice system is corrupt -- is, again, merely a gratuitous insult. Any reporter who has covered criminal court in any depth knows that police lie on the witness stand, that prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence, that cases come to trial that never should have gotten past the booking desk (usually with a young black man as the defendant), that judges can be craven and cowardly.

But the criminal defense lawyers themselves lie, cheat, withhold evidence, and wallow in incompetence. The struggle between defense lawyers and prosecutors for the upper hand is, in fact, the underlying dynamic of the criminal justice system and the source of its "corruption" -- if corruption is defined as the everyday doings of self-important, vain human beings. It's not the job of any paper with a claim to objectivity and fairness to take sides in that never-ending wrestling match, except in rare, egregious circumstances.

One has to believe that Terry Gilbert knows all that, which leads to the conclusion that he doesn't really believe his own argument against Kuznik. Reading between the lines of Gilbert's letter, his real argument seems to be that Kuznik, after being given access to the inner workings of the Sam Reese cult, failed to be exploited. Kuznik used his natural perversity (well, no one's perfect) and went against mundane expectations, teasing a story on the cover about how the Establishment whupped the good guy -- which is, factually, what happened (if Sam Reese is the good guy). As they say about the post-modern horror movies, it was hip, funny, and clever.

Which brings up the final irony: Of all the messages in Frank's story, one of the loudest and clearest was that Terry Gilbert comported himself during the trial, and at all times, as a complete professional; yet in his self-pity, Gilbert is not willing to allow Frank Kuznik the same dignity.

Rory O'Conner
Cleveland

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