New York City, NY
I love what the word "newspaperman" — or "newspaperwoman" — implies: someone who knows a lot but lacks pretension; someone who knows how to take names and is unafraid of kicking backsides; someone who knows truth will prove ever elusive but is damn determined to pursue it. The quintessential newspaperman for me was the late Lars-Erik Nelson. He wrote for the New York Daily News and did his best backside kicking in, of all places, The New York Review of Books. No one escaped his verbal scalpel if they deserved it, including The New York Times's treatment of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. I really miss him.
That kind of journalistic courage is difficult to find today. I'm not talking about physical courage, which many good journalists display daily in Iraq and other dangerous places. I'm talking mental toughness, willingness to risk. We have very few Nelsons, few I.F. Stones, few David Halberstams and Neil Sheehans. People I consider courageous are Murray Waas at National Journal; Dan Froomkin at niemanwatchdog.org; Warren Strobel and his colleagues at the Knight Ridder Washington bureau (soon to be the McClatchy Washington bureau); Walter Pincus and Dana Priest of the Post. And, of course, Helen Thomas.
But it remains an exclusive list. The Bush administration arguably combines the worst elements of the Nixon, Johnson and Hoover administrations in one. And yet most of the mainstream press has handled it with kid gloves, most powerfully on Iraq. For me, the entire problem was captured in Vice President Dick Cheney's appearance on "Meet the Press" in September 2003. Cheney fed Tim Russert one lie and half-truth after another. The next day, editorial writers at every newspaper in the country had enough material (easily available) to do an extended truth-telling editorial. In my newspaper, the Star Tribune, a devastating critique filled the entire editorial column. No other paper did anything similar, though Cheney came in for sharp criticism on some