Inside the First Amendment - Remembering a man who championed freedom

  • Written by Gene Policinski

Freedom of Speech has lost one of its most eloquent voices.

John Seigenthaler, 86, led The Tennessean newspaper in his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., was the first editorial director of USA Today, and was the founder of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.
Seigenthaler died July 11 after being hospitalized briefly. More than 4,000 people lined up for the visitation at the First Amendment Center on July 13, and his funeral was conducted on July 14.
During John’s 40-plus year tenure as a journalist, he more than lived up to the old charge of that profession to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Even in his later years, when he left daily newspaper work for his beloved First Amendment Center, his voice and his passion for justice raged on.
Whether it was lobbying for long-delayed college diplomas for now-aged former students denied graduation because of their civil rights work, or parole and then freedom, rather than the death penalty, for a woman he felt was unjustly sentenced – he worked, advised, strategized and inspired others to demand fairness and action.
He helped integrate Nashville churches by assigning a black reporter for the first time to do The Tennessean’s weekly report on Sunday sermons – just one of the many ways he took a larger-than-life role as editor in opposing bigotry, and pursuing claims of corruption, cheating, and back-room dealing in local and state government.
 History notes that Seigenthaler was knocked unconscious in Montgomery, Ala., while attempting to rescue two Freedom Riders from a Klan-led mob, while serving as a personal representative of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Rising high above him on the wall behind his desk chair is a large, faux copy of a painting of the signing by the nation’s founders of the Declaration of Independence, framed and presented by his Center colleagues. Visitors often did a double take when they realized the historically incorrect painting had one more inconsistency – John’s face had been artfully painted-in where the painting portrayed Thomas Jefferson. As he entered his 80s, Seigenthaler joked that he felt old enough to have been around for the signing.
But age was not that kind of barrier to Seigenthaler, known for having several projects in the air at one time – and for a meeting and travel schedule that would exhaust those half his age. Whether debating the finer points of First Amendment law or relishing in the ins and outs of Nashville political life or researching books or preparing for TV programs, Seigenthaler was the embodiment of the concept that supports the First Amendment: The “marketplace of ideas.”
John Seigenthaler lived a life dedicated to encouraging the greatest possible number of his fellow citizens to participate in that marketplace and to using their First Amendment freedoms to the fullest. Each year, he’d review the results of the annual State of the First Amendment national survey, showing that most Americans can’t name all five freedoms in the First Amendment – and redouble his efforts to raise the score.
Just recently, Nashville named a downtown walking bridge across the Cumberland River in Seigenthaler’s name – to recognize his work in seeking equality for all, but also to note an incident in which 50 years ago as a young reporter he grasped the clothing of a man attempting to jump from the bridge railing – holding him until police rushed up to assist.
No doubt many words will be spoken of John’s many roles as editor, publisher, founder, author, TV host, lecturer, educator and more. But I think he’d be very happy if we remembered him with just five: Religion. Press. Speech. Assembly. Petition.
And while the customary end for a news story was the proofreader’s mark “-30-”… I think the more appropriate one for John is (based on the number of words in his beloved First Amendment) is this:
Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Stolen camera leads to a steal of a deal

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorDo you believe in miracles?
What if I told you that being robbed produced one of the most miraculous experiences I’ve ever had?
I already feel your skepticism. Understandably, if it hadn’t happen to me, I’d have one eyebrow up too. Nonetheless, keep an open mind. Believing is the only prerequisite for receiving.
My zodiac sign is Libra. Not that I’m into astrology but for visualization, go with me.
Libra represents the scale. If I were balancing the contents of my heart, putting my family on one side, my camera would balance the other side perfectly. I’m a diehard memory keeper. The only thing more important than capturing the moment is experiencing it.
One of my most memorable moment to date occurred in the summer of 2011 while my family and I vacationed in a rented timeshare found online. There were scenic lakeside parks, blue-green grass that felt like a pillow to my feet amid an on-site golf course. The luxurious amenities within our villa left me salivating to become an owner. When the concierge offered free water-park passes to sit through a timeshare presentation my thoughts soared on clouds of possibility. “Can we afford this kind of lifestyle?”
As the presentation closed, I was abruptly brought back to ground-level by my husband’s fist hitting the table saying, “Are ya’ll crazy? Thirty-thousand dollars!?”
That was the end of that.
We returned home and resumed our modest lives.
I reminisced by viewing my pictures. It left a grumbling hunger in my stomach as if I were being starved. I decided to look on the timeshare resale market. My search unveiled multitudes at a fraction of what the developer was asking. I raced this exciting find to my husband with a gasp of having just crossed the finish line!
He didn’t share my enthusiasm.
A reduced price was one factor. There are annual dues, booking fees and maintenance cost associated with owning. “I’m fine with renting,” he said with a firm stance.
Totally disappointed, I sulked.
Being the great guy he is, a compromise was made. I was given the green light on a purchase. Two days into our three-day right of recession, I had a dream that pressed me to cancel the contract. It was still too expensive for our budget. We killed the deal and I was back at square one.
I couldn’t move on. I was fanatical about finding another one.
I started working with a resale agent. I gave her my price range, desired location and budget for annual maintenance and she went to work. Problem is, that husband of mine wanted no part of it. For him, the deal was off the table, indefinitely. To smooth things over, he agreed to treat the family to one last weekend getaway before school started.
In a twist of fate, my resale agent called while we were on that trip. “I’ve found your exact specifications,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it.
We were at the very resort she was speaking of. We loved it.
But, loving it wasn’t enough to move my husband. I was convinced it was Divinity who’d orchestrated us being there during that call.
Tight lipped with an attitude ,I reached for my camera. Browsing my pictures would lighten my mood right?
Matters went from bad to worse as I discovered the camera been stolen at the water park! I did everything short of asking for an Amber Alert to no avail. We left the resort without its recovery.
The possibility of missing a milestone of my girls on camera drove me bananas.
I went to eBay to find the identical model for a replacement. Once located, while trying to bid, I realized I didn’t have my eBay password. After searching through archives I found a conversation I’d had three years earlier with a relative.
He recommended eBay for buying timeshares on the resale market. I had completely forgotten about this dialogue. After placing my bid for the camera, I curiously typed in the resort my resale agent offered us.
Flabbergasted, I found a timeshare for sale at that resort and our specifications listed verbatim, it was a two-bed, two-bath, villa with enough points for a two-week stay during prime season. Opening bid started at $99. It remained open for seven days. I wasn’t near the computer when the bid closed. An e-mail confirmed our win. No one else had even bid. It was ours for $99.
But that’s not the miracle.
I came from a poor family. We were evicted numerous times. Many of which the sheriff, accompanied by his shotgun, would escort us and our belongings to the curb.
In the scramble to escape the humiliation, my mother would only take our basic necessities into our next temporary living space. My childhood photographs are etched in my head. All of our family albums were lost in translation. My camera being stolen sent me into a psychological frenzy. Yet, after winning the timeshare, I celebrated about my camera being stolen. That thief led us to a steal of a deal!
There’s a saying, “All things work together for good.” The miracle is discovering the good in the midst of the bad. New businesses get launched from layoffs. Laws are passed from injustices. Illnesses create foundations that fund research for cures. The miracle is gaining an understanding that, what’s happening to you, may be happening for you!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Some straight talk from a ‘crooked’ guy

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B SideI know a guy who, unfortunately, developed a growth on the side of his face. I always thought he made the best of it despite the fact that the people stared at him constantly. On one occasion, he told me, he was browsing in a bookstore when someone asked, “Are you a palsy?”
I recall us laughing about the absurdity of the remark. Sometimes you need to rely on humor to cope with the cruel things people are capable of saying.
Apparently, those who make hurtful remarks do not possess in their brains the filter that stops most others from making such insensitive commentary.
I have a nephew who has a large, red birthmark on the side of his neck. It’s fairly noticeable, and he took a fair share of grief for it during his childhood. It looks like a scar or a burn and people asked him endless questions about it.
As he’s gotten older, he’s learned how to respond to these ignorant folks and their queries. In fact, he told me recently that he has developed several stock answers—exposure to nuclear fallout, skin-eating disease—the kind of crazy stuff that leaves the other person with no response and feeling a little stupid.
I know someone who has prosthetic legs and another with a prosthetic arm. Never would I consider asking why they were missing a limb. Another man I know wears braces inside his shoes because he has flat feet. He volunteered that information. I never asked, “Hey, what’s with those things on your feet?”
I’ll turn 50 in October, and, for the most part, have enjoyed good health. My shoulder hurts most days from a long-ago car accident; I wear reading glasses, am not in the best physical condition and have high blood pressure. Other than that, well, things could be a lot worse. I’ve twice used this column space to write about friends who have passed away.
But there is one nagging ailment I’ve dealt with for many years: high arches. I forget the exact medical explanation for how they became so high, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is, the condition makes it tough for me to stand for long periods of time, and walking long distances is no picnic either.
If I had an ounce of sense, I’d see a podiatrist or at least go to an athletic shoe store that develops specialized shoes and arch supports. In the meantime, I buy the best athletic shoes I can find, but the soles wear out unevenly because I tend to walk on the outside of my feet.
I’m not preoccupied with what I consider a minor malady. But what truly bothers me are the nasty remarks I’ve heard from others over the years about a condition that is out of my hands.
For example, I recently was told that I “walk crooked.” Wow. An adult told me that in a very matter-of-fact way. I was shocked. It wasn’t the first time someone has made such a remark, but it was the first time in a long time. The comment stuck with me for awhile. I thought about why any reasonable adult would make a derogatory remark about another person’s shortcoming or disability.
And, there wasn’t that moment that sometimes follows the offensive salvo when the individual realizes he’s gone over the line and attempts to apologize. No, I walk crooked. Statement of fact. Enough said.
I’ve heard remarks about the way I put one foot in front of the other for years.
I was a substitute teacher in a middle school for a time. Once, while walking down the hall, I could sense a boy walking behind me, mimicking my gait. I turned around and asked what he was doing. “Walking,” he said, with a sheepish look on his face.
I wasn’t upset because he was 12 years old. Mimicking and mocking is what kids do. As adults, we teach them that such behavior isn’t appropriate. Some get the message, apparently some do not.
Once I had a job that required attending big trade shows. Lots of walking required. One of my colleagues, who worked in a different office and did not know me well, asked yet another colleague if I had been injured in Vietnam. I was 35 years old at the time, a bit young to be a Nam vet. It was tough to be offended by such an absurd comment.
On another occasion, however, I was described as “Jell-O legs” by a man who helped lead a church youth group in which I participated. A fine example he set. A true leader. This was about 35 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Funny how that works. The mean remarks, the thoughtless things that didn’t have to be said can stay with you a very long time. Too bad the people who take the shots don’t know that.

A look back at an exceptional friend and no, we really weren’t married

  • Written by Bob Rakow

The B-side by Bob Rakow

This column was born shortly after a childhood friend died.

When he passed away, I felt the need to say something, and the B-Side got its start. It’s been going well since then, although this week’s column was tough to write.

I’m devoting the B-Side to another friend. My closest high school friend, Adam Peters, passed away recently after a long, tough battle with cancer.

Adam was my guy in high school, especially senior year. He and I, along with Matt and Augie, were a great foursome. We were together every day after school, rolling in Adam’s Cadillac, wasting time at Taco Bell.

Great times.

The four of us had distinct personalities. We all brought something to the group. But Adam ran point. He possessed a certain charisma that was not common amongst high-school-aged guys. He had an air of confidence about him, a great sense of fashion and a pretty girlfriend who went to Mother McAuley.

Someone on Facebook commented that Adam could light up a room. That remark was spot on. He had sparkle in his eye but a mischievous look that made you wonder what he was thinking or might say next.

I remember the two of us standing across the street from Brother Rice High School on one occasion, both of us wearing our designer clothes, collars popped, when a guy yelled from a passing car, “Are you two guys engaged?” Adam, without missing a beat, threw his arm over my shoulder and shouted, “No, we’re married.”

It was a classic moment.

Though, I don’t think the guy in car appreciated the remark.

Adam loved to read. He almost always carried a large book with him and spent much of his spare time devouring it. He was a bright guy. He majored in history, but understood that learning was a lifelong pursuit that didn’t end when you left the classroom.

I envied Adam in a lot ways, but enjoyed every moment that we spent together. We went our separate ways during college and didn’t stay in touch. I caught up with him on Facebook and found out that he was sick. Still, I never thought I’d memorialize him in a column before either of us turned 50.

I looked back at his Facebook page the other day and read the various posts that chronicled his battle with cancer. He never quit fighting, and he never lost his sense of humor despite his unfortunate circumstances. Another member of our graduating class said Adam’s battle taught him about faith and humility. I wholeheartedly agree.

Thinking about Adam’s passing saddens me, but my vivid recollections of our time together speak volumes about my friend. Thirty-five years later, I still recall our stupid stunts, including the time I made an obscene gesture at a car on Western Avenue. The driver eventually pulled behind Adam’s parked car, punched me in the head and said, “I’m getting the gun.” Adam pulled away from the curb and we sped through the Beverly neighborhood until we outran the guy.

We loved radio legends Steve Dahl and Garry Meier—their humor, their wit. When their engineer, Marcus Palmer, died during surgery, Adam and I went to the wake. He thought it was the right thing to do. We sat on the hood of Adam’s Cadillac afterwards and talked about the Blackhawks. I have no idea how I remember that detail.

Somewhere, I have a picture of Adam and me standing on my front porch. May, 1982. High school graduation. Again, how we were dressed was so important. We were 17 years old. Who knew what the future held? Today I know, and I wish it wasn’t true.

When my father died, I struggled to write a eulogy. I told Adam that my dad passed away and he responded on Facebook with the following, “Bob, he was a great guy. I always wanted a father like you had, and I know how lucky you feel to have had him raise you.” I never knew he felt that way about my dad. I used that touching remark to craft my dad’s eulogy.

Adam was right. My dad was a great guy. But Adam was an exceptional friend who touched a lot of people. Rest in peace, my brother, you’re suffering is over but your legacy lives on. 

Weeding out some of the bad neighbors from the good ones

Bobs Column - The B SideWhen my elderly next-door neighbor inexplicably jogged one evening across his backyard, tripped over the garden hose and fell to the ground, I knew he wasn’t likely to be my neighbor much longer.
It took all my all my strength with an assist from my elderly father to get him to his feet. Thankfully, he was OK, but his days living independently with his wife were numbered.
I could tell for some time that he was slipping, becoming forgetful and losing his train of thought. It was difficult for his wife to care for him by herself. And so, after living for more than 50 years in the same house, my neighbors moved into an assisted living facility.
I was sad to see them go. They were good people. They’d been my neighbors since 1995, when my family bought our home in Oak Lawn. They remembered the neighborhood before the streets were paved and watched Oak Lawn develop around them. They were good to my children, loved to chat across the fence and were reliable.
John and Olivia also are reliable.
They moved into my former neighbors’ house shortly after they left, having struck a deal to rent the place temporarily. A few months ago, they talked of moving, but then announced that they bought the house next to me instead.
I was delighted.
They too are good people. During the past two extensive electrical outages, John immediately offered us the opportunity to hook up to his gas generator.
During the two days that my part of Oak Lawn was once again without power, we had a running refrigerator, computer modem, window air conditioning unit and some light thanks to John and Olivia.
John has lent me tools, done work at my house, and introduced me to the best handy man I’ve known.
Over the weekend, I spotted John and his family unloading the van with shades, gallons of paint and other home improvement stuff. The house is theirs now and they’re making an investment. They have landscaping plans and other ideas. Nothing beats a neighbor who’s proud of his home and is constantly caring for his property.
Don and Karen are reliable, too.
They’re my neighbors on the other side of my house. They’ve lived in their home for decades. Last week, Don and I stood in front of his house moments after lighting hit my massive parkway tree causing it to fall into his house. Amazingly, the house suffered only minimal damage and no one was hurt.
In 1967, the tornado that ripped through Oak Lawn caused the north wall of Don’s house to collapse into the south wall of my home. I guess Don has had his fair share of weather-related incidents.
Don sits on his porch quite a bit, catches my attention when I’m getting out of the car, and we talk about this and that—my children, his grandchildren, neighbors and so on.
When it snows heavily, my children shovel his walk. If he needs something, I try to oblige. I like the guy.
I know that there will never be an incident at John and Olivia’s house or Don and Karen’s place. I’ll never call the police because of a late-night party or a domestic disturbance or notify the village because they’ve failed to keep up their property. Quite simply, they’re not that kind of people.
If there ever were an issue, I’d talk to them and work it out because that’s what neighbors do.
Most neighbors, anyway.
I have other neighbors with whom I have a different relationship.
To wit, weeds tend to grow near the privacy fence that screens my backyard from the alley. We don’t use our garage or alley very often, so occasionally we don’t notice the weeds. Still, I try to cut them back a few times during the summer. A few weeks ago, my wife decided to attack the weeds and was greeted with, “It’s about time,” from a disapproving neighbor.
My question is, “Why?” What motivates a person to say that? What’s in it for them?
We do some form of yard work almost every weekend. The weeds in the alley may not be our biggest concern. But we don’t ignore them either.
It is this same neighbor, I believe, who called the police because my dog was barking for a long period of time to get into the house. Were this a regular occurrence, I’d understand, but our dog is almost never in the backyard for more than 10 minutes at a time. Typically, she barks once and someone opens the door.
The day she barked repeatedly—in the middle of the afternoon, mind you—was a rare exception that did not require police attention. But a neighbor decided that was the way to address it. Calling the police sent a message.
My son recently saw a guy walking down our block, looking into the windows of cars. That’s when you call the police. In fact, the police encourage residents to call anytime they see something suspicious no matter how small. That’s how crime is deterred.
If you have good neighbors, count yourself lucky. If they’re happy to help you out, take a moment to chat, watch you home when you’re on vacation, you’re fortunate.
Good neighbors are important. Without them, the community likely would go to the dogs.