As Bill Clinton walked on to the stage at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s 200th anniversary celebration, I fretted. He’s thin, gray haired and slow moving, so I worried about his cognitive function.
As the audience awaited on bated breath, the 42nd President of the United States acted relaxed as he took his sweet time at the podium, opening his notes, looking out at the audience, and then finally beginning his oration.
Once started, he amazed us with his depth of knowledge, skillful storytelling, and eternal optimism. His love of Arkansas and journalism were obvious as he gave a shout out to his lost childhood friend, Vince Foster, and said, “It’s a great joy to be an Arkansan.”
Clinton rarely looked at his notes, if ever. For 35 minutes – which flew by – he spoke about where and how we should get our news. He themed his speech “we need to know” and went on to say that, though many reliable printed newspapers are gone, they are still accessible online and from anywhere.
Importance of Reliable Reporting
He referenced the Russians’ cyber espionage and their brilliant social media attack. He explained, like only a college professor can do, what Putin’s goals are: to divide us from within, destroy our faith in knowing if what we are reading is true, and to break our conviction in what we know in order to create insidious doubt in our thinking and democracy.
He made funny references to the not-so-funny negative reporting of him by the Gazette, but followed it up with-and I’m paraphrasing-, “you may disagree with opinion pieces but again, you ‘need to know’ that the reporting is factual. Stay away from sensational reporters whose main goal is more clicks and likes.”
The night was full of thought, reminiscent speech making and, for a banquet of 950 people, it was intimate. Five of the seven presenters have been my guest on UIYB; Rex Nelson, Walter Hussman, Chris Keller, Kate Askew, and Ernie Dumas will be next week. I haven’t given up on getting Arkansas’s own Mark McClarty and our State’s favorite son, President William Jefferson Clinton, on the show.
A Look Into Early Arkansas
Our departing party favor was a printed copy of the famous 1827 “Letter to Brother” by Hiram Whittington, the 22 year-old Bostonian who moved to Arkansas Territory to be a printer for The Arkansas Gazette. The original letter is housed in the University of Arkansas special collections. I put my copy below, in case you’d like to try and decipher his handwriting. Or, you can read a typed transcription here (the part of the letter that is below is on pages two through five); his descriptions of the people of early Little Rock are priceless!