Back in the Saddle

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"On the Record" is live tonight — as it is 99 percent of the time — from Washington. After a few days off, I feel rested and anxious to get to work. I have always liked work — even when I was practicing law or teaching it. Now, returning to school had its ups and downs depending on the time of year, I was never wild (to put it mildly) about returning from Thanksgiving vacation to face finals and papers... in fact, I hated it. I always found starting the fall semester extremely exciting and I was eager to learn... but it was hard to get motivated after Thanksgiving — it was dark early, very cold and much work and pressure. Of course it was important to get motivated... but the desire to get motivated in school at this time of year did not come naturally for me. I had to force it. I don't feel that way about work. It is easy to get motivated.

We have some interesting interviews planned for you this week — including Alan Alda (now an author!) Later in the week it is expected that we will be doing the show in New York City, but as you know if you are a regular reader of this blog, much can change and it is hard to plan in the cable news business. There have been so many times when we plan a show and then during the show we have breaking news or even technical problems that cause us to completely change the show so even planning for later in the week seems uncertain at best.

An update on a story that we have been following for you: Do you remember Arthur Dockery? He is the 57-year-old man who said that he and his father's elderly companion were kidnapped one Sunday when they went shopping. He said that he managed to escape and that he has no idea what happened to his father's companion who he said was kidnapped by a separate set of kidnappers. Arthur has been questioned and questioned since the disappearance but so far no one knows where the elderly woman is. His version of events have always been suspect in my mind. In the last few days a body has been found in Illinois and there is suspicion that the body is that of the elderly woman. I assume by show time tonight we will have confirmation as to the identity of the woman. Meanwhile, Arthur is in jail. He has other legal problems that have him locked up. His elderly father is living alone at home since his companion is gone and his son in locked up. We spoke to the father early on in this investigation and he is, as you might imagine, very, very distressed.

At the bottom of the emails I have posted some articles that caught my attention. I am curious what you think about the controversy set forth in the article about the school newspaper. I am sure there will be strong feelings on it regardless of your opinion.

Some randomly selected emails:

E-mail No. 1

After watching a portion of your Friday show a neighbor and I came to the conclusion that for you to have the two parents of daughters who had been kidnapped and murdered was in extreme poor taste. To put those parents on display exposing their raw grief was unspeakable poor taste. Of course Mrs. Twitty displayed no emotion but was glad for more TV exposure. By the time Mark Fuhrman, the dirty cop, came on we both changed channels immediately as Fuhrman has no credibility. That Fuhrman is able to insinuate his presence and questionable opinions into every high-profile case across the U.S. is beyond comprehension. He was forced into retirement, after the O.J. trial, with good reason. Please! Do yourself a favor and stop associating yourself with Fuhrman
A fan
Ellen Bernee
(Who is finding it difficult to watch your program)

ANSWER: Ellen, a quick reply: The parents want to put the spotlight on this very serious problem... they do not want to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that missing children, etc., is not a serious problem. They hope their efforts will help others, they also want help getting answers and justice for themselves. As for Mark Fuhrman, for more than 10 years I represented poor people accused of, and in some instances, convicted of crime... after paying the penalty (whether it be prison or probation), I believed they should have a chance to rehabilitate themselves. I don't know why you don't want me to offer the same to Mark. Many people commit crimes and never pay a penalty. Rehabilitation is extremely important and I won't discriminate against Mark — just as I did not against my own clients. I wanted my clients to be able to redeem themselves. I believe good people can do wrong and after punishment, should be allowed to redeem themselves. If someone re-offends, then, of course, I have a different view. This does not mean that the underlying crime was not important — but it is wise to bury disdain and accept rehabilitation.

E-mail No. 2

The audience show was the best one ever. Do it again!

E-mail No. 3

Your show Friday night was sad and moving. I have lost loved ones, but cannot imagine losing a child so tragically at the hands of another. I feel for the families, and hope with time some of their grief will lessen, but I can imagine that there will always be emptiness in their heart not even another child can replace. You did a great job showing their personal experiences dealing with law enforcement and the media. The audience seemed to be hesitant about wanting to ask them questions. I cannot blame them though because your show was dealing with a sad and painful topic.
I hope Beth Holloway can answers to what happened to her daughter. On the
Internet they are saying Dr. Phil altered Skeeter's tape in some way to make
it appear that Deepak said, “We did… and you would be surprise how simple it was.” Dompig is saying that is not what Deepak said. He said, “We didn’t… and you would be surprise how simple it was”. It doesn’t make sense to me that he would say “we didn’t” and follow it with “you would be surprise how simple it was.” Maybe you can help to clear it up, and play unaltered version of the tape.

Articles I spotted... and now am posting for you to read and comment about, the first one posted is sure to stir some controversy:

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — A principal's decision to recall all 1,800 copies of the student newspaper at Oak Ridge High School has stirred a First Amendment debate at the school.

Principal Becky Ervin cited a story about birth control and another about students with tattoos and body piercings as the reason for the recall.

Schools Superintendent Tom Bailey said Ervin has the responsibility to set standards for her school.

"We have a responsibility to the public to do the right thing," he said. "We've got 14-year-olds that read the newspaper."

Teacher Wanda Grooms, who has been newspaper adviser since 1988, said the seizure of newspapers is unprecedented and suppresses student expression.

"As I've always understood my job, we believe the student newspaper is a public forum for student First Amendment free speech," she said.

Grooms said administrators must decide if students can, "think and discuss issues in a way that is responsible, or whether we want to say only adults can discuss those issues."

Bailey said the paper contained a photo of an unnamed student's tattoo and that the student had not told her parents about the tattoo.

"I have a problem with the idea of putting something in the paper that makes us a part of hiding something from the parents," he said.

Bailey also said the story about birth control should be edited to be acceptable for all students. The edition can be reprinted after changes are made, he said.

"I'm not completely OK with reprinting the paper," student editor Brittany Thomas said.

Thomas said she and other students plan to wear T-shirts to school on Monday with their opinions about the action written on them.

Both Grooms and Thomas said they were upset with how the newspapers were recalled on Tuesday. Administrators went into teachers' classrooms, desks and mailboxes to retrieve copies of the newspaper.

First Amendment experts were critical of the seizure.

"This is a terrible lesson in civics," University of Tennessee journalism professor Dwight Teeter said Friday. "This is an issue about the administration wanting to have control. Either the students are going to have a voice, or you're going to have a PR rag for the administration."

"I think somebody has overreached, and they're ignoring basic freedoms," Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said.

Grooms said she told her newspaper staff to expect the stories to be controversial and to generate letters to the editor.

"I didn't anticipate this type of reaction," she said. "I was shocked."

WHITEWATER, Wis. (AP) — Bernie Dalsey has become so disgusted with American government and politics that he wanted to start his own party: the Justice Party.

The 47-year-old Whitewater resident is a former Green and Libertarian candidate for state Assembly.

He has called the Federal Election Commission and the Wisconsin State Elections Board to get authorization for the party name to appear on the ballots, if any candidates surface.

He set up a non-stock company to help manage funding and a Web site.

He wants to see national health care, supports abortion rights and would like to see a higher tax on the wealthy. He also supports gun rights, opposes same-sex marriages and wants to close America's borders to illegal immigrants.

Some of the ideas are extreme, including closing all overseas U-S military bases, severely limiting special-interest dollars in political campaigning and eliminating all foreign aid.

Dalsey is currently the only official party member.

AP Education Writer

Stephanie Swisher is settling in nicely as a freshman at the University of Virginia, enjoying classes, Naval ROTC, club volleyball and football Saturdays.

Things are going so well, in fact, that she would rather not return to Tulane University in New Orleans — the school she had expected to attend until Hurricane Katrina struck.

"The argument that everyone's giving me is that I'm a freshman so I've never known Tulane, I need to give it a chance,"' she said. "My argument is, why should I have to?"

But Swisher probably will have to give Tulane a chance. Despite her wishes — and a 600-signature petition she helped organize — Virginia is sticking by the conditions under which visiting students were admitted after the hurricane: they must return when their school reopens. And Tulane is scheduled to reopen Jan. 17.

After Katrina, colleges around the country took in an estimated 18,000 displaced New Orleans students. Now, the New Orleans schools desperately need those students to return next semester and pay tuition.

Exactly how many will return won't be known until January. Tulane says 80 percent of its students have already re-registered. Loyola University, which received little damage, just started registration and can only say more than half for now. The situation will likely be more dire at schools like Xavier and Dillard, which suffered more storm damage.

Some students simply want to stay where they are, particularly freshmen who never got attached to their original schools.

Student councils at Virginia, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, have passed resolutions calling on their schools to be more flexible in letting New Orleans students at least apply to transfer.

Officially, those and other colleges are saying no, wary of breaking their promises to other schools or, in some cases, of letting students use the situation to "trade up" to a more prestigious school.

Of course, students won't truly be forced to return; host colleges can simply refuse to let them transfer there next semester. But there's nothing to prevent students from withdrawing from their New Orleans schools and trying to transfer next fall like anyone else.

So the question becomes, if students are determined to transfer, why force them to return to New Orleans at all?

That's what Amy McClendon, a Tulane freshman from Amite, La., who ended up at Harvard after a brief stint at Louisiana State University, is wondering. She wants to stay at Harvard but will have to return to Tulane and take her chances applying for transfer next fall (Harvard does not let any visiting freshmen apply to transfer). That would mean going back to be a new freshman — for the fourth time.

"I don't want to have to go through it again," she said. "All my friends are here."

Another Tulane student at Harvard, Julie Hall, was so disheartened by conditions in New Orleans on a recent visit that she's applying to transfer to a third school, Wellesley or Washington University. Five of the seven Tulane freshmen at Harvard want to stay there, she said.

"I'm sympathetic to the (New Orleans) schools," said Hall, who says she has made great friends and been a crew coxswain at Harvard. "At the same time, it's my education and I should have the right to go where I want."

Neither she nor McClendon had applied to Harvard out of high school.

The situation has placed college administrators in a bind.

"We're sort of in this moral, ethical dilemma here," said Esther Gulli, chief of staff to the vice chancellor for student affairs at Berkeley, which has been counseling displaced students on their options. "These students have been through a great deal here, and obviously they're just trying to look for a little consistency in their lives. But our agreements with their schools were, when they were open and ready for business we would send their students back."

Swisher, the Tulane student at Virginia, said New Orleans was a big reason she chose Tulane, but the city isn't the same. And despite Tulane's assurances, she says she won't have some opportunities she was counting on, like a Swahili class she had planned to take. At Virginia, she wants to play with her volleyball team, whose games start next semester.

Richard Whiteside, Tulane's vice president of enrollment management and dean of admission, says only about 5 percent of Tulane students have withdrawn so far, and more than 90 percent of freshmen have said they plan to return.

"If somebody's going to be extraordinarily unhappy coming back, we don't want them to come back," Whiteside said.

Still, he still wants other colleges to stick by their promises not to poach.

"I really believe, if students come back for a semester they won't leave again," he said. "New Orleans really gets into their DNA."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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