Paul Greenberg

LITTLE ROCK - The last few weeks around here have been near-perfect for an old editor. They've provided an almost daily demonstration of what a newspaper is for - to tell folks what's been going on in their town, and, as we say in these latitudes, to tell it with the bark off. Yep, we've been guilty of committing journalism here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Call it a textbook example of that art. One chapter would be devoted to our Cindy Murphy's detailed stories about the messy finances and messier interconnections between Little Rock's convention bureau and the civic commission that was supposed to be supervising it.

With grist like that, how could anybody not write fresh, riveting commentary after each day's revelation and/or resignation from our local tourism commission?

This is what newspaper people are born for.

Bliss it must have been, to adapt a line from Mr. Wordsworth, that moment when Cindy Murphy, going through sheafs of documents, came upon the $25,500 Chevrolet Malibu given to the convention bureau's departing director. Or toted up the $140,000 that the bureau spent at restaurants owned by the chairman of the city's said tourism commission - despite laws about competitive bidding. Or found $67,000 in rental contracts with another commissioner's family business. But to comment on all this, to quote the poet, has been very heaven.

With each new development in this continuing story, the local bigs would issue another defense of the indefensible. Or, even better, pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The deeper the hole they dug for themselves, the less they could stop digging.

With that kind of help, how could anybody not write editorials that would articulate what folks around here are thinking, and feeling, about this bunch? Who says duty has to be an iron-gray thing? There are times when it can be an undiluted joy.

Things got funnier, that is, sadder, when local civic leader Dean Kumpuris, a member of the commission in question, paid a call on us with Dan O'Byrne, the CEO of the convention bureau, in tow.

The meeting lasted two hours but seemed an eternity. It was a kind of death by statistics. In the old days, irate readers might appear at the editor's office with a bullwhip or dueling pistols. Today it's nothing that short and merciful.

Now our critics come armed with reams of papers in small print divided by fascinating headings like "2006 Capital Needs Request Calendar" and "LRCVB Projected 2007 Sales Travel Schedule" and "Group Tour Backlog and Studies and White Papers" ("Throughout this document the term CVB is used to represent any organization that is designated by a respective municipality's government.").

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.