Gartner to USD grads: Donâ�?�?t lead a boring life By David Lias
Plain Talk Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Gartner delighted University of South Dakota students right from the start during his keynote address at the universityâ�?�?s 121st spring commencement ceremony Saturday. â�?�?You need not takes notes, you need not and probably will not remember anything I say, there will be no tests, at the urging of President Abbott, I will speak no longer than seven minutes.â�? A lifelong journalist and third-generation Iowa newspaperman, Gartner, 69, has been Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal, editor and president of The Des Moines Register, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, general news executive of Gannet Co. and USA Today, and president of NBC News. In 1997, he received the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing as editor and co-owner of The Tribune of Ames, IA. Additionally, Gartner has appeared as a regular columnist for the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal and the editorial page of USA Today. He has also served as a commentator for Iowa Public Radio and the Voice of America. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Gartner graduated from Carleton College in 1960 and received his law degree from New York University in 1968. Today, he is principal owner of the Iowa Cubs, the AAA affiliate of Major League Baseballâ�?�?s Chicago Cubs. He also remains active in journalism as director and part-owner of Big Green Umbrella, a company that owns an alternative newspaper in Des Moines, and as a trustee in the Freedom Forumâ�?�?s Newseum in Washington, DC. He and his wife, Barbara McCoy Gartner, a former copy editor with The Wall Street Journal, reside in Des Moines but also maintain a residence in New York City. Gartner based Saturdayâ�?�?s speech on three short stories he shared with his audience. The first involved USD graduate and now retired anchor of the NBC Nightly News, Tom Brokaw. â�?�?He used to work for me, allegedly, at NBC. Once we were sitting in my office, arguing about something, I canâ�?�?t remember what it was, and I said â�?�?Damn it, Tom, if we donâ�?�?t put that on the air tonight, weâ�?�?ll have egg on our face. â�?�?â�?�?No, Michael, he said, if we do put it on the air tonight, weâ�?�?ll have egg on our face. And the thing for you to remember is that itâ�?�?s your egg, but itâ�?�?s my face.â�?�?â�? The second story Gartner shared with the commencement audience involves NBC parent company, General Electric, and its CEO during the time that Gartner worked there, Jack Welch. Welch is a dymanic and magnetic individual, Gartner said. â�?�?We once were talking about a business venture that I wanted NBC to start up, and it would costs of tens of millions of dollars up front, and I had to go to him for approval.â�? After hearing all the details of the plan, Welch quickly gave Gartner the money, adding â�?�?I hope it works. But itâ�?�?s OK if it fails. Itâ�?�?s better to take a risk and fail, than not to take a risk at all.â�? Gartnerâ�?�?s third story involved a performing act in Iowa called the Cherry Sisters. These five sisters couldnâ�?�?t act, dance or sing. They managed, instead, Gartner said, â�?�?to exert a ghastly fascination over their audiences. And that was exactly what the great Oscar Hammerstein was looking for.â�? Gartner explained that back in 1896, Hammerstein was in debt, and going broke, and the acts he brought to Broadway werenâ�?�?t doing well. According to Gartner, Hammerstein said, â�?�?I tried the best, now Iâ�?�?ll try the worst. So he sent for the Cherry Sisters from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.â�? The act opened on Broadway in November 1986, and it didnâ�?�?t take long for the major newspapers in New York City to all publish scathing reviews of the sistersâ�?�? act. The audiences loved to hate the Cherry Sisters, however. They would bring onions, melons, cabbage and other vegetables, and throw them at the stage while they performed. And still, the media attacked the act. Even when they returned to their home state, newspapers in Iowa were critical of not only their physical appearance, but also their musical and dancing abilities. â�?�?Well, the ladies sued, and the Iowa Supreme Court eventually ruled that the ladies had no case,â�? Gartner said. â�?�?The case is considered a landmark in First Amendment law, for it upholds the notion that there is no such thing as a wrong opinion.â�? Seventy-five years later, he said, the U.S. Supreme Court came to the same conclusion. â�?�?Without that, editorial writers would be silenced, sportswriters wouldnâ�?�?t exist, and there would be no such thing as bloggers today,â�? he said. These three stories, Gartner told the USD graduates, are all about getting through life. â�?�?As Tom Brokaw made clear, itâ�?�?s hard to go it alone,â�? he said. â�?�?Everything requires cooperation, relationships, partnerships, friendships â�?�? otherwise, someone will end up with egg on their face. Sometimes it will be your egg, sometimes your face.â�? Gartner also urged the graduates to remember Welchâ�?�?s philosophy. â�?�?You must take risks. Life is no fun if you donâ�?�?t try new things, take on new challenges, embrace new ideas,â�? he said. â�?�?Donâ�?�?t lead a boring life. As Welch told me, itâ�?�?s better to take a risk and fail, than not to take a risk at all.â�? Much can also be learned from the Cherry Sisters, he said. â�?�?As you go through life, as you build relationships, as you take risks, youâ�?�?re liable to have a few cabbages thrown at you along the way,â�? Gartner said. â�?�?There are always folks who are against things, and those folks will be shooting arrows, if not throwing melons, at you and your plans.â�? If a plan isnâ�?�?t controversial, it probably isnâ�?�?t bold enough. If a person isnâ�?�?t controversial, she probably isnâ�?�?t assertive enough. If an organization isnâ�?�?t controversial, it probably isnâ�?�?t broad enough, he said. â�?�?Wear the cabbage as a badge of honor,â�? Gartner said. â�?�?Remember, there is no such thing as a wrong opinion.â�? A special honor was presented to South Dakota Sen. George McGovern duringâ�?�?s Saturdayâ�?�?s commencement exercises. McGovern was presented with a Doctor of Public Service honorary degree in recognition of his distinguished public service to the people of South Dakota and the United States. McGovern, an Avon native and one of the most significant figures in America today, has earned the respect of countless individuals from all political viewpoints and walks of life. A war hero, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing 35 combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in World War II. In 1972, McGovern was selected as the Democratic Party nominee for president, the only South Dakotan so honored by any major political party. He served in the House of Representatives for four years before representing South Dakota in the United States Senate from 1962 to 1980. A prolific author, McGovern has lectured at more than 1,000 colleges and universities around the world. He has also received many honorary degrees and distinguished awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United Statesâ�?�? highest civilian honor, which was bestowed upon him by President Bill Clinton on Aug. 9, 2000.