Roldo Bartimole: Point of View
City Club Talk Recording & Transcript
Listen to the entire City Club talk as you read along (33:41 min).
The Cleveland City Club invited Roldo Bartimole to speak at its weekly Friday afternoon forum. Here are the very words spoken by Roldo and other City Club members on December 20, 1968.
Listen to the entire City Club talk using the player to the right as you read along with the transcript below. You can also "fast forward" to the "Question & Answer Period."
JD: Good afternoon gentlemen, and members of the listening audience. This is Jim Davis from the Cleveland City Club. It is time again for our regular weekly forum. I’m subbing today for our newly elected President, Milt Whitter, who could unfortunately not be with us. I am now about to introduce a young man who fondly thought he was invited here today to speak on various problems of dissent and freedom of speech in the mass media and other institutions. The fact of the matter is a little different, but I’ll come to that. Our forum speaker is Mr. Roldo S. Bartimole. Mr. Bartimole is a former reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland office of the Wall Street Journal. He now publishers in Cleveland a periodical of his own known as Point of View. In Point of View, he has been taking on and tilting lances at various local sacred cows and assorted dragons. And in a recent issue, he took on none other than the Cleveland City Club. The Cleveland City Club he said, and in print, is really no more than a friendly place where the would-be elite could have lunch and entertainment each Friday. But when the City Club pretends to be something more, say a bastion of free speech, it is a fraud. Well now, when somebody throws his gauntlet in your face in that fashion, you can hardly let it pass. So we took the obvious path of self defense and invited Mr. Bartimole to our forum where it is hoped that the citizens could avenge their sacred honor in the question period. I might mention at this point that Mr. Bartimole is not a member of the club. So, go ahead Mr. Bartimole, be our guest. Bite the hand that fed you lunch.
RB: Thank you and I didn’t finish lunch. [Laughter, clapping] Uh, I want to start off right away with a quote by from a talk from M.S. Arnoni who’s the editor of Minority of One and a former inmate of Auschwitz. He delivered the speech dressed in the clothing of the concentration camp, and I think it sets the tone from which maybe we can deescalate. Here are his words: I think, excuse me, "Had Americans been in charge of Auschwitz, the place would not have been shrouded in secrecy. They would have hired a public relations firm to sell the public on its merits. Extermination statistics would periodically be released to feed the national pride in purifying the world for freedom and democracy. Photographs of the gas chambers and ovens would be widely distributed to show how selflessly Americans were serving humanity. There would develop a public controversy with some Senators investigating the rumors that the chemical industry was lobbying in favor of gassing. And the liberals would argue their preference for machine-gunning, on humanitarian grounds, and the President would be assuring everyone that he would not act rashly and that rejecting the advice of extremists on both sides, he would continue his course of moderation."
Of course, this is too harsh and too unfair. Or is it? Are Americans so brainwashed that they would be susceptible to such propaganda? Let’s examine another area.
There have been a number of attempts in the past 2 years to tell Americans that other Americans are being slowly starved to death. Our inability to use such words in reference to ourselves can be seen in the testimony of physicians before a reluctant, but unembarrassed, Congressional committee. Quote: "We don’t want to quibble over words, but "malnutrition" is not quite want we found. They were suffering from hunger and disease and directly or indirectly they were dying from them, which is exactly what "starvation" means." One of the cover-up responses of the Secretary of Agriculture was, "They got some food because they were obviously walking around."
And a group of U.S. Senators went to examine the situation and came back horrified and by message so reported to the President. This was April, 1967. The White House responded after trying to duck the message by having the poverty program put out a press release that said poverty was less now than when LBJ took office and that the reporting Senators indeed had hunger in their own states.
Since that time, the government has responded with public relations techniques from press releases and statements to appearances on the Today Show to indicate that the problem is not as bad as it seems. A private study shows that 10 million are undernourished.
Now, too, the FBI and Congressional investigators are being used to intimidate those who spoke out against hunger. So, people are starving in America today and the government’s answer has been intimidation, rationalization, subterfuge and public relations to make truth a lie and lies the truth.
Is Mr. Arnoni far from the truth? And when black militants talk of genocide in America and are laughed at for talking fantasy, do they speak of the future or of the present? For it is the policy of some local officials, backed by the United States government, to starve people and it is being done under the very auspices of the Department that suggests it fights hunger.
But there are available a wealth of rationalizations and PR techniques and a bit of arm twisting to shroud the issue. And they work well because Americans can see that there is no hunger. Even when presented CBS films of bloated stomachs, we are not moved. We can relate to the plight of one child caught in a well or a mine, but 10 million Americans suffering slow death does not gain our sympathy.
Myths become truth. When Point of View presumed to attack the United Appeal as bad, most people couldn’t relate to that idea at all. It angered them. United Appeal does good so United Appeal is good. In reality, even those most dedicated to United Appeal know that is has very serious shortcomings. But these defects are never to be discussed publicly or one might upset the financial apple cart. And people might get the idea, as I think they should, that their gift is relatively unimportant. We are constantly being conditioned not only to accept this view of the world but to pay homage to it.
Commentators, editorial writers, news columns, broadcasts continually tell the audience to accept limitations of free speech and free thought. They express anger and righteousness, for example, for free speech when students deny it to James Reston. But when the United States government silences Dr. Spock and others with his view point, those same media individuals ridicule their rights by cute comments about the "baby doctor". Bombing masses with napalm is acceptable behavior, but using napalm to destroy draft records is unacceptable behavior. And I’m not talking about the legal aspects. I’m talking about the value interpretation of the mass media and the society.
The mass media shapes our awareness and our experience and in its alliance with major institutions, government and private, it boosts the value system that both find so comfortable. But that value system is what makes this nation sick. It is the sickness suggested by the ad "Pucker Power" on TV -- its some ad for a mouth wash. That ad mocks dissent, seeks to attract the young with its adaptation of a four letter word which everyone seems to despise today, and prostitutes the very meaning of the slogan, "Black Power." Another prostitution of values can be seen in the cigarette ad which equates women’s rights with the privilege of having a cigarette all their own.
"How," asks Tim Hayden, "do you act as a revolutionary against a nation-state that celebrates your value while betraying their substance?"
Even most conventional attacks on institutions are meaningless as they are based on the reasoning suggested in such requests as, "If only they could update their approach to problems. If only they had more money or more professionals."
But never, never, does one judge an institution based on the reasoning that asks, "Can this institution with all the money in the world and all the best professionals accomplish what it wants, or is what it wants even valid?" Or better yet, "Does this institution have the right to condition people into adjusting to a system that robs and rapes them?"
An example. Suppose a group of welfare mothers is being organized to form a coalition in Ohio and protest the medieval welfare system. Now welfare mothers are not inherently endowed with the courage to protest or go to jail. So this takes time and strategy. It may even take setting up a situation in which the mothers will go to jail so they can rid themselves of the fear. It’s a process that has to be nurtured, built up. Strategy has to be worked out and tactics refined. And then at the first sign of conflict, a television station decides on its own that children really do need clothing. And on its own begins a clothing drive. I think one may get the feeling of poor people and black people when even a television station can begin to make decisions for them.
Most people will assume that the clothing drive has to be good because children get desperately needed clothing. Now I don’t speak for any welfare rights group, but I say it can be bad.
It first upsets the plans for the more meaningful target of more money across the board. It causes disunity within the organization and can create suspicion of who’s getting what. It again gives control to the welfare department over the money and the distribution of clothing and the welfare department is a natural enemy of the rights movement. Now, Channel 8 has been careful to say that this is not enough to meet the problem. But unless the channel is now willing to start a massive crusade against the hustler down in Columbus, who determines and sees that a policy of denial for children is carried out, then I question its motives or its right to make decisions for others. Of course, the TV station is applauded by the usual institutions, social and government agencies, civic groups and churches that have always played games with the poor to salve their institutional consciences and not the problems of the poor. As a sociologist points out aptly, an upper class is an institution in its very essence since its control of institutions that makes it an upper class and men can hardly keep this control except as they put their hearts into it. Successful business men, lawyers, politicians, clergymen, editors and the like are such through identification of their minds for better or worse with the present activities of commercial and other institutions. Seldom does the new conscience when it seeks a teacher to declare and amend what is wrong, find him in the dignitaries of the church, the state, or the culture that is. The higher the rank, the closer the tie that binds one to what is, but what ought not be. Now, the proposition that Channel 8, by its actions, could damage the welfare rights movement would not be a proposition widely debated in the mass media, or I suspect, in the City Club forum. It is much easier and better to rely upon those subject matters and speakers who have predictability. For predictability is another quality of respectability and in itself becomes a self-censoring mechanism.
The reason that certain debates or subject matters are taboo is that we have as a society opted against free speech and thought as too radical for the fragile institutions we cherish.
We, therefore, put acceptable and unacceptable protest into tight categories. It seems that acceptable protest is any kind that will not succeed and unacceptable, any kind that might succeed.
Thus rebellions in the cities, which the press call riots, are unacceptable protest. Picketing is so acceptable now, it doesn’t even attract the TV cameras.
But the protest is rarely put in a context of reality.
Compare, if you will, Thoreau of 1849 and what he said of America, update the language and put it into the mouth of Rap Brown of 1968, and imagine what the New York Times or Huntley-Brinkley would do with it. I quote Thoreau.
"All men recognize the right of revolution. That is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny and its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say now, now is not such the case. But such was the case, they think in the Revolution of ’75. If only one were to tell me that this was a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make much ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction and possibly this one does enough in return to counterbalance the evil. At any rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about. But when the friction comes to have its own machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us have not such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army and subjected to military law, I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."
And I think Thoreau’s America is Rap Brown’s America. And I think Thoreau’s America is Mr. Arnoni’s America when he says, "As I once with every fiber of my body and mind wished victory to the Americans, British, and French, so do I now with every fiber of my body and mind, wish victory to the Vietnamese people. As I once prayed for the defeat of Hitler and the evil he personified, so I do pray for the defeat of Johnson and the evil he personifies. For their defeat is the victory for the very right to be human."
One has to cultivate dissent and criticism and I’m afraid that America has plowed it underground instead. You don’t cut it down merely by denying it to those with different ideas a platform to speak. But by ridiculing it, punishing it, overwhelming it with nonsense, ignoring it, and making it powerless.
One conditions the public not to understand dissent, its meaning or its necessity. Rather than seeing destruction of draft cards as subversive, it should be seen, regardless of the law, as a valid expression of free speech, and, indeed, a guide to the discontent against the war makers.
The television industry is perplexed that as an aftermath of Chicago, it has found a significant rise among the public of distrust in the television media. But that’s not surprising.
Television along with the rest of the media has constantly told people that protests and protestors are wrong. They are hippies. They are peaceniks, etc. and that the police are good and not brutal. Then just because they produce living evidence for a night or two of the opposite, they expect people to believe them. I was happy to see the executive editor of the Louisville papers this week say that people not only don’t believe what they read anymore, they don’t believe what they see. And I attribute that he said a lot to our own behavior, referring to the media.
The media will be worse off after the next Chicago for it hasn’t pursued the question of police rioting or the question of protest. And half hour specials on the subjects will not overcome the words and tones of reports of Huntley and Brinkley and thousands of other commentators and editors who portray protestors as bumbling baby doctors, crazy people, troublemakers or mere dupes.
It is very difficult, for example, for television to tell the American people that U.S. policy and action in Vietnam are thoroughly wrong. Reporting from Vietnam always sounds like a ballgame with the reporters rooting for their side.
Robert MacNeil wrote recently in Harpers, "Night after night for 2 years, American families have seen badly wounded Americans, sacks of dead Americans being loaded for shipment home, sprawled heaps of dead Vietnamese. There are those who believe that this portrayal of horror has sickened Americans and turned many against the war. Yet the horror he says has been heavily edited and that may also have had a political impact. By exposing the mass audience to more vivid and horrible battle events than have ever been brought into Americans homes before, but by cutting out what has been most unbearable, it may be that the television media has built up a tolerance for the frightful, and an acceptance that war is really bearable. The grisly truth has been shown in the screening rooms of the network news departments. There would be close-up footage, with sound, of a young American soldier whose leg had been shot away a moment before, screaming obscenities at the medics, pleading with them in desperation to stop his agony. As someone who believed before 1964 that the war was futile and a stupid waste of energies, I often wondered as I watched this uncut footage at NBC, whether we should not be putting even more of the horror on, so as to arouse people. We did not, he says, put it on - and not facetiously - but because, "We go on the air at suppertime," he said.
The mass media and major institutions in this society are not dedicated to the United States but to the "American Way of Life". Therefore, it is encumbent upon them not to question very closely the actions of a host of American institutions, and especially not to question the values or motives of those institutions.
Thus, we have operating a sort of Emperor’s Clothes philosophy which allows the most obvious to go unnoticed, lest we all get embarrassed by what we know and see but cannot speak. Ideas reflected by the media and forums such as this one may have conflict, but the conflict is controlled by a positive identification of both sides with the principle values of the "American Way of Life."
Institutions may be criticized, but the real sin is questioning the value system or motives of the major institutions. Students may protest bad [inaudible] when they begin to question the very nature of the university. Well, then that’s enough.
For example, when was the last time you saw anywhere a critique of such Cleveland institutions as the Businessmen’s Interracial Committee, the Cleveland Development Foundation, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the Greater Cleveland Associated Foundations, the PACE Association, the PATH Association, the Cleveland Board of Education, the Citizens League, the United Appeal, University Circle Foundation, Group 66? Yet some of these organizations have immense power over what happens in Cleveland. And they themselves claim to be heavily involved in the life of the city. These institutions have to be demythologized. They are not basically and inherently good. And their motives don’t necessarily have to be good and certainly they must be open to question. Are we afraid to ask those questions publicly?
I know that there are men in this room that laugh at the perfidity of a number of those organizations just named. Why then has there been no searching out to find critics of them and bring them before this forum? Self-conditioned censorship plays an even larger role than a conspiracy could. In the latest paper of the Center for the study of Democratic Institutions, a member wrote, "What is perhaps most at fault is the degrading tendency of Americans to assess the worth of anything by purely quantitative yardsticks like money. We need not believe that there has been some conspiracy, but the effect is the same." Murray Kempton put it more journalistically. "Habit conditions more deplorable scenes than conspiracy could contrive." And the habit of paying homage to institutions and institutional figures just because they are what they are and who they are is a subversion of free speech and free thought.
We talk of the problem of law and order, but our problem is one of excessive order and the encrustening and hardening of institutional bureaucracy and unbecoming values. Thank you.
Question & Answer Period (13:07 min).
JD: Thank you, Mr. Roldo Bartimole, publisher of Point of View for these provocative remarks on free speech. Just how much, if anything, you have provoked we will see in a minute when we turn to our question period. But before we do that...
Now we turn to the question period.
As to our question period, let me simply remind citizens that we have a house rule, no speeches, uh, make your questions short and to the point please. Our club secretary, Fred Vero, will be moving around the dining room with the roving mic. And may we have our first question?
Member: Mr. Chairman, I thought our talk was to be a criticism of our club rather than the faults of our country. Will he kindly give us an explanation where we were wrong?
RB: I was asked to speak on Point of View, and I was told I could say anything that I wanted at this platform. I think that, uh, what I said about the City Club is very well explained in the article and I don’t have to go through that again I think.
Member: I have a question. It’s a two-part question. I’d like to ask what one think is the government doing that would meet your approval. I’d like also to ask what one thing is the news media doing that would meet your approval.
RB: Well, I’ll tell you, uh. You know you can always find something that’s going on that’s good. And I don’t think we ought to spend our time saying what’s good when there’s so much that’s wrong. I don’t care whether the media does something nice. You know a lot of people get excited because the news media, for example, the Plain Dealer has a something on the miners. Well, you know, so what? So, so they get a thousand dollars per family. So, what, what does that mean? I don’t think there’s any meaning in pointing out what’s good about the media because it’s - if they’re doing their job, their supposed to do it. We should be critical of things when they’re not doing what they want. The government’s doing a lot of good things. But most of them are outweighed by what it isn’t doing.
Member: Um, in one of your early newsletters, you said that the Cleveland dailies were beyond rehabilitation. Don’t you think that’s an overstatement?
RB: Uh, no I don’t think it’s an overstatement because I think all the media’s beyond rehabilitation. I think about the only thing you can do with the media in this country is neutralize it. You can’t, you can’t - How do you do it? I don’t know. You criticize it. You hit it wherever you can. You put it on the defensive. I think the black community has put the, uh, media on the defensive. I think the Plain Dealer is on the defensive. Pardon me?
RB: Tell what?
Member: How you neutralize the [inaudible]...
RB: I just told you. I said the black community has helped to neutralize the community, the media on certain aspects of its coverage of the black community. You have to keep attacking it.
Member: Isn’t that what you’re doing just now?
RB: That’s right.
Member: And aren’t you doing that at the City Club?
RB: That’s right.
Member: What other [inaudible]...
RB: What? Are you proud of that?
Member: What other [inaudible]...
RB: Are you, are you proud of that?
Member: What other forum would you have to do that?
RB: I sought out my own forum. I don’t need this forum or any other forum because I’ve got my own.
JD: Next question, please.
Member: I’d like to know, uh, how your, uh, particular forum, the Point of View, is succeeding? Is it making it or not?
RB: I would say, uh, financially, very slow. I have about 500 subscriptions.
Member: Uh, sir...
JD: I would like to ask, uh, Mr. Bartimole whether he’d be willing to join the City Club.
RB: No, I think it’s a waste of time.
[Laughter from the audience]
Member: In your presentation, it seemed to me that you were presenting the polarities between the radical and the conservative. Is there in your scheme of things any room for the so-called liberal?
RB: This is the liberal platform. Here’s the liberal platform. That’s all we’ve had for 20 or 30 years. We’ve had the new deal, the fair deal, the new frontier, the great society. And, of course, uh, I don’t know what the new, uh, the new call, the new call is gonna be, but Schlessinger has it out already and I can’t remember the phrase - the "something" society. And that’s, that’s coming next when the, the Democrats get the Republicans out of office again.
Member: I think one of the things that Mr. Bartimole speaks about is the tyranny of institutions in our society. And, uh, I might point out that one of your members of the City Club had the unpleasant duty of burying a dead poet who committed suicide a few weeks ago, d.a. levy. I wonder what Mr. Bartimole would think of the job the media and the institutions in the city of Cleveland have done in relation to the, kind of, the demise of that free individual within the society. I think that’s the kind of person he speaks of.
RB: Well, I really don’t know how to answer that, uh. I don’t know that much about d.a. levy. I know that, uh, he tried to do a number of things, uh, that he felt was right, and that, uh, he became sort of a freak to our society and got publicity that way. Uh, I don’t know how better to answer that question.
Member: Mr. Bartimole, you made a statement that I, uh, I can’t quote exactly because you went a little too fast - I’d have to paraphrase it, but it was this statement alright. "It is the policy of the government to support hunger." That sounds like a positive policy, definite program. I’d like to have something, uh, something to back that up.
RB: The policy of the government to support hunger. [inaudible] No, I said, I said the Department, the Department of Agriculture says that it relieves hunger [inaudible] but I say, but I say - wait a minute, let me go on - but I say that is has worked to, to help, uh, to help local officials continue to, uh, starve people out of the South and push ‘em into the northern areas. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the South. They’re pushing, they’re trying to push people out of the South into the North and certain types of people. And, uh, the fact that, uh, that the Secretary of Agriculture can if he wants send food into those counties himself without waiting for local officials means that the Department of Agriculture can do it, but the Department of Agriculture doesn’t want to, uh, to disturb members of the Congressional Committee that control their finances because, uh, they use those finances to develop ski slopes and golf courses and they’re more interested in that than in feeding people. And that’s the way they do it.
Member: I regret you wouldn’t join the City Club but perhaps, uh, it may reflect an opinion of yours. Do you feel that, that given what you feel is a need for reform in our society that this could be carried out in, within institutions? Do you envision new institutions to carry-out the reform? How, how’s it going to happen?
RB: Well, I don’t pretend to know how it’s going to happen, but I don’t think it’s going to happen within institutions, because if you look at the Civil Rights movement, that was without an institution. If you look at, uh, uh, the poverty movement, uh, welfare rights movement is without, without the institution. Uh, even the McCarthy movement, in a sense, was outside the, uh, the movement. And the new political movement, not the new politics that, uh, uh, that signifies McCarthy but the new politics that signifies, uh, some of the younger radicals is without the, without, outside of the institutions.
Member: Discussion of the ails of mankind is a stimulating parlor game, but would you mind, uh, giving reflection and thought to a statement by Charles Beard who said something to the effect that perfection is not an obtainable or practicable objective; that there is no final solution to the ills of mankind and that the realization of this fact is the beginning of wisdom and of statesmanship?
RB: So, that means that, uh, what you want to do is sit back in your comfortable place and say "the Hell with everybody else" because, uh, goodness and, uh, the good society is not available so why bother? And I can’t accept that.
Member: Evaluating dissent, do you see any difference between, a, uh, dissenting to the war in Vietnam and urging the victory of the Viet Cong?
RB: Sure, there’s a difference? There’s a great difference. Uh, if I know what I think you’re saying and that is what you’re saying is that it’s treasonous to be, uh, rooting for the other side to so to speak, and there’s a difference, sure.
JD: I have a final question for, uh, Mr. Bartimole, uh. In this issue of Point of View that was referred to earlier, uh, he makes the suggestion that at our political debates, many of the questions are planted and stupid. Uh, Mr. Bartimole, do you feel that the questions today were planted or stupid?
[Laughter from the audience]
RB: They were planted but I, uh, I did expect to be, uh, be hit by more provocative questions, and I spent I guess about a week preparing for them, and I didn’t get them. In fact, I was hoping that somebody would ask me, "If you’re so damn smart, why don’t you give us something that you think might be better." But that question wasn’t asked.
JD: Questions. No speeches.
Member: Will you give us some constructive observations that are reasonable and not stupid on your part?
RB: You mean about the City Club?
Member: About your job and anything that you spoke about.
RB: Well, first of all, uh, destruction is not does not mean that destruction can not be constructive. For example, we have an Urban Renewal project that destroys many things and is supposed to be constructive, so I think there’s great construction in being destructive. Uh, I think that what I’ve attempted to do I don’t have to apologize to anybody for. I am attempting to fill what I see as a gap in the community, and if anybody doesn’t like it, that’s too bad. And I think that’s constructive.
JD: Do we have any further questions at this point?
Member: How old are you, Mr. Bartimole?
RB: Thirty-five. Is that important? Is that important?
RB: Yeah, I’m old enough to run for president, Russ Cane reminds me.
JD: Well, uh, do I see one further question out here in the back?
Member: Roldo, believe me. I’m on your side and I think that what you’re doing...
RB: Who are you?
Member: ...has got a very meritorious purpose, but for goodness sake, you know you’ve done you say you’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and maybe the question was asked, maybe you got a sense that there was a lot of criticism in the way the question was asked previously, but surely you’ve got some good constructive, objective suggestions to leave to this, uh, group of middle-class conservative self-satisfied businessmen? That maybe there is a little bit of hope in their blessed institution what they’ve got now. You know, don’t pull down their treasured buildings over their heads. They’d just feel completely out of it. Give us a little bit of constructive hope.
[Laughter, inaudible, clapping]
JD: Let it never be said that the City Club is against free speech. Mr. Bartimole, would you like to tell us where listeners can direct themselves to acquire the publication that you publish or subscribe to it?
RB: Uh, it’s Point of View, 2150 Rexwood Road, uh, 44118.
JD: At this point, seeing no further questions, I call the meeting adjourned. Thank you very much, Mr. Roldo Bartimole, for your remarks and your answers to our questions.