Salute to a Muckraker; Robert Charles McCormick (1924-2011)by tcguestblogger on Nov. 08, 2011, under Uncategorized
By M. Melissa McCormick
After WWII, with the indispensable support of the GI Bill, my recently deceased father learned how to be a journalist at Michigan State University (MSU), and found his purpose in life.
Thereafter, for half-a-century as a reporter, columnist, and editor, including 16 years at the Tucson Citizen, he strove to enact what the great historian Paul Fussell (born the same year as my father in 1924) calls “the axiom of all respectable journalists: What someone doesn’t want you to publish is journalism; all else is publicity.”
Examples of his efforts to debunk the corrupt, the contemptible, and the ridiculous, no matter its source, include a 1949 editorial in MSU’s student newspaper titled “Let The Communists Spout.” He not only decried McCarthyism and called for the reinstatement of three professors who were fired from another university solely because they had once belonged to the Communist party; he also made a case for legitimate high school and college courses on the diverse range of communist philosophies and doctrines.
As city editor of a 50,000 circulation daily newspaper in the Detroit suburbs in the mid-1960s – early 1970s, he not only took on grubby politicians, Mafioso, and big polluters, he also called out racist and fundamentally undemocratic neighbors and “respectable people,” even his own grandmother’s beloved DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution).
Two days after MLK was assassinated in 1968, for instance, my father printed reprehensible words public ally spoken in his favorite watering-hole including, “This is great! Now all we need is somebody to kill Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.” My dad responded that “At first I got a sick feeling inside, but this quickly turned to anger and I had to fight the instinct to hit a few people right square in their foul mouths. However, I’m glad I didn’t because then I would be resorting to the same kind of blind violence and stupidity that led to the death of Dr. King . . . .”
A few months earlier, he praised the lone Black person willing to appear at a fair housing meeting to discuss the discrimination and violence faced by Blacks trying to settle in suburban Detroit: “Mrs. Jerry Washington, the wife of a career Army officer and veteran of Vietnam, is highly literate, intelligent, pretty and brave enough to go alone into the foreign white world of an American suburb and speak her mind. Anybody who wouldn’t want her living next door has to be a Section 8 case.” Equally important, he went on to list as many instances as he could confirm of “good people” committing offenses against aspiring or new Black neighbors.
I truly get a kick out of my dad’s 1970 sarcastic retort to supporters of a Michigan neo-fascist hatemonger, disguised as a pro-American, Christian conservative, who were fond of making threatening phone calls to him: “Another caller said that Mr. Lobsinger was very upset with me for calling him the ‘Little Corporal’ again. That phrase never fails to bring him out of the woodwork. My caller added that Donald is having a meeting . . . and dares me to show up. Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Donald. Hope you don’t mind if I bring some of my friends along who used to belong to a club called the ‘Green Berets’.”
In 1971, following the conviction of Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre, my father wrote a column titled “Nation must share guilt of Calley.” Vietnam, he said, is “a bloody, brutal, no-holds-barred war where young Americans, old men and women, and helpless children are killed, maimed, burned alive and poisoned by chemical weapons every day that it continues.” He asserted that “Americans are also tired of the lies of three administrations about the conduct of the war in Vietnam . . . . They have gone far beyond the point of being frightened by the Communist bogeyman the Pentagon has always used to scare them into believing that we’re fighting some kind of holy war for human freedom in Vietnam.”
My dad also pursued “public interest” journalism that, among other successful outcomes, resulted in the cleanup of a major river north of Detroit (see the July 11, 1969 edition of the U.S. Congressional Record). As editor of the Tucson Citizen’s “Action, Please!” column (1974-1984), following the retirement of his commendable predecessor Jack Carson, he helped thousands of Tucsonans to resolve their problems with government bureaucracies, businesses, and sometimes neighbors, among other issues.
The “Action, Please!” team, for example, kept people in their homes when they were about to be booted out through no fault of their own, got them much-deserved but missing VA or social security benefits, got businesses to make good on consumer commitments, and helped to ensure the cleanup of blighted areas of the city.
In 1976, Paul McKalip, editor of what was then called the Tucson Daily Citizen, wrote that “Action, Please!” was respected throughout the community for not giving up easily and for giving everybody a fair hearing. He quoted my father as saying “A good newspaper is a dynamic community force. If it uses its power with restraint, as it must, it develops a position of trust . . . .
So, here’s to my father (who passed peacefully on October 21, 2011) and his entire ilk, past and present, who fulfill our always urgent social need for reporters who see and clearly articulate what Orwell called “unpleasant facts.”
Mr. McCormick’s Obituary:
Robert Charles McCormick, 87, peacefully entered the “infinite and eternal community” of the afterlife on October 21, 2011.
He was the son of a first generation Irish-American lumberyard foreman/semi-pro ballplayer and a more delicate Irish-American mother (with snobby roots going back to a signer of the Declaration of Independence) who nurtured her “bookworm” son throughout the Great Depression.
Young “Bobby” loved National Geographic Magazine, Zane Grey, the Saturday Matinee, hanging out with his “gang” at the local drugstore, and escaping, Huck Finn-like, into rural areas outside Detroit to go fishing. He was a high school dropout, and like millions of other poor youth in the 1930’s/early 1940’s, he served in the socially restorative Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC), and was grateful that his family received $25 of his $30 monthly pay.
At 19, “Bob” joined the last active horse unit in the US Army. He liked to tell a story about General Patton once lecturing his regiment about the perils of “trench foot.”
After the war, he graduated from Michigan State University and began a 50-year career in the news business that was shaped by an independence of mind and a skepticism of all political, religious, nationalist, and literary orthodoxies. He received many awards & honors.
In addition to various newspapers in Michigan, he was a feature writer, columnist, and editor at the Tucson Citizen (1973 – 1989). Uncomfortable with retirement, he wrote part-time for the Green Valley News (1990 – 1995), and then became a volunteer docent at Kitt Peak National Observatory.
McCormick is survived by Sharon McCormick (mother of his children, ex-wife, & dearest friend), his daughter Suzanne McCormick Fulton and her husband Donald Fulton, his daughter Melissa McCormick, and his grandchildren Kate Fulton, Matt Fulton, & Jose Zegarra, & his favorite cousin, Sister Helen Cullen (“Nonie”).
Though he suffered over the past two years due to vascular dementia, he was comfortable and serene when he died as a cool breeze brushed his body.
His view on what happens next was, he said, perfectly articulated by the late “Gif” Giffords, respected community leader, businessman and grandfather of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. In an extended 1985 obituary published in the Tucson Citizen, McCormick quoted “Gif” as follows: “If we only knew the truth. This would be the best of all evenings for it marks my departure from the status of man to take up a new and, I’m sure, a more exciting phase of being, for nature is a most meticulous and efficient housekeeper wasting not one iota of matter, utilizing each tiny bit to concoct its multifarious kinds of life . . . .”
Details for a Saturday, November 19, 2011 wake can be obtained from the Funeraria Del Angel South Lawn Mortuary at 520-294-2603.