Ward Harkavy, 1947–2020

A true journalist, Ward had no favorites — he would call B.S. on anyone and everyone (including himself)


Ward Harkavy, a Voice stalwart who left the paper before he had the opportunity to aim his editorial scalpel at the Trump regime, died from Covid-19 this morning, at age 72.

Below, we resurrect a classic Harkavy essay, surveying the departing George W. Bush administration — a hit parade of an inept commander-in-chief’s aggressive, unilateral wars; economic chicanery; and world-class propensity for gaffes. Ward didn’t find it necessary to specifically remind his readers of the ways in which earlier Republican POTUSes — Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush — had carried on their party’s grand old tradition of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. He did, however, write a headline that specifically recalled a whiny Richard Nixon declaiming to the press, after losing the California governor’s race in 1962, “But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

A true journalist, Ward had no favorites — he would call bullshit on anyone and everyone (including himself). But he would also deliver the hardest of facts with humorous insights — although in this particular case, W made it easy by providing the writer with such quotes as “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

In every sentence Ward wrote (along with the untold thousands he edited for the Voice and other papers over the decades), he never forgot that “our people” were his readers, and that they deserved the truth.

And a laugh. —R.C. Baker


Don’t Leave, George!
January 20, 2009
By Ward Harkavy

The Constitution says George W. Bush can’t remain in the White House past next week, but as we’ve learned during the past eight years, the Constitution is just a piece of paper. So it’s not too late to make a final plea: Bush, don’t leave us journalists hanging.

Don’t pardon our behavior during the past eight years. Don’t make us commute our sentences. Bail us out. Don’t leave.

George W. Bush has set a standard that’s unmatched in the history of the U.S. presidency.  And now, with the bar he’s set, he’s leaving us in limbo?

That’s low.

Bush is abandoning reporters when we need him the most. The newspaper industry is in the tank, and no other bailouts are in the offing. Survival depends on a sense of humor, and what will journalists do without Bush?

He’s been the problem. He’ll never be the solution. And that’s why he needs to stick around.

It’s a selfish argument, but what’s more American than selfishness, or haven’t you been following the Bernie Madoff saga?

For journalists accustomed to feeling dumbstruck, this goes beyond selfishness to true double-pronged satisfaction: self-expression and a strong sense of duty to lick the roadkill clean so the public doesn’t step in it.

Face it: Reporters are vultures, and Bush is the carcass that never stops putrefying.

Carry on without Bush? Can’t imagine how journalists will do it.

Barack Obama may be the first black person elected president, but compared with Bush, he’s colorless. Reporters certainly won’t be catching Obama frequently flub-a-dubbing at press conferences or getting stumped on the stump.

The days are over when drooling reporters will get to pick at such presidential bone mots as “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again” or the more recent “Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.”

So the question is not whether “the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” as Bush once philosophized, but whether reporters can live without Bush as life drags on.

Fun and excitement make time pass so quickly. Where have the past eight years gone? They’ve just flown by, except maybe for the families of the thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, maimed, or shell-shocked in Iraq since Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!”

The shoe. My Pet Goat.
Yellowcake. The flight suit. Curveball.
Katrina. Brownie.

OK, so it’s not strict haiku, just a few “symbols of Bush’s reign” that The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank threw out there recently that I tried to convert to a metric system.

Poetry doesn’t usually put food on the table, but poetry editors sometimes do well, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg elbowed his way to the front row at the parade of politics and words with his meticulously collected Bushisms archive. Somehow, I don’t see Weisberg gaffing similar gaffes from Obama, who never seems to be in over his head as a communicator.

Which gives journalists a serious problem: The new president is as eloquent as Bush isn’t, but how many different ways can reporters note that for their readers? That’ll get old quickly.

And if Obama’s not the man of peace lefties hope he is (don’t worry, he isn’t, if he’s installed Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross as his Middle East peacemakers), you can bet that he’s not going to start many, if any, wars.

That’s right, no more unilateral invasions. That means rough times ahead for writers. As Thomas Hardy—a serious writer, not a journalist—once noted, “War makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading.”

There have been no worries on that score while Bush has been president. Just a few months (or minutes) after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney regime abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and started plotting how to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Only now have Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed their rightful places as the prime battleground for U.S. troops into the frightening future.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the politicians send a generation or two to die. If the Iraq invasion was built on lies, well, politicians will always lie; it’s just that some lies are bigger than others, and when they are, reporters have more to gnaw on.

But it was when Bush accidentally spoke the truth that he truly took our breath away. Like when he said in August 2004, while signing a gigantic Department of Defense bill, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Hold that thought, Bush. And good luck to reporters who are waiting for the next president to say something like that. In fact, covering Obama will be tor­ture for the traveling White House press corps. Instead of going to Crawford, Texas, where there were no distractions and they had to focus on work, they’ll have to tag along with the Obamas to Hawaii during presidential respites from D.C.

Waterboarding’s out; surfboarding’s in. Boring.

The liberal media and lefty activists have already abandoned their carping at Bush for the even more futile flurry of “suggestions” to Obama about how he can “change” things.

A suggestion box. Boring. In any case, the early returns indicate that Obama is not a conservative Democrat, like the Clintons, but he may not be a lefty, either. So far, he seems to be just to the center of center.


As for the incoming vice president, Joe Biden has no chance of filling the vacuum, the black hole, that is Dick Cheney. Biden is so unexciting that he’s likely to be re­membered mainly for his charter mem­bership in the Hair Club for Senators.

Reporters will have a whole lot less fun traipsing off to Delaware with Biden than bird-dogging Cheney while he hunted for his next victims.

Will Biden tour the country, as Cheney did only a few short years ago, trying to hoodwink Americans into letting Wall Street handle their Social Security accounts? I don’t think so.

That’s fortunate for the public, but style is more important to reporters than substance. Biden’s weird little smile can’t compare with Cheney’s lip-curling sneer.

Biden as the imperial vice president, the Rasputin, the man behind the throne, the puppet master, the bender of the Constitution to his will?

No, that dog won’t hunt — with or with­out the Chief Justice of the United States. Here’s $100 that says Biden will never shoot a hunting partner. And another $100 that says Biden will never mutter, “Fuck yourself,” as he brushes past a senior senator from the other party.

On the sanctimonious end of the scale, there were Bush’s Jesus freaks. You may have already forgotten that his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, ordered a modesty shroud for a naked ­lady statue in the Justice Department. But in the 9 /11 aftermath, he rounded up thousands of Muslims on American streets who were wearing their own modesty shrouds.

Forget that nonsense. No more hillbilly evangelists or Pat Robertson law-school grads making important decisions at Justice. Just take my word for that.

Deep in its bowels, the Obama White House may move with much the same rhythm as the Bush White House. But no matter how much of a shark-like en­forcer Rahm Emanuel is sure to be, it’s hard to imagine that Obama will give him a nickname like the one that Bush lov­ingly gave Karl Rove: “Turd Blossom.”

Or that Emanuel will have to continually hiss in Obama’s ear, as Rove did with Bush, “Stick to principle! Stick to principle!”

One of Bush’s Farewell Tour ’08 speeches last month did hold out a glim­mer of hope that there would continue to be 24/7 excitement for political reporters. He told his American Enterprise Institute friends at a Mayflower Hotel banquet in D.C., “Under ordinary circumstances, failed entities — failing entities should be allowed to fail. I have concluded these are not ordi­nary circumstances for a lot of reasons.”

Bush was referring to Detroit’s automak­ers, but he could have been hinting that he himself was one of those failed entities who should be saved — at least for four more years. Of failing. One bad term deserved another. Why not another after that?

Yet it seems clear that Bush is going to back up the Mayflower to the White House.

Mike Bloomberg abolished term limits so he could run for mayor again and continue walking the beat on Wall Street, making his business pals keep their market stalls clean and orderly. The mayor took his failure to do so in his own hands and decided he wanted to keep failing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s situation was different, but he did flout tradition by grabbing an unprecedented third term after pulling the country out of a depression. Why can’t Bush have a third term, even though he’s driving us into one?

And he’s jumping out just as we’re going over the cliff? It’s not fair.

Not that life should be fair. We know the public’s not going to be rescued. But if Cheney doesn’t mount a coup to keep Bush in office, who’s going to bail out America’s journalists?

After eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, followed by eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, reporters are spoiled.

Now, after 200 years of toiling for highly profitable, ad-rich media outlets, the working press, gravy stains on its cheap ties, is rapidly being displaced by bloggers in bathrobes.

Tough luck for journalists still intent on getting paid for their work. At least Bush’s presence has provided enough of a distraction to take their minds off the industry’s collapse.

Now, journalists face at least one unavoidable change: Obama will screw up some things, but he doesn’t seem like a screw-up who can’t control himself He seems like … an adult.

And adults are so boring.