Printer Friendly

The conscience of Arkansas: PB's Paul Greenberg is raising his profile with move to capital.

When a relative asked Sarah Greenberg what her college-aged son wanted to do with his life, she replied, "He wants to be a scribbler."

The word was her Yiddish translation of "writer."

Although it wasn't meant to be derogatory, it was taken that way.

"A journalist?" the relative said. "A plumber makes more."

"Yes, I know," Paul Greenberg's mother replied.

What she did not know was that her son would win a Pulitzer Prize, journalism's highest honor, for his "scribbling."

And what Arkansans did not know was that this polemicist eventually would become, in the minds of many, the conscience of the state.

Greenberg, 55, has spent 29 of the past 30 years in Pine Bluff editing the editorial page of the Pine Bluff Commercial. He has gained more recognition outside his adopted state than in it, but he has chosen to remain in Arkansas rather than accept any of the numerous offers that have come his way. They're the kinds of offers of which most other Arkansas writers can only dream.

"Why do you stay in Pine Bluff?" -- once rated the most unlivable city in America by Rand McNally's Places Rated Almanac -- is a question that constantly faced Greenberg.

He always would answer -- at length and eloquently.

Now, there's a new question.

As of May 1, Greenberg will be editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The question these days: "Why leave Pine Bluff after all these years?"

"In the end, it was because I could speak to a lot of Pine Bluffs all over the state, big and little," Greenberg says of the powerful position at the only statewide daily newspaper. "I would like to have that kind of influence. I would like to perpetuate certain values and bury others."

For a writer who has fashioned his work around life in one intimate place, it would seem a change in outlook might follow the move.

Greenberg says, however, he's taking more than his furniture to the state's largest city. His values and experiences are going with him.

"I thought I would sort of take some of the Pine Bluff soil with me," he says.

That's fine with some Pine Bluff residents, who are happy to see Greenberg go.

"It's the best thing that has happened to Pine Bluff in 20 years," Bob Hoffman, a Pine Bluff insurance agent, said when he heard Greenberg was moving.

Greenberg says he likes the honesty and concise nature of Hoffman's remark.

"Listen, I'm dying the death of a thousand goodbyes here," Greenberg says of the slow process of bidding farewell to friends and admirers. "Thank God I can make at least one person happy."

There are more Pine Bluff residents who like Greenberg than dislike him, but Hoffman isn't the only one ready to see the writer fire at other targets.

"Paul is sort of like a flamethrower," Hoffman says. "When he points it in the direction of his topic, he may, in fact, incinerate the subject."

Greenberg isn't likely to be the next John Robert Starr. His writing style is much different than the punch-'em-in-the-face style of the Democrat-Gazette's managing editor. Still, Greenberg will have an impact.

The Essential Greenberg

Paul Greenberg is an ordered man who seems agitated amid the change in his office. He must pack up almost three decades of memories for the move up U.S. 65 to Little Rock.

On his bookshelves, which cover an entire wall of his office, Greenberg has carefully turned certain books from their upright positions. These are what he deems essentials for his new job.

The "essentials" number more than what some people read in a lifetime. Greenberg, for instance, has an entire shelf devoted to George Orwell's work, all of which made the first cut to Little Rock.

"He read a lot more than anyone else in the family," says Irving Greenberg, who is a decade older than his brother.

The Greenbergs' father, Ben, once came into the family's furniture store to find Paul sitting on a sofa reading a book.

"You know, Paul, if someone came in and stole every piece of furniture in here, you wouldn't realize it until they picked up the couch you were sitting on," the father said.

His entrance had not been noticed.

Irving Greenberg says his brother's ability to concentrate is one of many enviable traits.

He remembers when a young Paul would write sports articles about imaginary baseball games rather than wanting to report on the real events.

"I think it shows the power of the mind, and I think it shows the desire to mold things," Irving Greenberg says. "Not in his way, but as he thinks they ought to be."

Once Paul Greenberg makes up his mind, there's no way to dissuade him.

"I can't remember when I've ever changed his mind on anything," says state Sen. Jay Bradford of Pine Bluff. "It's tough because he's so quick and so well-informed. When you debate Paul Greenberg, you sit on the edge of your seat."

But Bradford adds, "Sometimes he gets off on a tangent, and he's wrong."

Bradford doesn't even bother discussing Gov. Bill Clinton with Greenberg anymore. Greenberg, whose column is syndicated in some of the nation's largest newspapers, is among the governor's most outspoken critics.

A few readers are so loyal to Greenberg, though, they'll accept his views automatically.

An appeals judge in Greenberg's hometown of Shreveport, La., supported Clinton until he read Greenberg's editorials.

The judge now says, "Because of my regard for Paul, I don't think I can go for Clinton."

Greenberg describes himself as an ideologically unreliable conservative who follows experience rather than theory.

His brother calls him an economic conservative and a liberal humanitarian.

"Consequently, he is able to touch the core of the general populace," Irving Greenberg says.

There was a time when Greenberg lost readers because of his advanced vocabulary. He simply didn't realize the average person could not understand the same words he did.

What other father reads his child William Shakespeare's The Tempest as a bedtime story?

Veteran Greenberg readers say he has become better with each passing year.

"Even on ideas that you may not agree with, you have to agree that he states his case very forcefully," says Stan Tiner, director of public affairs for Arkla Inc. at Shreveport and a former journalist himself. "... Whatever his viewpoint is, it's rooted in some traditional point that goes back a ways."

Tiner says it's not a case of Greenberg having a formula. It's just that "he knows where he's coming from."

Readers statewide soon will learn whether Greenberg and Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Democrat-Gazette, are coming from the same place.

A Gentleman

"He's not going to bend until he's damn ready to," Bradford says of Greenberg. "That's something Walter Hussman will probably have to experience."

"I don't think editorial writers ought to write about issues they don't believe in," Greenberg says.

Then, he adds, "The publisher has the final word."

Irving Greenberg says that although his brother can be "soft and pliable to a point, once reaching that point he can be very insistent."

Hussman says he read every Greenberg editorial for the month of January and wouldn't change a word.

Greenberg isn't reluctant to state his opinions, but you have to ask.

Jack Kaplan, a Shreveport attorney, grew up with the Greenberg family and remembers Paul as a quiet boy, although not shy.

"You had to talk to him or you wouldn't even know he was around," Kaplan says.

Greenberg's reserved manner as a child may have resulted from being made to walk three feet behind the older children.

"If you can call a fellow who is a really good polemicist gentlemanly, I'll say that about Paul," says E.W. Freeman III, whose family published the Commercial from 1911-86.

In 1969, Greenberg was back at the Commercial after having spent a year at the Chicago Daily News in 1966. He went down the hall to speak to Freeman, with whom he met every day for coffee and lively discussions.

"Paul came to the door, looked in and said, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had someone with you. I'll come back.'

"That's when he was coming to tell me he had won a Pulitzer Prize."

Freeman hired Greenberg in 1962 as a temporary replacement for his editorial page editor, Patrick Owens, who had taken a leave to attend Harvard University at Cambridge, Mass., on a fellowship.

"I really didn't want to have anyone around me who couldn't help educate me," Freeman says. "Paul did a fairly good job of trying to bring me along."

When Owens returned less than a year later, he and Freeman decided to keep Greenberg on the staff.

Owens, now a writer for Newsday in New York, says it wasn't until he left the Commercial that he realized how conservative Greenberg is.

Greenberg likes to think of himself as a good tennis player.

"I can hit a good forehand and a good backhand," he says.

In his job, he often engages in intellectual tennis matches.

He worries, for example, "about Bill Clinton being a hollow man."

He describes the governor as "someone who is not firmly attached to beliefs that he would be willing to sacrifice his political popularity for."

Greenberg says Clinton has the ability to express what people want to hear. Perhaps if Greenberg were living in North Carolina or Pennsylvania, he would be leading the cheers.

Greenberg says the intensely personal media coverage of Clinton and other presidential candidates comes with the territory.

"Every country ought to have part of the press that is licentious," he says.

Greenberg doesn't want to be part of that personal coverage. Though he says the coverage might be tasteless at times, Greenberg believes it "ensures that the press covers the waterfront."

It's on more controversial issues that the tennis match inside his head becomes truly intense.

He wishes there were an alternative to the death penalty, but it "burns him" that so many prisoners are released early.

He hates to see abortion on demand lead to so many terminated pregnancies. But his religion taught him that if a mother's life is going to be made unbearable, a pregnancy can be terminated.

Greenberg was raised an Orthodox Jew, and his writings are rooted in religion.

Irving Greenberg says his brother has the "exodus syndrome."

"It's a pet theory of mine that any Jew who is versed in the history and teaching of Judaism can never stray too far from the exodus from Egypt," he says. "Consequently, freedom, liberty and morality are the most important aspects of the religion and the culture."

Greenberg's work reflects his concerns about freedom and morality.

It also reflects a combination of his serious and humorous sides.

Critics say there are less appealing sides of Paul Greenberg.

When Pine Bluff Mayor Carolyn Robinson heard about Greenberg's departure, she said, "I knew he wouldn't be able to work for that woman."

That woman is Jane Ramos, who joined the Commercial as editor last year.

Robinson is convinced Greenberg has a problem with women in positions of authority. She claims that a series of editorials criticizing her proves the point.

"He apparently has a different set of rules for judging women," Robinson says.

She once argued with him. Now, she says, "It's pointless because he only has one point of view, and that's his."

Robinson worries that although Greenberg's opinions are those of one man, his power to influence people is great.

More than 20 Pine Bluff business leaders met with officials of Donrey Media Group Inc., which now owns the Commercial, last year to discuss their concern about what they thought was Greenberg's negative approach.

"I just don't agree with that flamethrower approach," Hoffman says. "That damn flamethrower is hot."

And it's coming the rest of Arkansas' way.

It's easy to be fooled by Greenberg's unassuming nature. His quietness belies his strong beliefs.

Bradford says Greenberg's criticism of Clinton could be turned back on the editorial writer.

Paul Greenberg is intelligent.

He's articulate.

He has never had to make a payroll, however. He has never walked in the shoes of business owners and managers.

Greenberg might be a scribbler, but he has been handed a mighty pen.

He's about to move to Little Rock to take over the editorial page of the state's largest newspaper and become one of Arkansas' most high-profile figures. He doesn't fear new controversies.

"That means you've made real contact with them," he says. "You've given them some traction. You've engaged their attention.

"That means you're real."

In His Own Words -- A Paul Greenberg Sampler

Paul Greenberg's recently published collection of columns and editorials, Entirely Personal, is his second book. Here are some excerpts from the book and an additional column that first was published in the Pine Bluff Commercial.

The Flag War: The Desensitizing Of America Pine Bluff Commercial; June 28, 1990

"Perhaps the most insensitive comment in this whole sad war over the flag was made by a spokesman for the American Bar Association in the course of explaining why the flag should not be protected by law. "We don't want to set a precedent," he said, "for criminalizing peaceful political protests in the course of which someone defaces a privately owned piece of property, the American flag." This person, Randolph W. Thrower, is apparently under the impression that it is possible to privately own the American flag -- in the way one might own, say, a blanket, a house, a car or any other personal possession. But we know in our hearts that is not possible, that the flag does not belong to any single individual. The flag belongs to all of us -- the way the Lincoln Memorial does, and the flag, too, should be protected by law."

Family Feud

If the White House Conference on Families is anything like the conference in Pine Bluff, it should be the greatest show since the Scopes Trial, exposing the depth of cultural divisions in American society and almost nothing of the forces that hold it together, like the family.

The State Of Baseball

When the city council finally voted to permit this desecration at hallowed Wrigley Field, some of the more unregenerate traditionalists left chanting the ultimate threat: "Dry precinct! Dry precinct!" If the demands of television require night ball at Wrigley Field, imagine what voting the neighborhood dry would do to beer sales. That is to go too far, even in defense of tradition. Baseball without hot dogs and beer would be as unnatural as, well, as lights at Wrigley Field.

Why I Live Here

There is something offensive about the underlying assumption of tabulations like Rand McNally's, namely that people will choose a place to live on the basis of what they can get out of it. There is something in us all that seeks not just what we can get but what we can give. There is a chance to know and shape a small town -- in a way it would never be possible to know and shape a great city. A small town is a constant refutation of the impersonal and statistical, a place where people will constantly surprise you. That is, if you're still open to surprise, and not lost in the kind of sophistication that big cities and big newspapers may inspire.

Apologia Pro Redneck

The relationship between the redneck and the Southern gentleman is not an easy one; it might be described as an amiable antipathy. Each half-envies, half-despises and is wholly tempted to imitate the other on occasion, the way two different halves of a whole may complement yet compete with the other. It would take a Faulkner to plumb the depth of this uneasy relationship. He might do it in a single sentence, but the rest of us tend to stumble and mutter around the edges, knowing that the difference between redneck and gentleman not only separates but unites the two, and that it would be a grave error to dismiss the term redneck as a simple insult instead of shorthand for a complicated social code.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related excerpts from Greenberg's columns and editorials; Pine Bluff
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 27, 1992
Words:2689
Previous Article:A sporting investment: Memphis businessman reopens Stuttgart hunting retreat for year-round use.
Next Article:The annual meeting.
Topics:


Related Articles
Pine Bluff: no. 333 - with a bullet.
The next battleground.
Newspaper news: 'Pine Bluff Commercial' moves to the morning this week.
Positively Pine Bluff: Pine Bluff has a new marketing campaign to go with its new attitude.
More Progress. (Outtakes).
King of Arkansas News. (Outtakes).
Desperate Dickey. (Editorial).
Greenberg advises students to look for original expression.
On ethics. (Outtakes).
Paul Greenberg.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters