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Saturday, November 11, 2000

History in headlines

The Star-Bulletin story
is one of grit and

Bullet Editor's note: Canadian publisher David Black
struck a deal this week to buy the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
a crucial step toward resolving a lawsuit that has kept
the newspaper from shutting down for the past year.
See the Letter to Readers from publisher John Flanagan today.

By Richard Borreca

WHEN some people in Hawaii warned against teaching local children "above their station," the Honolulu Star-Bulletin trumpeted public education.

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years When World War II headlines shrieked the racial invective, "Jap," the Star-Bulletin forbade its use.

When a powerful U.S. senator called Hawaii a "communist community," the Star-Bulletin responded with one of American journalism's most memorable front pages -- no news, just eight columns naming the military men from the islands who were killed or wounded in Korea, fighting communism.

When the Hawaiian, Samoan, Filipino, Portuguese and Japanese kids from Farrington High School won their biggest football game, the Star-Bulletin told of the day "the Govs won it all."

When Hawaiian community leaders decried the conduct of the most powerful of island institutions, the Bishop Estate, it was the Star-Bulletin that leapt to publish their concerns in a pivotal editorial-page essay known as "Broken Trust."

The Star-Bulletin has been a major presence in the islands since 1882, when it began life as the Daily Bulletin. In those early days, the paper aimed to do little more than make a daily note of the ships arriving in Honolulu Harbor and record who was aboard and what cargo was carried. This was important to the Caucasian businessmen who ran Honolulu.

Photo Collage By David Swann, Star-Bulletin
Chester Kahapea hawks the March 13, 1959 edition of the
Star-Bulletin announcing Statehood. Below, are other famous
front pages from the newspaper.

"At the time, that was the power elite, the evolving oligarchy," explains Helen G. Chapin, vice president emerita of Hawaii Pacific University and author of "Shaping History, The Role of Newspapers in Hawaii."

In 1893, the Hawaiian Star began publishing and, soon after, the Daily Bulletin was renamed the Evening Bulletin. In 1912, the two papers merged and became known as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Riley Allen, a 28-year-old, Texas-born and Seattle-raised newsman was its first editor. Wallace Rider Farrington, who would later be named governor of the territory, was publisher.

The issue of statehood split the ruling white establishment of which Farrington, a Republican, was clearly a part. But he was a Young Turk who, early on, championed statehood.

Farrington's view was that "if the U.S. was to take over Hawaii, the islands should come in as a first-class citizen," Chapin said. "So, when Riley Allen came, he was not tied to the old guard."

First, Allen and Farrington split with the oligarchy on the subject of education. "Other haoles couldn't care less," Chapin said. But the oligarchy felt that non-white children didn't need much schooling.

Then Farrington, who had adopted two Hawaiian children, started to hire Asian reporters in the mid-1930s, a time when others in the community talked seriously about "Nordic superiority and the Teutonic race."

Riley, meanwhile, was a brilliant editor, said A.A. "Bud" Smyser, a former Star-Bulletin editor who continues to write a twice-weekly column. "He had an immense dedication to the community -- involved and he cared. My respect for him was unlimited."

Allen worked a furious pace, keeping three secretaries busy writing, filing and organizing. One just handled his social calendar, recalled Trini Peltier, who was hired as one of his secretaries in 1955 and who still works for the paper. "He went to every community function. Sometimes three lunches, two dinners. His calendar was unreal," she marvels.

1964 press release photo

Riley Allen
"He saw the beneficial side of statehood.
His horizon was way out there."

Peltier recalls how once, during a stay at Queen's Medical Center, doctors could only keep him in bed by taking his clothes away. "Finally, he was moved to a room next to the fire escape. I would stay on the fire escape and take dictation," Peltier said.

Susumu Ono, a former state Land Board chairman, did yard work for Allen at his house while attending college from 1948-52. "He always tried to talk to different people in the community -- that's how he got his feedback," Ono said.

"Every time people visited him or he went on a trip, he came back feeling we could do more, we could be more than an island territory," Ono said. "He saw the beneficial side of statehood. His horizon was way out there."

If Riley Allen was the living symbol of the Star-Bulletin through much of the early 20th century, his most famous accomplishment came on Dec. 7, 1941, when the paper put out three special editions detailing the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Incredibly, even as bombs fell nine miles away, Allen assembled a staff of reporters, editors and printers to put out 250,000 copies of the paper.

When Joseph Farrington, who succeeded his father Wallace as publisher, called Allen to see if he needed more help, Allen replied, "Everything is under control." This was according to former Star-Bulletin reporter Alf Pratte, who wrote a history of the paper for a master's thesis.

'War' edition hit streets quickly

Allen got first word of the attack from Joseph Gomes, a Star-Bulletin circulation manager who was at Pearl Harbor at the time.

"Are you sure?!" Allen shouted. Gomes said he was certain. Allen slammed down the phone and, along with managing editor Vern Hinckley and a few staff members, began to write the world's first stories of the attack. Within two hours of the bombing, 70 newsboys were hawking copies of the famous Star-Bulletin "WAR!" edition, some of them at the gates of Pearl Harbor, as the last Japanese planes returned to carriers north of Oahu.

More than 3,000 men were killed or wounded that morning. Joseph Farrington -- who later helped spur statehood as Hawaii's delegate to Congress -- observed, "Honolulu needed newspapers that day as desperately as famished people needed food."

As the war progressed and Hawaii was placed under martial law, Allen and the Star-Bulletin fought to lift the military censorship of the newspaper. The federal official assigned to censor the paper called Allen "the most courageous and independent newspaper editor within the framework of military society."

At the war's beginning, while other news media in Hawaii and around the nation were using the word "Jap" in stories and headlines, readers never saw the slur in the Star-Bulletin.

"I made the word 'Jap' kapu as a matter of policy and, in announcing that policy, that we were not going to fight a race war in the Star-Bulletin," Farrington later wrote. "It would have been dastardly in view of the fact that one-third of our population is Japanese."

To underscore their support, Farrington and Allen sent reporter Lyn Crost to Europe to cover the Nisei soldiers of Hawaii fighting in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Honolulu Advertiser, by comparison, ran an editorial saying that too much attention was being focused on AJA soldiers.

"You talk to any old-timer in the Japanese community and they will all tell you that the Star-Bulletin was fair-minded," said Ted Tsukiyama, a World War II veteran and AJA historian. "Of the two papers, the Bulletin was much more balanced and even-handed. It had interwoven itself into the community and it showed," he said.

"The Nisei never forgave the Advertiser for their treatment," historian Chapin added. "The 'Tiser was the paper of the white managing class, while the Star-Bulletin was the working person's paper."

Smyser agreed. "Back in the 1930s, the Star-Bulletin was already lobbying for statehood. We stood for equal education, and the non-haole people recognized that. We were more their paper than the Advertiser," he said.

Campaign for statehood

After the war, the Star-Bulletin resumed the campaign for statehood. It was, according to Smyser, the paper's finest hour. When Hawaii was finally on the verge of statehood and the territory was holding an election to decide the issue in 1959, Allen was on the radio with political scientist Dan Tuttle.

"Without any returns, he (Allen) announced (on the radio) that statehood carried by a margin of 13-1," Tuttle said. "His guess was right on the nose. To this day, I don't know how he hit it. But he announced it and I just about fell through the floor."

Along with Allen, there were reporters at the Star-Bulletin who also stood out in the public eye. One was Sarah Park, who covered the Korean War from the front lines and whose other assignments made her one of the islands' favorite reporters.

Tragically, Park died in a plane crash while covering a tidal waving sweeping into Laie in 1957. She was only 29. In her eulogy, Allen said, "No death during my 46 years in Hawaii has brought such varied expressions of shock, loss, sympathy and admiration from as many parts of the world as that of Sarah Park."

Later, when the nation's battle line was in the deep South, the Star-Bulletin sent another woman reporter, Tomi Knaefler, to report from the front lines of the civil rights movement.

Her stories on the march to Selma, Ala., with a contingent of supporters from Hawaii following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a high point for the paper.

"It changed me -- it was major," Knaefler recalls. "It started me to think about values. You just saw the inhumanity in such a raw state; you were just on edge. We were always warned to be careful. We could be shot. Of course, there were shootings," she said.

In a dispatch from the Montgomery, Ala., police station in 1965, Knaefler wrote: "I cried for the many white citizens of Selma and Montgomery who taught their children to shout 'scum, bastard and nigger lovers' at the marchers along the route. I cried for their pinched and hostile stares. I cried for the haunting civil rights anthem, 'We Shall Overcome.' "

Later that year, another reporter would write a story that, even today, people talk about. Jim Becker's account of how Farrington High beat Kamehameha for the 1965 prep football title captured not only a momentous occasion for a bunch of high school players but the soul of a community. "It is still alive -- the damn thing is still alive," said Becker, noting that Farrington graduates still stop him to talk about the piece.

The following year, in 1966, Mark Waters wrote his last story for the Star-Bulletin. "Cigarettes were the death of me" was a chilling account of his battle with cancer.

"I'm very short of breath. I can't take five steps without having to sit. The cancer has gone into my liver and I don't know where else. I don't have a ghost of a chance. It's too late for me. It may not be for you," he wrote. The next day, he was dead.

Reader's Digest printed the self-written obituary and the story of the former business writer's battle with cancer was made into a TV movie starring Richard Boone.

Similarly, in September 1986 Managing Editor Bill Cox wrote the preface for his own obituary when he revealed in an editorial page column that he had AIDS. His revelation, rare in the early years of the disease's frightening spread, made national news and he appeared on several network news shows. Cox died in 1988.

The newspaper also was home to Tom Coffman, who -- fresh from covering the 1970 race for governor -- wrote one of Hawaii's definitive political books, "Catch A Wave."

Coffman spent nearly a year writing the book while working at the paper, which had been sold by local businessman Chinn Ho to the Gannett newspaper chain. He was fearful that a mainland publisher would not be interested in an insider's account of Hawaii politics.

"I was sitting there with manuscript on my desk. John Scott (the new Gannett publisher) came by and said, "Let me read that,' " Coffman recalls. "The next day, he dumped it on my desk and said, "Let's publish it.' "

Still making waves today

That was also the Star-Bulletin's reaction in August 1997 when prominent community members wanted to detail the abuses of the powerful Bishop Estate trustees. First offered to the Honolulu Advertiser because it had a bigger-circulation Sunday paper, the group brought the essay to the Star-Bulletin after the morning paper delayed publishing it.

Randy Roth, University of Hawaii law professor and former president of the local bar association, walked across the hall from the Advertiser to the Star-Bulletin with the opinion piece on a Thursday afternoon, recalls David Shapiro, managing editor.

"He suggested that we might want to run it and indicated that he was having trouble with the Advertiser printing it," Shapiro said. "I read it overnight and immediately realized it was dynamite. I knew it would have a major impact -- it was an opinion essay, but it also had extremely high news value," Shapiro said.

The piece written by Roth and four respected members of the Hawaiian community spelled out the problems with the state's most powerful private institution. The article ran that Saturday under a two-word headline that has become synonymous with the story, "Broken Trust."

It inspired a state investigation, a federal probe, the removal and/or resignations of all five trustees, the indictment of two, an interim replacement board and finally, new trustees just this month.

As the news and the way it is conveyed to readers has changed during the past 118 years, for the Star-Bulletin (aka, one thing has been constant --the paper and its people.

Here's to another 118 years of service, at least.

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