Greg Bean


We’d all feel better if the

punishment fit the crime

There was a while in the last decade when, in addition to my newspaper work, I wrote mystery novels.

Four of them were published by St. Martin’s Press, and are currently out of print. I gave up fiction writing when I finally had to admit that it’s just too hard and time consuming to write decent mysteries when you work a full-time job elsewhere to put bread on the table. When I was writing those books, I spent all my free time red-eyed and hunched over a computer in my home office. As a consequence, I missed out on a lot of sleep and nearly every weekend for more than four years. That’s a lot of missed opportunities to spend time with your kids, a lot of missed soccer games, a lot of missed school functions, a lot of missed dinners with your wife.

But these days, while I don’t miss spending the time it takes to write marketable fiction, I do miss my main character, a tough small-town cop named Harry Starbranch.

I based Harry on a number of real policemen I met when I was a crime reporter out West. They were decent but hard men with an unbending code of honor and a mission to bring justice to bad situations – even if bringing that justice sometimes meant working slightly beyond the letter of the law.

In a scene in one of the novels based on something I saw firsthand, Harry is in a local restaurant when he first hears, and then witnesses a confrontation between a young local bully and the daughter of one of his friends. He restrains himself while the bully is abusing the girl verbally, but when he strikes her, Harry figures enough is enough. Using his wide-brimmed hat as a cudgel, Harry hat-slaps the bully all through the restaurant, out the front door and into the street. Last we see of that kid, he’s running away with his tail between his legs as passers-by laugh and shout insults. A hat-slappin’ is a particularly humiliating punishment, and it gave the bully a satisfying dose of his own medicine.

I remembered that scene last week (actually, my wife reminded me of it) while discussing all the hoopla about shock-geezer Don Imus and the racist, sexist comments he made about the fine young women on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

As one puffed-up commentator after another elbowed his or her way into the glare of the television lights to call for Don Imus to be fired for picking on private people a lot less powerful than he is, I couldn’t help thinking about the fathers or brothers of those girls, and what I’d want if I were in their shoes.

Sure, Imus was punished by losing his radio program and the television simulcast. But the fact is, he’s already made more money than he can ever spend, so all that punishment does is keep him from making more.

What I’d really want if someone said those nasty things about my daughter, the light of my life, is to take that someone out behind the woodshed and whup the dog slobber out of him. That’s what would bring justice to this situation, giving one of those dads five minutes alone with Don Imus, and the unrestricted opportunity to pull that drugstore-cowboy Stetson off his pointy, cadaverous head and hat-slap him silly.

We all know that won’t happen.

Imus is so old and beyond his sell-date that a hat slappin’ would probably kill him, and our society doesn’t allow for that kind of punishment anyway, even though it ought to. In this world, we’ll have to settle for seeing Imus chastised through his pocketbook – unless he moves to satellite, like Howard Stern.

But if we close our eyes, we can at least imagine a more perfect world. A world in which someone – one of those dads or maybe even one of those young lady basketball players themselves – hat slaps Don Imus right out of his studio, onto the street, and clean into the sunset. That would be fitting, satisfying and very, very just. Exactly the kind of punishment that loud-mouthed bully deserves.

Where’s Harry Starbranch when we really need him?

+ + +

Lost among the big stories last week was an amazing piece of news out of Provo, Utah.

According to a story carried by The Associated Press, several students and faculty members at Brigham Young University – an institution run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and perhaps the most conservative institution of higher learning in the country – urged the college to withdraw its invitation for Vice President Dick Cheney to speak at its commencement this month.

BYU Professor Warner Woodworth, citing Cheney’s use of faulty intelligence before the invasion of Iraq and his role in the CIA leak scandal, questioned whether Cheney is a good example for the students.

“Cheney just doesn’t measure up,” Woodworth told the AP.

Look at all the poll numbers you want, but when Dick Cheney comes up puny in Provo, Utah – not only in a hard-core red state, but in the eyes of the ultra-conservative LDS students and educators at a place like Brigham Young University – that man and his policies are flat out done. The fat lady’s singing, the fire is down to embers and it’s time to stick a fork in Dick Cheney’s backside.

A couple of years ago, a country music group called the Dixie Chicks got in a lot of hot water when one of them said during a concert that she was embarrassed both she and George W. Bush came from the state of Texas, where many citizens not-so-affectionately refer to the president as “Shrub.” Country stations boycotted their music, and the three female singers even received death threats.

I know how they felt, however.

Dick Cheney and I are from the same state, the same hometown. My people knew his people. I’ve broken bread with the man. We share similar upbringings, similar experiences. There was a time when I thought we even shared similar values. But the vice president has changed, and these days I have to say I’m embarrassed to admit we’re both from Wyoming.

BYU Professor Warner Woodworth is right. Dick Cheney no longer measures up.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at