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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

David Shapiro's remarkable influence

By Mark Platte

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Advertiser editor Mark Platte presented the Hawai'i Publishers Association's Hall of Fame plaque to "Volcanic Ash" columnist David Shapiro in ceremonies Thursday.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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In a world of increasingly shrill voices, Advertiser columnist David Shapiro brings common sense and accountability to our news and opinion pages.

Over the past 42 years, Shapiro has worked as a political reporter and Big Island correspondent for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Hawai'i's congressional reporter for Gannett News Service, and as the crusading managing editor of the Star-Bulletin who published the Broken Trust essay that exposed corruption within the Bishop Estate in 1997.

He ran the Star-Bulletin during some of its best days, when the newspaper regularly pursued high-impact investigative and enterprise stories. He has trained scores of its enterprising reporters, some of whom now work at The Advertiser.

For the past nine years, he has worked here as a freelance columnist, bringing with him his irreplaceable "Volcanic Ash" column, which is the definition of speaking truth to power.

Shapiro has expanded his repertoire by adding a daily blog, two of which have been converted into print columns. Shapiro now appears on our editorial page on Wednesday and on our Hawai'i section front Monday and Saturday, which includes his "Flashback" column, an amusing send-up of the week's current events.

A recent example of his influence came two days after Shapiro lambasted state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, a congressional candidate, who had run a television ad saying she had cut legislative salaries. Shapiro pointed out that was only true if you ignored the fact she made the token cut after accepting the hefty raise proposed by the salary commission.

Without mentioning the salary issue and still defending the accuracy of the ads, Hanabusa nevertheless pulled the commercials and brochures.

For obvious reasons, politicians don't particularly care for Shapiro and his brand of reporting or opinion. I stopped counting whether the mayor's office or the governor's office have complained about him more often but far more readers have let us know how much they appreciate his honest assessments.

"I've always believed in writing in a strong voice not shouting or name-calling, but making points straight on and without pulling punches," Shapiro said. "To do so credibly, opinion must be backed by fact and there needs to be solid logic connecting the two. Humor can be a powerful tool for making a point and is especially appreciated by readers."

Shapiro retired in mid-2000 because of multiple sclerosis but had decided years earlier that he needed to write "Volcanic Ash" if he wanted to extend his career.

One of his most powerful rhetorical weapons is his memory for names and campaigns going back to the 1960s. When Sen. Daniel K. Inouye endorsed Hanabusa in January and invoked the name of the late Patsy Mink, who else but Shapiro would remind readers that Inouye was no friend to the ambitious Mink nearly 40 years ago when she ran for Congress and later challenged Spark Matsunaga for the Senate.

Now with his blog and column, Shapiro consistently brings a clearly articulated message to readers that often causes heartburn for our elected leaders.

"Power in Hawai'i is highly concentrated and often self-serving," Shapiro said. "Our reticence about calling out shibai for what it is and getting in the faces of those who serve themselves ahead of the public interest is a big reason so many of our important institutions perform so poorly. I just try to stimulate more interest and discussion about public affairs by saying some of the things that I think need to be said if we're going to get to a better Hawai'i."

On Thursday, the Hawai'i Publishers Association elected Shapiro to its hall of fame, the ninth recipient of the award. He was honored for his lifetime achievement in the field of Hawai'i journalism, as someone who continues to hold elected officials to higher standards and contributes mightily to community dialogue.