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Guest Commentary

From A to Z — Ag law to Zabel

6/5/2013

Two Iowa perennials were in the news in late May for predictable, but regrettable, reasons: Jim Zabel because he died at 91; U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin because of right-wing members of the Board of Regents messing with Iowa’s universities.

Let’s take Harkin first, letting “Z” rest in peace for a few ’graphs.

The brouhaha over Harkin’s papers mercifully ended with his lengthy legislative and public-service history winding up at Drake University instead of Iowa State. Quite a happy ending, all things considered, after a couple of Regents interfered enough to raise questions about whether Harkin’s papers would have a happy and productive home at ISU.

Lucky for all of us that Drake was a good, logical second choice, thanks in part to the Agricultural Law Center at Drake’s Law School and Drake being — on the face of it — less subject to political pressures than ISU.

The Ag Law Center promises to make good use of access to Harkin’s almost unparalleled record in federal ag legislation. Some had hoped that the rift with Iowa State could be healed in time for the University to house its alum’s papers. But that was pretty much a pipedream, given how the far right in Iowa intends to use the GOP to damage anything that the state takes pride in — like commitments to civil rights and its universities. Even if an amicable solution could have been reached at Ames, it would have been risky to leave the papers in an environment so tarnished by some on the current Board of Regents.

That’s the fact of the matter.

And reference to “facts” brings us back to the “Z-man.” The good natured and praise-filled commentary on Zabel’s life often noted that “he would never let facts get in the way of a good broadcast” or his boosterism of all things Hawkeye.

Zabel indeed was a character and personality, dominant in sports broadcasting for almost 70 years.

But, if he were covering the naked emperor parading about in his supposed new clothes, you’d hear Zabel say, “I love it. I love it. I love it. In his black and gold robe, trimmed with ermine, the suit of clothes is all together, but all together it’s all together, the most remarkable suit of clothes that I have ever seen.”

Want to know how Iowa football kept its fan base despite a gazillion consecutive losing seasons? It’s because folks listening to “Z” thought the Hawkeyes were at least 10-2 every year.

A remarkable feat.

For my part, however, I prefer the rough and tumble reality of the Harkin papers finding a good home at Drake. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

Barmuda