A feisty newspaper editor speaks from the heart and the heartland.
In 2017, Cullen, editor and half-owner (with his brother, the founder) of the twice-weekly newspaper the Storm Lake Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for, as the judges wrote, “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.” Those qualities are on ample display in the author’s first book, a hard-hitting, urgent, and eloquent portrait of his home town, “a dot of political blue” in a state that has emerged as a forecaster of national politics. Part memoir and family history, Cullen’s sharp political critique chronicles the dramatic changes and challenges faced by Storm Lake in the last four decades. Aiming to “print the truth and raise hell,” he has taken on issues such as pollution, climate change, gun rights, immigration, political corruption, and the inexorable advent of industrial agriculture, dominated by Monsanto and Koch Fertilizer, which has promoted “a way of doing business more sacred than the life of the community.” Abetted by politicians, corporate agriculture “got a green light to charge full speed ahead” until his newspaper’s reporting “revealed who pulls the marionette strings” in Iowa. An informed electorate, writes the author, must be willing to take on stewardship of the Earth: “It doesn’t cost billions more to let rivers run clean. It takes a conscience.” Besides exposing the fouling of lake and soil, his paper helped Storm Lake’s largely white community understand—and welcome—an influx of aspiring newcomers from around the world. Cullen excoriates the “brand of radical politics steeped in resentment” fomented by Donald Trump and Iowa’s Republican congressman Steve King, “the voice of the hardscrabble western part of the state that forever thinks it has been forgotten and neglected and flown over.” Trump’s victory in 2016, Cullen asserts, does not predict the outcome for 2018 or 2020. Iowans, he alerts Democrats, are “yearning for a revival message” rather than “the message that tears down.”
An impassioned, significant book from a newsman who made a difference.