Every year, a group of a hundred or so of the most powerful figures in the world gather for a secret three-day conference.
Two years ago it was held in Spain; last year in Switzerland; this year in Virginia. The gathering is called, simply, the Bilderberg Conference, and it has been meeting annually since 1954.
Most of those attending are powerful business figures or finance ministers of Western European and North American governments. The meetings are never open to the public. The press is kept out, and virtually no attendees ever talk about what happens there. Four years ago, in a rare press release, it was announced that "no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued" and added that the only thing the Bilderbergers ever do is hold their annual conference.
The mainstream view is that the three-day meetings are just that — an opportunity for the most powerful figures in the world economy to let their hair down, compare notes, and discuss what sort of policies Western governments and industry ought to be following.
But conspiracy theorists say these meetings are really highly sinister and amount to an attempt to secretly run the world. In fact, some think that the Bilderberg group does control the world and that it determines its course of action every year at this conference.
Reader Matt Darr is one of those who is highly suspicious of and fascinated by the Bilderberg conferences and who has repeatedly asked me to urge The Blade to look into them. "If The Blade is truly the great newspaper you claim it to be, then please have the guts to do some investigative reporting on it," he said.
Well, for starters, my role as ombudsman is not to set editorial direction for the paper. I have no authority to tell anyone to do anything, and the editors would probably resent it if I tried.
However, the fact is that no paper can do everything, especially in a time when all newspapers are under economic stress. The Blade does regularly investigate stories in Toledo and the surrounding region and has sometimes done national and international reporting on stories that have a clear connection to this area.
But I have been a newspaper editor in the past, and if I were running The Blade, I would probably conclude that the newspaper doesn't have adequate resources to tackle a major investigation of the Bilderberg group and cover our essential daily responsibilities.
Incidentally, large news organizations have looked into Bilderberg before and essentially concluded that it is nothing more than members of the power elite talking to themselves and letting the world's finance ministers know how they feel about things.
Etienne Davignon, a past chairman of the Bilderberg meetings, once told the BBC that "if we were a secret government of the world we should be bloody ashamed of ourselves" because of the fact that much of the world is a chaotic mess. That sounds about right.
Nevertheless, there are groups and individuals from the John Birch Society to Lyndon LaRouche to Jesse Ventura who think Bilderberg is a conspiracy. My guess is if the group ever has one of these meetings in a hotel in Toledo, The Blade will be on it.
Speaking of hotels … Joyce Litten, the chairman of the department of social work at Lourdes University in Sylvania, was upset at something in the May 27 story containing the headline "Hotels in Toledo Fall Short of Elite Status." She didn't have a problem with the reporting. What bothered her was that the reporter "only refers to the potential traveler as "he."
"Are there no women who may travel to Toledo and stay in hotels? This sort of language reinforces invalid cultural assumptions about gender. I hope The Blade will be more inclusive in thinking and writing in future stories," Ms. Litten complained.
Kurt Franck, The Blade's executive editor, agreed. "Please tell her she brings up a good point," he said, and promised that every effort would be made to do better in future stories.
Several callers wrote or phoned to complain about a May 20 story about the coming closing of St. Hedwig Church, which has been a mainstay in North Toledo's Polish community since the 19th century.
But just how old is it? The newspaper story indicated the church has been there since 1891. But a few indignant parishioners insisted the parish had existed since 1875. So … who is right?
The answer seems to be that both parties are. Assistant Managing Editor Luann Sharp went into investigative mode and reported back: "The parish was indeed started in 1875, but the church [building] dates back to 1891. We went with the date of the church, as that is what is being closed."
Makes sense to your ombudsman, but I think The Blade could have avoided this fuss by giving a little more history in the story.
Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an email address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.
Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.