[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: Back to 1974.
Tanabe: That's a good year.
Moorhus: Yes, twenty years ago, when you came to KHON. Start at the beginning. You told me last time about the way you got the offer to come here. Did KOMO in Seattle offer you anything as a balance to this offer? Did they try to keep you?
Tanabe: Yes. They asked me to stay, because I'd only been there four years and I was doing quite well. Part of the reason, I'm sure, is because I got off to a real good start with an Emmy and with a documentary, and I was able to establish credibility quite well. Plus, I was doing quite a number of reports through ABC.
Moorhus: Through the network?
Tanabe: Through the network. Every affiliate, through the network, is able to send stories if the network feels it's something of value, and so I was starting to get fairly good nationwide attention. My parents, who were on Okinawa at the time, also were able to see stories that I had done, because for some reason the military was able to pick up on some of them. So I suppose that KOMO considered me to be an asset.
But my feeling was that what was offered in Hawaii was something that I would not be able to get in Seattle for a very long time, and that was, number one, the higher visibility as an anchor, and that always adds in the professional life of a television journalist. It adds to the stature, and it also broadens my own portfolio as a television broadcaster.
The second point was that it offered me an opportunity to go more into the management of the news operation. In the four years that I was at KOMO, I wasn't that interested in it at the time because I was more interested in establishing myself, getting the respect of my colleagues, making a mark for myself as a reporter, and getting some of that down pat. I was really ready to move on to something else professionally and personally, too. For the first time in a long time, some of the family obligations had been settled to a certain extent, and so my husband and I were freer to be able to pull up roots and move somewhere else. At the time, it was just a three-year contract, so I was assuming that perhaps I would be back. Of course, that's twenty years ago. It was a long contract. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: There was also an attraction to this culture, is that right?
Tanabe: Yes, there was a very strong attraction, especially after I had checked around and found that there had been no local or non-white male anchor at the television station, and I just felt that was wrong. It was totally wrong, because a newscast should really reflect the community which it serves,
not only in the kinds of stories that are carried, the types of individuals who are interviewed as leaders, but those who provide the news or deliver the news because it makes a very visible impact on the community. I've always felt that was important, and so I felt it was very necessary.
Plus, Hawaii was just a different community. I'd never operated in a community outside of the mainland U.S. in which I was not a minority. Quite frankly, after years of growing up as a minority and always having to be very careful about what I said and being almost not embarrassed, but very sensitive about how I presented my Japanese tradition, you get a little tired of it. You want to be in a situation where you don't have to spell your name out to everybody, or when you're at a department store, people don't come up to you and ask if you're the employee, and that happened all the time.
Moorhus: Or if you speak English?
Tanabe: Or if I speak English. That was quite a common question, and it just kind of gets to you. Not that it bothered me to a great deal, but after a while you just want to know what it's like not to be questioned like that all the time.
So we took this major leap and we came over here. I told you that when I got into television, friends of mine asked me, "Isn't it insulting that they hired you only because you were a non-white, non-male?" and I said, "No, because it's my foot in the door." This was a similar situation, where someone calls up totally out of the blue and wants to hire me because I'm still a non-white, non-male, so I haven't been able to shake that. But again, my feeling was, I can do the job and it is another opportunity and I'm going to do it and I'm going to do it well. That's why we felt that we would come. We came on June eighteenth, as I recall, and then I started working on the twenty-first, so in three days.
Moorhus: So in both of those situations, your being female and non-white was a plus.
Tanabe: Oh, yes, definitely a plus. There was no doubt about that.
Moorhus: That's interesting, because, of course, it runs counter to many of the other women I've talked to, where being female was always something they had to fight against. It was never an opportunity.
Tanabe: But I think that's what we mean by affirmative action, that there have been barriers established through whatever you want to call it, whether it's institutional racism or fear or lack of understanding. Whatever you want to call it, there were barriers there against minorities going into certain fields and against women reaching certain levels of a profession. If affirmative action could in some way make a dent in that by giving preferential treatment to those who are capable, then I think it was a great program. It helped me a lot. It helped many, many other individuals in all kinds of professions, not just journalism. So I think it was very necessary to at least break down some of the barriers, give minorities a chance, because there are institutional barriers that run so deep it's very difficult to crack.
Now, in this situation, I remember you asked me did I have problems as a female. I think I was more concerned with problems of a minority, and being female was just another handicap here and I'm just going to have to resolve it. And so in many ways, I think I was able to handle it a little bit better than if I were, for instance, a white female and not having to also wear this minority label and being blamed for a war and all those other past sins. If I were a white female
and I didn't have to battle that all of my life and instead was just concentrating on how am I going to turn people's attitude around because I'm a woman, that for a white female becomes a huge problem. But for me, I had all kinds of other things to worry about. So in proportion, even though I might have had the same problems as a female, it wasn't as large as all the other ones that I'd been facing.
Moorhus: It was just one of many problems.
Tanabe: It was one of many. So when I say to you I don't think it was as bad, I'm not being insensitive to it. I realize it was there, but I'm trying to put this whole thing into perspective.
Moorhus: That it was just one of many battles.
Tanabe: It was one of many. It was one of many battles, and there were battles. I remember—and I told you this—even at KOMO I was often relegated to do these features, and I did them quite well, but after a while, you say, "Well, look, this is a pattern. It's not a fair pattern, because you are creating a stereotype upon me that I do not wish to be a part of. I am a reporter. I'm a journalist first and foremost. Yes, I'm minority and, yes, I'm female, but that should not have a bearing on how well I can do a story."
And so I always made that point quite clear to the news director, and I think I said it in a nice enough way so that I didn't create any sense of a militant feminist, although in many ways I felt that my point was as blunt as necessary in order to make the message clear. And thank goodness I worked with a number of men who were very secure in their knowledge that they were also good journalists, so they were more than willing to share some of their experiences and give advice to others.
Moorhus: When you came here to Hawaii, did you get the kind of acceptance as a minority, that's now part of the majority, that you had hoped for?
Tanabe: Oh, yes, I think so. It was interesting. I had so many phone calls and messages from people who were my parents' generation. It's very interesting. Not necessarily my generation, which at that time would be in the twenties, but the parents' [generation]. They were so proud that finally somebody who looked like them was able to go into a profession that before had been kind of excluded from something they normally would do.
If you look at the makeup of the Japanese-Americans and their experience in Hawaii, many of them went into professional positions—teachers, engineers, lawyers, architects, those types which require skill and knowledge and higher education, because the Japanese put a great premium on education. Very few of them went into things like journalism, business, the arts, because those were areas in which, if you did not speak the language well or weren't able to express yourself well in the Western culture, you did not do well. So there were very few people in those areas.
Now, in business is quite a different matter. In the early fifties and going back even into the forties, it was understood that if you were local, which means you were a person of color, you probably were not going to get into the executive ranks of management, because there was a very tight control and there were small networks of individuals who were able to control business. This is very well documented in Hawaiian history, so it's really not necessary for me to go into it a great deal. But that was kind of the way it was, so you had very few people going into these areas.
Now twenty years later, yes, there are more people, but still not as many top executives or representatives as maybe there should have been. So for me to all of a sudden appear on television in a very prominent role to them was almost like, "Hey, we did it. We got one of our own in there." I was a generation younger, but it really was because of things that they had done. They were my father's generation, and they were the ones that really took the brunt of having to prove themselves during the war. I'm sure you've heard about the 442nd* and all of the things that the Japanese-Americans had to go through. They were the ones that really made the ultimate sacrifice of serving in combat while their families were under severe discrimination back at home. But they were able to do it, and then when they came back, they went to school and they broke down even more barriers. So they really were the fighters of the Japanese-Americans, and in many ways I was the one that was able to eat the fruits. The seeds that they planted blossomed into wonderful things, and I was able to take advantage of it.
I always remembered that, and so whenever I did anything, I was extremely careful that it was always the best possible job that I could do as a journalist, not necessarily most favorable to locals or Japanese-Americans or anything like that, because journalists are supposed to be objective. And so I did the best job that I could, and I was as professional as possible.
Moorhus: Was there any suspicion or resistance? Were you identified with the mainland, and did that have any negative connotations here?
Tanabe: I suppose I was identified with the mainland because of the way I speak. I don't speak pidgin, which is sort of like the local shorthand version of English. I still don't have the hang of it after all these years. Instead of saying, "How are you? Did you have a nice day?" it's just, "How's it?" [Laughter.] I've always felt that it's a very colorful language, and I think it's wonderful that people can use it and communicate among themselves with it, and yet they can switch off to standard English if necessary. I think it's a wonderful ability to have. So, yes, they identified me as a mainlander, and at first, especially during the war, there may have been some kinds of tensions, but I don't think it was true in my case. I mean, I get ribbings every now and then about, "Aha, another kotonk."
Moorhus: Another what?
Tanabe: Kotonk. That's the nickname that they use for mainland Japanese-Americans.
Moorhus: How do you spell that?
Tanabe: K-O-T-O-N-K. But I think it's more in good humor, fun, more than anything else. I remember having very long discussions with friends of mine here in Hawaii about the way I sometimes bristle when we talk about how Asians and blacks are treated. To them, it's no big thing. It was so much water off a duck's back. I said, "How could you not get involved in issues like busing, for instance?"
They said, "Because it doesn't affect us here. Barbara, we know who we are. We don't have to prove ourselves anymore."
* 442nd Infantry Regiment - U.S. Army unit made up of AJAs (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) from Hawaii who volunteered for service in World War II. Among members of the 442nd who served with distinction in the European theater were (later) Senator Daniel Inouye and (later) Senator Spark Matsunaga.
Yet on the mainland we're constantly having to prove ourselves, because we're minorities and we're questioned all the time—all the time. Over here, when you're the majority, it's no big deal. There's more confidence in themselves as Japanese-Americans. They could go and eat sushi anywhere they want, and they didn't have to apologize when they had an office party and they served rice and chopsticks. They were very comfortable knowing that they were Japanese and Americans, and it didn't bother them. That took me a while to get used to. I guess it is the majority mentality, but it is very comfortable.
I remember interviewing a very well-known political leader about this, and then we got to talking afterwards. I told him how Hawaiians are so different from being on the mainland. You let things slide as if it didn't bother you, and on the mainland we'd file a suit. It was that extreme.
He said, "Well, Barbara, that's okay, because what it does is it reinforces your understanding of yourself as an individual. My son is going to grow up here in Hawaii until he's a man, until he's eighteen, until he's comfortable with his face and his heritage and can defend himself. And then after that, I'm going to send him to the mainland, because he needs to know what the other world is like. He is going to be challenged, but by that time he's going to have his values in place, his confidence in place, and he'll be able to defend himself."
I've thought about it. This interview took place twenty years ago, and the gentleman has long since passed away, but I always thought about what Dan told me, and I said, you know, he was absolutely right, that you have to grow up being confident in yourself, not having to constantly defend yourself, and then you can be a stronger individual. I grew up the other way, constantly having to fight for everything that I wanted to do, and that created this hardened shell around me that I had to soften a little bit here in Hawaii.
Moorhus: It reminds me of the interviews I did with Dorothy Gilliam, a black journalist with the Washington Post, who is probably ten years older than you are, I don't remember exactly. She grew up in segregated schools in the South, and she said that it removed one more of the pressures of life. Does that ring true to you?
Tanabe: I think that is true here in Hawaii. Not too many individuals can develop with so many pressures all around you. It's very difficult. I was fortunate in that I was a good reader and I found escapes and ways to protect myself. But for kids nowadays, there's all kinds of pressures. It would be tough. And I think it is true. I think it's very important for one to be confident in one's self and not have to kind of always be aware that you're different and therefore maybe not all right. That's not a good feeling when you're growing up, it really isn't.
Now, being female, again if you look at the Asian tradition, oh, man, talk about macho chauvinist types of cultures! It's there. However, there's also a great deal of respect for anyone that's very professional, and so I think I was able to surmount the barrier with a lot of the audience that I projected myself to. I think I was able to avoid a lot of these sexist remarks that are always attributed toward me. First of all, I'm not a sexy-looking person. I'm just kind of ordinary-looking. There's nothing—I look like anyone's sister or daughter. I look kind of non-threatening, so therefore maybe in some way I was able to sidestep those questions of, "What are women doing on television? Oh, they're just there for looks." Well, obviously I didn't get there
just for looks. And so in many ways, from the audience perspective, I was able to downplay the sexism label.
Within the news operation, I think I still had to work on it, because there were questions about whether I had the ability to be a manager in the news operation. Plus, there was already a news director, so that was a little bit more sensitive, a more delicate area that I had to work on.
Moorhus: And you came in as an assistant news director and co-anchor immediately?
Tanabe: Yes, assistant news director and co-anchor.
Moorhus: This co-anchor was at what time?
Tanabe: It was on at, I think it was, 5:30. I can't remember what the exact time was, but it was early evening newscast and the late evening newscast. Over here, the late news is at ten. It's this early-to-bed, early-to-rise market. And so I did both in a co-anchor situation.
Moorhus: Did you get to do some reporting, as well, from the beginning?
Tanabe: Yes, I did, from the very beginning, because it was my choice. The news director did not. His background was mostly reading the news. It really wasn't in reporting. There are different ways that people come into that role. As you know, in the seventies some people just looked good and sounded good, and so therefore they become what we call talent or readers. There are others who are very serious journalists, and I considered myself always to be a reporter first and an anchor second, and so I did a lot of reporting all the time and writing.
Moorhus: We want to talk about some of the stories that you did. One of the things you mentioned after our interview last week was one of the things this job did is give you opportunities for a lot of travel.
Tanabe: Oh, yes, it did.
Moorhus: And we'd like to talk about that. One of the first trips you mentioned was to Guam.
Tanabe: Yes, after the fall of Vietnam, after Saigon was captured [April 30, 1975] and it became Ho Chi Minh City. There were thousands and thousands of Vietnamese from South Vietnam who had aided the American cause who now feared for their lives, and they escaped by whatever means possible—boats, planes, however, to get out of the country. The United States and the United Nations refugee high commissioner—and, you know, details now are hazy to me. But they were able to use Guam as sort of a base to process these refugees and then find sponsors for them and move them into the United States or other countries which would accept the Vietnamese refugees.
I felt it was important for me as a reporter to be able to cover this event for our audience in Hawaii. This goes back to, again, it may not have been an issue that people were talking about all the time here in Hawaii, because it doesn't affect them. "So what? There are a bunch of refugees coming out of Vietnam." But it's something that we should be talking about, because we as a nation, in our own way, created this problem, and now we have a group that, whether it's our responsibility or not, we were going to help out in some way. It was postwar effects that we
should be dealing with, and because we are closest to Guam and Vietnam, in some way it was going to affect us. And sure enough, there were churches here that were sponsoring some of the Vietnamese refugees, and so I was able to track down some of this and then fly to Guam, track down the families and start doing a series of interviews, and then broaden it to what were the other Vietnamese refugees doing. What were the factions within these various camps? What was the high commissioner going to do? And so I did a series of reports on the refugees.
I'd been to Guam several times before, and I remember thinking, oh, it's a terrible place to go, because it's small, it's humid. It just physically drains you, because the minute you go outside, you perspire. You know, it's fatiguing. But these Vietnamese refugees were in tents. They were served army food, chow lines. They slept in cots. There were mosquitoes all around. You perspire and you had to wear clothes that are drenched with sweat. And here were a group of people who had just lost their families, some of them, lost their country totally. They would never, ever be able to go back in their lifetime, and they were facing a very uncertain future. They didn't know where they were going to go, what kind of people they were going to meet. Many of them didn't even speak English. And yet there was this sense of hope that you could feel throughout the whole camp. Yes, people were down and some of them were crying, but, more importantly, they were talking about the future and the hopes and dreams that they had. It was very touching, and I was quite impressed. I said to myself, "Boy, if any group of people are going to make it in the United States, it's going to be this group."
I didn't know anything about the Vietnamese culture, but what a resilient group of people. They support each other. The families seem to be very, very close, and it's perhaps their faith, not only in their own deity, but in God, because many of them were Catholics. Others, obviously, had their own native religion to which they went to seek support in times of need. But they were just marvelous individuals, just marvelous, and I had a great deal of respect just watching them for several days as I was doing these stories.
Moorhus: Did you travel with a camera person?
Moorhus: And any other crew members?
Tanabe: No, it was just the two of us. This is local TV. We don't go with sound and audio people. It was just the two of us, the photographer and me, and I was like a producer, reporter, researcher. I did everything, secretary, coffee go-getter or whatever, and the photographer was the driver, light, sound, scavenger. So we did everything.
Moorhus: What about an interpreter?
Tanabe: We found one at the camp, and then it turns out that the family that we were interviewing spoke English already, a Catholic family. And I'm sorry I don't remember the name and I haven't kept track of this family, but they eventually came to Hawaii, went to school, and I'm sure they did quite well. Many of them came through Hawaii and moved to the mainland, but you do see Vietnamese populations all over the place. Some of them are doing very well. Some, of course, still have not been able to make it, but that's true of any refugee group. I think it would be unfair to characterize a whole culture based on the experience of just one or two or three families, but on the whole I was just really impressed that, having gone through a war and seen the brutality of a war, they as a group were able to pull together.
I think it was a real lesson for me on humanity. We humans are survivors, regardless of where we have our roots or regardless of what sex we are. We are survivors, and that was a very good illustration for me.
Moorhus: To do that story, you emphasized as a local station you didn't have the kind of supports around you. Did you have to really fight to get to do that story, or was that something that the news director approved rather easily?
Tanabe: It was something that caused a lot of concern, but I was able to convince them it was well worth it. I can't remember how I did the argument at the time, but I was able to convince them, and part of the reason is because I was also able to talk an airline into flying us down without any payment or fees, in return for them being identified. Now, this is normally not done in journalism, but in this particular case that was the only way to get down, and I felt that since they were not an integral part of the story itself, but were the means of getting us there, that it didn't really compromise the story.
Moorhus: Was this an American carrier?
Tanabe: Yes. It was Pan American at the time.
Moorhus: You said that they provided—
Tanabe: The transportation.
Moorhus: For the two of you?
Moorhus: How long were you there?
Tanabe: About three days, not very long.
Moorhus: What kind of a reaction did the story get here in Hawaii?
Tanabe: Pretty positive. Again, remember that we were still the number-three station, and so the audience isn't very wide. But what it does is, it causes people to think that, "Here's a TV station that's really doing something different, very progressive, looking beyond Hawaii." And so it was more important for the reputation that at least we attempted it, and some people saw it and they talked about it, more important than getting overnight ratings that were huge.
Moorhus: Do you suppose that was one of the arguments you used, that this would put you—
Tanabe: I'm sure I did. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: It sounds like a pretty good case you were able to make.
Tanabe: Yes, yes.
Moorhus: The next trip that you talked about was to Japan in the early seventies. You said you did some work with the military issues.
Tanabe: In the seventies, the military community was quite significant here.
Moorhus: American military.
Tanabe: American military. It still is. We have Pearl Harbor, we have Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, which is the base for a light brigade, we have the Army Schofield Barracks, and we have Air Force Hickam. So everything is here, and we are the command post for—it's called CINCPAC, Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet. So all the top military brass are stationed here out of Hawaii. There is a huge military community. I can't remember the exact number, but it's well past 50,000, so it's a large community. They are also an audience, and so we need to be able to cover issues that affect them.
I can't remember exactly what led to this, but we have briefings that the military does for journalists here so that we understand some of the things that they are doing—the military exercises, the efforts that they make to maintain relationships with the defense forces of various countries, and things like that. I remember I went to a briefing and they were talking about some of the concerns that military families had in Japan because of the huge discrepancy in the yen and the dollar. At one point it was 360 yen to the dollar, and military individuals were able to have a decent standard of living. But what happened was, then the yen strengthened and the dollar was at 240, 270, and it's a tremendous drop in your buying power if you're stationed over there. That was one of many things that happened to be occurring.
So I remember going to Japan to do a series of stories on military families, how they were doing, how they were making ends meet, how some of them were working with the local community to not only learn about their host culture, but also to share some of the experiences of being an American, which is very important when you are a military outpost in a foreign country.
I also did a story of an unusual orphanage in Osaka that is supported totally by an army troop in Hawaii, and this dates back to World War II, when there were many, many orphans in Japan. One of the soldiers found an orphanage that was run by nuns, Roman Catholic nuns, and they were frantic for food and clothing for these children. The soldier took it upon himself to provide that for them, and then pretty soon his buddies found out and pretty soon his unit found out, and they made it their thing to go to the orphanage all the time to make sure the kids had food and shelter and companionship and support. And then when they were transferred back here to Hawaii, which was the home base in Schofield Barracks, they continued the relationship. To this day—and, you know, the war ended more than fifty years ago—to this day they send money over and they support the Holy Name Orphanage in Osaka.
So I did a story about that and found the gentleman who started this whole thing, talked to the sisters. Every year, two orphans from Osaka come to Hawaii for one week that they spend with the soldiers at Schofield, and the soldiers take them on a tour of the island and things. Most of the soldiers now are kids who were born after the war, and they don't know what their unit had done. But again, it's history. It's something that you keep alive. During a time of great need, they reached out and they made a difference to a bunch of kids.
Moorhus: Were you particularly sensitive to the role of the military, having grown up as a military child?
Tanabe: Perhaps to a certain extent. I hadn't thought about that, but, yes, perhaps. I wasn't anti-war, anti-military, as a lot of the sixties' kids were, because they were doing their job. They had to do their job. They were under orders and they were out there in a combat zone,
and you don't go around questioning your commander-in-chief when an order is given. You took an oath when you joined and you were there to support your country. Although I didn't always agree, and still don't, with a lot of American policies dealing with foreign issues, I think it's important that when you are in a position such as U.S. soldiers and the U.S. military, that you do your best to support your commander-in-chief.
Now, when you come back here to the United States, you can do all you want, I think, and should, to question the way the policy is arrived at and implemented, and that's what democracy is all about. It's a free exchange of ideas and the ability to be able to criticize when you, as an expert, know that it may not have the proper consequences. And so I think it was important that we support the military, and I've always felt that way, and still do. But I'm also the first to speak out when I feel that there are things that need a second look. Anyway, that was my Japan trip.
Moorhus: But it does also raise the way you functioned as a journalist here in terms of being connected with the local institutions, including the American military. You established your own relationships here, and out of that came stories.
Tanabe: Yes, and that's the way it should be. We always look at relationships, and you try to offer a perspective to the local community that they may not have yet, but is very important. In any kind of a community where there is military, there's normally friction between the local community and the military. I think the military here does a very good job of trying to ease that tension, and I think we as journalists should be looking at those efforts that are being made instead of just harping on criticism. It's one thing to criticize; it's another to try to understand that criticism. I think journalists need to do a little bit more of that. Instead of just covering a protest march, the questions need to be asked, "Why are they there?" That's perhaps a more important emphasis that needs to be provided. It's a little bit harder to get to as journalists. We have to be very careful about balancing the sides of an argument. But, shoot, why do we go to school and learn about professional ethics and things like that? It's so we can apply it, not to shrink away from covering a story that might be a little too hot or might be a little too difficult. That's what we're there for.
Moorhus: You went to China in 1981.
Tanabe: Yes, and that one occurred because, again, Hawaii does have a fairly significant Chinese base. And for the first time, Pan American inaugurated direct flights from Honolulu into Beijing, and so they were going to have this inaugural flight, and I said, "I want to go." [Laughter.] I raised my hand up first. So they said, "Okay." Well, there were four people on that flight. It was a 747.
Moorhus: Four people, total?
Tanabe: Total! [Laughter.] Obviously, there wasn't a great demand to go to Beijing, for a number of reasons, one being that the infrastructure was not developed yet to accommodate foreign guests. We went in as journalists. And again, I tried to look for stories before I went, so I had studied a lot. I found out that the beginnings of television were there in China, and so I planned a couple of things. When I got there, I made contact with a Chinese television agency and others to find out how they did news, what the people in China read and felt and things like that.
When I went, I knew that I was taking a big risk here, because you're supposed to have a working visa as a journalist. We didn't have enough time, so I said we were tourists.
And we were kind of tourists. We were just going to look around. We weren't going to interview a bunch of government officials. But we had this camera, a 16-millimeter camera.
Moorhus: You went with a cameraman?
Tanabe: A cameraman. Well, when you're a television crew, he's kind of the more important half. I remember George—we were really nervous, but we said, "Okay."
Moorhus: What was his name?
Tanabe: George Cabral. He is Portuguese, very local, dark- skinned photographer, but very hefty, big. You know, big. So I said, "George, I want you to dismantle your camera and we'll put it in different cases. Minimum gear. No tripod, anything, no lights, you know, minimum. Just your camera, film, and that's how we're going to go."
And then when we arrived, I made no secret of the fact that we were from a local television station in Hawaii. Our guide, obviously, was a government guide, and it didn't bother him at all. He said, "Okay, I have this schedule." He met us at Beijing. He said, "I've developed this schedule of things that I think would be important for you to see. We're going to go see the body of Mao, we're going to go to the museum, we're going to do this, and we're going to do that."
I said, "Well, can I just make some requests? We came so far and we've always wanted to visit China so much. Can we do other things, instead of viewing the body of Mao?" You know, it's been on television. So I said, "What we'd like to do is, we'd like to go and talk to some university students. I'd like to visit your university campus and just meet people. I'd like to go to a local store that sells newspapers and books. I'd like to see a bookstore. I'd like to see some construction sites where there was building going on." I was there looking for a story here on how people were thinking, how they were building, how they were getting ready to meet foreign visitors and what might happen.
So he said, "Well, yes, I could do that, but don't you want to see the Great Wall of China?"
I said, "Okay, okay, okay. We'll go to the Great Wall."
So we did some things that he felt compelled to do as a tour guide. We went to the Great Wall, we went to the Ming tombs, we saw the Forbidden City, which was all very nice. But he also bent over backwards to make sure that we got to the department store that I wanted to see and all these kinds of things.
I must say that the highlight was going to the university and meeting these students. He just drove us there and he said, "Well, this is the University of Beijing."
I said, "Oh, what are those people doing?"
He said, "They're ice-skating." There was a pond there and it was frozen and people were ice-skating.
So I said, "I'd like to ice-skate."
And he had to really think. He said, "What if you get hurt? What if you sue us?"
I said, "I won't sue you. Here, I'll write something down."
So we went out there. I was able to talk to a number of students, who shared with me, because they spoke English, what they thought about the United States and what they wanted to do. Most of them learned their English by listening to Voice of America. Their English was very good, very, very good, and they were anxious to try out their English on me. They said, "It's so neat to meet Americans. We really want to meet more Americans, because it sounds like they have a fascinating culture. And yes, there are differences between our governments, but that's government. We as people are very anxious."
Again, you could feel this vitality of the country. Even just driving around Beijing, which at that time was frightening because there were very few cars and five million bicycles, and the driver of the cab drives with one hand on the horn and the other on the accelerator. And forget about stoplights. He doesn't care whether it's red or green. He must have been colorblind. You could just feel the vitality of the country.
Of course, I also went to a playground to talk to people with children to see what they were doing with this "one child" rule and get a little sense of their philosophy of child-raising. They're very loving parents, very loving parents.
I remember going to a bookstore that sold newspapers, and they only had a few newspapers. I said, "Where is everything?"
He said, "We only have one newspaper, and it's the propaganda newspaper."
I said, "Oh, is that how you describe your paper?"
He said, "Oh, yeah. The government puts things in there for us to read." So they are well aware of these kinds of things.
I said, "Can I see your comic section?"
And so they showed me their Sunday comics, or something equivalent to Sunday comics. It has satire poking fun at government—the high prices, the long queue they have to stand in for everything. And I said, "This is great! There is freedom of expression in China, and they do it in their own way."
So these are the kinds of stories that I brought back for the people of Hawaii, because we have a lot of relatives there. A large percentage of the people here in Hawaii trace their roots to China, and we have business interests there. And so therefore it's very important for our viewers to understand the changes that are going on, very subtle, but very human changes for us to see.
Moorhus: Do you think that trip was easier for you as a minority, or as a non-white, I should say?
Tanabe: Yes. Oh, yes. And also coming from Hawaii.
Moorhus: Rather than the mainland.
Tanabe: Rather than the mainland, because somehow Hawaii, there's a different word for Hawaii, and I can't remember exactly what the Chinese word is anymore, but it's called
"land of sandalwood." During the 1800s, sandalwood was exported from Hawaii to China, so there is a history there that the Chinese are well aware of. When they found out I was from Hawaii, it was like, "Oh, that beautiful place!" They look upon Hawaii as a different country, and so it was fine.
Plus, I found out later on that there were a lot of people that would come to me and start speaking in Chinese. So I asked my interpreter, "Is it because I look Chinese?"
He said, "Oh, yes. You look like Mao Zedong's favorite niece."
I was startled, because I thought, "Is she in favor? Is she in jail or anything?"
He said, "Oh, no. She's doing very well."
I said, "Thank goodness." [Laughter.]
So it was helpful that I looked like them. Plus, I could read their signs. Chinese characters and Japanese characters have the same base, so I knew when we were at the Great Northern Lake and the place where Marco Polo came across the bridge and all these kinds of things. I didn't feel as foreign as many people would in China. I was just fascinated by their history and how everything had been preserved, almost benign neglect. Their tremendous pride in their culture and, again, their humanity. Our interpreter was telling us when he was ten he was sent to Siberia, because that's the way they did it. They had youth camps.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Tanabe: Certainly I knew more about China than most individuals on the mainland, but I didn't know that much. Again, these are human beings.
Moorhus: Explain to me about the Chinese and Japanese characters. I think I had known they are the same, but they're pronounced differently?
Tanabe: Yes, they're pronounced differently.
Moorhus: How do you know what the meaning is? Is the meaning the same?
Tanabe: Yes, the meaning is the same.
Moorhus: Even though they are said differently?
Tanabe: Yes. So I knew when the sign said "men" and "women," and I went in the "women" side. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: You took film and brought all the film back here, then, and created stories out of that?
Tanabe: Yes, a series of stories. Now today, I can't remember exactly what they were, but obviously they were on the news information. I did one on Chinese television. I did get to their television station and interviewed a woman who was in charge of the television operation in Beijing.
Moorhus: My goodness!
Tanabe: I made a point to try to watch the commercials. You know, commercials really say a lot about what kind of products are available, consumerism, whether it's active or not, how they sell. So I was looking at these, and I managed to bring some of the commercials home.
What you do is, as a journalist, you can't make academic analysis of certain things, but you can be observers, very good observers, and you can interview people about how they feel, and that's what you put together. I didn't do anything on government pronouncements. Anybody can get government pronouncements, but not everyone can get consumer reaction, people reaction, a sense of that, and that's what I did.
Moorhus: How long were you there?
Tanabe: I was there a week. I think I was four or five days in Beijing and another three days in Shanghai. Now, Shanghai was a totally different place from Beijing. Beijing is the capital and the seat of government, and so there's a different feel. Shanghai is sort of like a commercial center, a very, very entrepreneurial spirit everywhere you go. I went into a number of stores and talked to shopkeepers there. A lot more excitement in that city, a lot more trade, more people who seem to be dressed differently. In Beijing, everybody looked the same. In Shanghai, there was more color. I mean, those are different things that we as Westerners and as journalists can pick up immediately. More newspapers in Shanghai and, of course, a history of having more contacts with Westerners. So it was quite interesting.
Moorhus: What kind of a reaction did this series get from both your news director and the populace that saw it?
Tanabe: It was, again, very similar to the Vietnamese refugees one. We were among the first to go to China, a news crew from Hawaii, and come back with those types of reports. I think I had more reaction from people who watched us all the time and appreciate those kinds of opportunities. I also worked very closely with people here who had close contacts in China and were able to help me make those contacts; for instance, the U.S.-China Friendship Association.
And so within small groups of viewers, I think we had a very high standing, and what it does is it reinforces their perception of what the television station does and what its responsibility is, because television stations operate with FCC licenses. In return for using public airways, you're supposed to provide a community service. You're supposed to provide information that is useful for a community to improve its quality of life, among other things, and that's what we were doing. I take these responsibilities very, very seriously, and it makes it more exciting to be able to reach out and do these kinds of things.
Moorhus: You said when you did the story on Guam that you were the number-three station. Your ratings hadn't improved. Had they improved by '81?
Tanabe: Yes, they had considerably. There were a number of other reasons for it that I should let you know about. We were acquired by the parent company that owned Des Moines Register, which is a very, very well-known newspaper and known for its high standard of journalism. They acquired KHON, and one of the first things they did was put up a new tower for a transmitter so that more people could get our signal, number one. Number two, they started to pump more money into the news operation, so it wasn't always a shoestring budget. There was a decent budget to do more stories, and we weren't restricted. We didn't have a film quota, for instance. You go out and you do your story and you do it the best you can. And so there was
more a sense of professional standards and requirements than there were previously under the old news director.
Moorhus: So they had brought in a new news director, as well?
Tanabe: Yes. His name is Kent Baker, who is still here, by the way. He came here on a six-month contract, and he's still here, too. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: When was it that the takeover [occurred]?
Tanabe: It was '78, somewhere around there. Somewhere in the mid-seventies.
Moorhus: Did you find more support from the new administration, the new owners?
Tanabe: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, first of all, I was more comfortable with the people. The Des Moines Register was more in the same mold of journalism and thinking and philosophy that I believed than what some of the trends were in the early seventies that was going more into entertainment and flash and things like that.
However, I was well aware that television is primarily an entertainment medium, and therefore the stories had to have some kind of visual or entertainment value. I fully understand that. But news is news, and so you provide news within your thirty-minute news block, and that was very important to me.
Moorhus: So in the late seventies, the new owners took over and your budget increased. Did your role change in any other way?
Tanabe: By this time, I had a child, and so I didn't want to work as long and as many hours and I wanted a little bit more flexibility. They also decided to experiment a little bit with the news team, and so they did bring in another anchor to replace B.J. Sams, the old anchor and old news director. There was a little bit of problems with that, chemistry problems, as well as differences in style and philosophy, so it was a very difficult period for me.
What happened was, I eventually went off the air and instead focused on reporting, and then I only did weekend anchoring. So it was a little difficult to make the transition, but I think overall it reinforced my reputation as a reporter and journalist, because then when I was out in the field, I did a lot more aggressive reporting than other TV stations were doing at the time. And so I think it really did increase my reputation as—you know, I felt I was a very strong reporter. That was around the era when I also broke the major news story on the Rewald case.
Moorhus: And we want to get into that. But since you've mentioned your son, let's talk about your son Nicolas.
Tanabe: Nicolas is now fourteen.
Tanabe: That's right, without the H, because he was going to be Nicole, but he turned out to be Nicolas. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: Tell me about the pregnancy and being a mother.
Tanabe: First of all, my husband and I waited eight years before we had a child. I was thirty at the time he was born. And the reason we waited so long is because I wanted to make sure I established myself as a journalist and as a professional, because I did not intend to be a nonworking individual. I felt that I worked hard to get where I was and I intended to continue, and Roy supported me totally in that.
However, I've always loved children and wanted my own, and so we decided it was time. Of course, it took a while. When you're older, it takes a while longer to eventually have a child, but I managed it. And the station was quite supportive. I continued to work until the day before I gave birth, and that was because I was in fairly good condition. I didn't blossom as much as other people do. I did put on enough weight so that people knew I was pregnant and were constantly asking about it, but I managed to waddle around and do my thing.
I was very fortunate in that my morning sickness and my pregnancy was not bad at all. I was constantly happy, and it's because I'd waited so long and I knew this was the right thing to do. My husband supported it. The people at the office were supportive. I was just totally happy for the whole nine months—never lost my temper, never growled at anyone. It was just a wonderful time for me.
Moorhus: You were still anchoring during this period?
Tanabe: Yes, and I went to Lamaze class in between newscasts. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: And when was Nicolas born?
Tanabe: June seventh. I worked June sixth, got off work and went home about eleven, and then about four I started to get these sharp pains. But it was just back pains, and the doctor said, "You better go in, Barbara, but it might be a while." The whole labor was seventeen hours, but the first fourteen was just kind of little pains. I mean, all women are different, right? So I walked around, and it was only the last three when it got uncomfortable. But even then, it wasn't that bad. And the transition period, which is supposed to be the toughest part, that lasted all of two minutes for me.
The doctor, I remember, came and looked at me and said, "Ah, Barbara, it's going to be a while. I'm going to go and have dinner."
I said, "Okay, Doctor. See you later."
Well, thirty minutes later, I got rushed into delivery. The doctor didn't make it, so the intern delivered the baby. The doctor comes panting in, and he said, "Hi, Barbara."
I said, "Doctor, you're too late. He's here." [Laughter.]
So it was just a very happy, very good experience for me all around. And then I was off work for four weeks, and I went back in a month.
Moorhus: What did you do about caring for the baby?
Tanabe: Nicolas became the responsibility of my husband. [Laughter.] And thank goodness he had gone through three babies before, so he knew what to do. You know, it's kind of neat to see this bonding between a father and a son. With his first family, he was always too busy and wasn't
there when the babies were born and really wasn't there in the beginning. And he didn't want to miss it this time, so he was in charge, so to speak. To this day, they're still very close and they still talk to each other. As Nicolas was growing up, Roy would take him everywhere—to do marketing, to the laundromat, and things like that, and everybody knew him because he was the man with the little baby on his shoulder. And so it was really wonderful for me, because my husband always felt that one parent should always be at home. It was very important for a child's development for a parent to be home, and in this case it was easier for him, because I had a very demanding job. It was sort of like a natural decision that was made—very unnatural from anyone else's perspective for the mother to be working and the father to be taking of the child, but as long as it was a parent, we felt that there shouldn't be that much of a difference.
Whenever Nicolas was ill or something, it was very obvious that it was Mother that he wanted. Babies and children react differently to Mom and Dad. Even if there is a role reversal as to who goes to work and who stays home, the way a mother relates to a child and the way the father relates to a child is always very different. So there were instances when I did better with Nicolas and there were other instances when Roy did better, but we were always with Nicolas. He never stayed with a babysitter in all his life.
Moorhus: So you went back to work full time, then, right away?
Tanabe: Right away.
Moorhus: But you've had the flexibility to be home when he was sick?
Tanabe: Yes, I did, but he was never sick. He was this tough little kid. He never got sick. So it was very nice. I think in many ways, because I was an older mother and Roy was an older father, we were pretty mellow parents, and I think that kind of helps with your child. The child doesn't feel this, "Oh, my God, what am I going to do?" feeling. He's very secure in knowing that we knew what we were doing. And so he was a very calm baby. He slept through the night at age six weeks. You'd put him down at 7 p.m. and he'd fall asleep, and then he wouldn't wake up until 7 a.m. the next day.
Moorhus: My goodness!
Tanabe: He was just a very mild baby, two naps a day. He never cried until he was about three or four months. He'd yelp when his diaper was wet and things like that. So he was a very easy baby. I was very, very fortunate. Never had any trauma spells. Looking back and comparing experiences with other parents, I think I was very fortunate to have that kind of a baby with that kind of a disposition and then a husband who wanted to be the househusband. I didn't have to fight, again, those types of battles that other women may have been stressed over. I didn't have to make those choices between, "Is it my career or is it my family?" I was able to keep them separate.
But early on, I had already made my decision it's my family that's the priority, because there's only one person who can call me Mom and only one person who is my husband. I'll have many jobs, I'll have many bosses, I'll have many employees and many colleagues, but only one family. And so my priority was very clear in my mind, and because of that, perhaps it was easier for me to make decisions and try to work around things.
Moorhus: Was the traveling hard for you, like the week in China?
Tanabe: Oh, the week in China, I really missed Nicolas.
Moorhus: He must have been about two at that point.
Tanabe: Yes, he was a year and a half. It was funny, because I took a picture of him and I shared it with my interpreter, and he almost cried, because he missed his baby, too. [Laughter.] It helped to have somebody who was understanding and to have the picture. So when I went home, it was just neat because he was just all excited that Mom was back.
You know, when you have a baby, it changes your perspective, because I was so intense on career that you forget, you know, career isn't everything. When you come home and you see this little child who doesn't care what you are, what kind of a day you've had, but he's going to love you all the same, you start to look at the world a little differently. I think I was probably a little bit mellower in my own way, in the way I approached work. Things weren't these gigantic problems anymore. They were manageable. I think it did me well to become a parent at the age that I became one.
Moorhus: You said that that gave you a different perspective when the ownership of the station changed and then you found it advisable or necessary to change your role.
Tanabe: Yes. I think if I didn't have the family, didn't have my baby, I would have been crushed to have to change so much. Every change in a career is threatening unless it's upward and more responsibility and more visibility and things. But I think it caused me to reflect a little bit, and I said, "Well, it's not important for me to be on the air all the time. I mean, I could do certain things. I could work around it." So it wasn't as critical for me.
Moorhus: So you did perceive that going off the air full time was not a step forward?
Tanabe: Oh, definitely. It definitely was not. But it wasn't the end of the world.
Moorhus: Did you ever think at that point about leaving Hawaii or that job and going somewhere else?
Tanabe: Oh, probably so, but not real seriously. I was doing well at the station. I know the ratings were going up, I know that my recognition factor was quite high, and I was very comfortable in knowing that I did a good job. So in many ways, the forces that would cause one to leave were not as strong for me.
However, I think that you just start to think about the life that you have chosen and some of the problems. In television news—this was after the movie "Network"* had come out, and there were all kinds of criticism about the values that television news perpetuates. You begin to wonder about it yourself, too, and figure out what your role is in this whole industry. I was looking at an industry in which people were judged not on their understanding and role as journalists, but on the way they looked and the way audiences perceived them. Those are external factors that most people can't control. I can't control how people are going to look at me and first impressions or judgments they would make. I can control my role as a journalist and the work
* "Network" - Sidney Lumet film starring Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, and Robert Duvall (1976).
that I do, the reporting that I do, and the standards I follow and everything about being accurate and truthful, etc., having great contacts so you can follow up on stories and come up with ideas. I can control all of that. But that's not what the ratings judged you on. The ratings judged you only on how the audience perceived you. You wonder, it's really not fair, you know. It's really not a way to run a good business when your primary assets are your people and how good they are as journalists, and yet you're judging them and compensating them according to a ratings system which is flawed by virtue of depending on human reaction. So that bothered me a lot.
I remember being told by a friend of mine, "But, Barbara, that's the business that you chose. You have to make peace with it."
I sat there and said, "Well, I don't know if I have to make peace with it. It's not right."
And so it's at that point that I started thinking maybe I do need to look at other careers, and so I became very deliberate in looking at the landscape, what is happening in this community.
Moorhus: This was in the early eighties?
Tanabe: This was in the early eighties. What is happening in Hawaii and the news business and how can I increase my value to the station, not just as an anchor, because anchors, they can come and go, really, when you think about it. Reporters can come and go, too. But what makes you valuable are the contacts that you have, the ability to be able to follow up on stories, to break new stories, and do innovative things that cause people to listen and also have good judgment.
I looked around and I decided, well, there was no one really covering business as well as they should, and this was a time of recession. There were a lot of big business issues, but nobody at the station felt comfortable following through on it, because nobody had a background in it. So I said, "Okay, here's a chance for me to start doing something better." But in order to develop more credibility in this area, I needed to improve my network and contacts.
That's when I made the decision to go back to school and get my M.B.A. There was an executive M.B.A. program at the time, which is all day Friday, all day Saturday, every other week, and you compress your education into two years on weekends. So I enrolled in that. The station was very supportive. They paid for my tuition, with the understanding that I wasn't really going to take that much time off. Friday was my day off and I think Saturday I had to work, because Saturday and Sunday I was anchoring. So I arranged it so that on Saturday I'd leave class thirty minutes early to run to the station in time for the five o'clock news, and I did the news, and then I stayed until midnight. So Saturday was kind of a long day for me.
Moorhus: When did you begin the program?
Tanabe: In '81, so after I got back from China. I nearly died, Donita, and I would not do that again. But, you know, when you're younger, you don't know any better, right?
Moorhus: And you had a baby.
Tanabe: I had a baby.
Moorhus: A full-time job and graduate school.
Tanabe: And graduate school. It was tough. I'm not one to get Bs and be satisfied with it, and I was getting Bs in accounting. I remember sitting in class not knowing what the professor was saying, and I've never been in a situation like that. So I had to study doubly hard. I took very meticulous notes, but anytime I didn't understand it, I would underline it and I'd follow up with the professor. These professors—I'm sure I got my money's worth out of them. I'd go visit them on weekends or on off days and I'd say, "Look, Reggie, this is what you talked about in class and this is what I don't understand," and I would start out with like two pages of questions on his course. He would answer them, and it would take two hours for him to review this with me. I'd do that every single weekend.
The last time that I talked to him, my notes were down to two paragraphs instead of two pages, and I got an A out of that course. But that's just to tell you how hard I had to apply myself in areas that I really didn't have a comfort level. But I was able to finish with honors. After I finished, I did a number of business stories, and people were very comfortable having me do these. When I went to interview business executives in town, they were very comfortable, because they knew I understood and spoke their language and I would ask certain questions that were not off the wall, but were thought out. I had reviewed their annual reports and knew what their latest earnings statement said. I had done all of that, and so I had very, very good contacts within the business sector.
I graduated in '83. It was a two-year program. I continued with the TV station, and they kept saying, "Are you going to leave us?"
I said, "I did this so I could improve the kinds of stories that I do with the station." And I really did not want to leave, although I had questions about the way the company was managed. Eventually, I hoped to be able to move into management and help out with some of the things as far as evaluating their people and structuring it in a way that would be more responsive to encourage better reporting.
Moorhus: I think right in here is where the [Ron] Rewald story fits in, because that was 1983. Now, start at the beginning and then describe the story and all of the consequences.
Tanabe: The Rewald story was interesting, because now that I was the business reporter, I'd get all these kinds of things crossing my desk. There was this study that had been done by this company headed by Mr. Rewald in which they analyzed the flight of capital from Hong Kong into Hawaii. Since Hong Kong was to revert in '97 to China, there was a lot of capital coming out of Hong Kong and being invested in Hawaii.
I read this study, and I thought it was very poorly done. There was no primary research. The analysis was very poor. The conclusions reached were really questionable. I said, "People paid money for this? This is ridiculous." So I thought I'd better follow up.
Moorhus: Who paid the money to have the study done?
Tanabe: I have no idea, but whoever did pay for it did not get his money's worth, was my feeling. I heard somebody on radio trying to promote this, and I said, "This is really weird. Here is a company that has an unusual name."
Moorhus: What was the name of the company?
Tanabe: It was Bishop Baldwin Dillingham Wong & Rewald. It's a very long name, which included the most illustrious names of families in Hawaii—Bishop, Baldwin, Dillingham. Those are very illustrious names in Hawaii. And then there was Wong and Rewald thrown in.
I decided to follow up on this story, and I was getting not really good information. And so through my contacts I found out that the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs may be investigating this company. I knew the director, and the director kept commenting, "Barbara, I can't talk about anything that we're doing. Here's a section in the law that says if we investigate anyone, it's supposed to be highly confidential."
I said, "Mary, I'm just asking you to go on record and say yes or no."
She said, "I can't comment."
Well, you know what that says to a reporter: "There's something going on here." So that was enough for me to go do the story.
Mr. Rewald knew about my reputation and did not want to meet with me, which is the second red flag that goes up. But I did meet with his associate, and I went in there and I said, "I just want to ask you about the company."
"Oh, yeah, great! We want all kinds of publicity."
So we went in there and started to talk, and finally I said, "Did you get a subpoena from the state?" There was this gasp, and I knew right away he got a subpoena. So I continued the questioning, "What is the question that the state is asking you? What kinds of things are you providing?" All those kinds of things.
That's all it was. As a journalist, I still don't have a story to hang on, other than I do have now confirmation that the state is doing something, because the company gave it to me. He said, "How did you know about that? It just got here yesterday." You know, it was that kind of a thing. It didn't even make the top of the news. It was the top of the second section about how the state is investigating a local investment company.
That was on Friday. On Saturday, I was anchoring the news. Five minutes to ten, before I go on to do the late news, I get a call from George Cabral, the photographer. He said, "Barbara, do you know a Ron Rewald?"
I said, "Yes. I just did a story on him. I've never met him."
He said, "Barbara, there's something real bad going on. He tried to commit suicide, and he's mumbling your name."
This is five minutes before air time. I said, "George, are you sure about this?"
He said, "Well, yes. I was down at the Sheraton, where the suicide occurred."
Moorhus: The Sheraton Hotel?
Tanabe: Yes. "He apparently was writing some names down. He had your name written down, and, as he was taken away by ambulance, the security guards told me that he was saying, 'Barbara Tanabe ruined my life.'"
I said, "Where is he, George?"
He said, "Queens Hospital."
I called just to verify. I said, "Did you receive a patient by the name of Ron Rewald, and is it a suicide attempt?" and they verified it.
So I wrote a quick story for Saturday's show, saying that the head of this investment company had attempted suicide following reports of— [Pause.]
Moorhus: An investigation.
Tanabe: And that's all it was. And I was just shaking like a leaf, because at this time I didn't know what was wrong. I did know that somebody tried to commit suicide because of a story that I had written, and now you're just praying that everything is accurate, that you've done everything, that you've followed through. And from that day on, for the next four months I didn't take a single day off. I was consumed by this story.
The way it unfolded was that not only was the state investigating, but there were others that had questioned it all along but didn't know how to approach this company. The courts found it was a pyramid. It was a scam. He would take money from investors and then use that money for himself. He had this huge home, sent his kids to school in a chauffeured limousine. It was awful. And the people he scammed included well-known people, as well as widows who gave their life's fortune to Rewald to invest and with promises of heavy returns.
Moorhus: These were local Hawaiians?
Tanabe: These were local Hawaiians. He bilked people out of hundreds of millions of dollars. I can't remember what the amount is anymore. But one thing led to another, and then all of a sudden, we were the ones that broke the story. We were several days ahead of anyone else. I met a friend of mine who worked for the [Honolulu] Star Bulletin, who said, "Barbara, I've been working on this case for months, and I couldn't do any story until I had the hook. You guys blew it because you got the hook, so you got the scoop." But they were right behind me as far as following up on certain leads. The company was forced into bankruptcy, the depositors filed suit. They were all trying to get information. Everybody in town was on this story. It was on the front page for weeks and weeks and weeks, and I was always named in it because of the suicide.
Moorhus: Because he had used your name.
Tanabe: And he had used my name. Anyway, it was a two-person effort. I was the reporter that did the initial interview, and there was another fellow at the news station, Richard Borreca, who worked with me, and between the two of us, we tagged teamed.
We were very careful in the way we handled information. We called our attorneys immediately to make sure that they had our records. We did nothing illegal. We were not wiretapping anyone. We weren't going in there misrepresenting ourselves at all. We were doing everything by the book. But we didn't know what kinds of accusations were going to be coming
to us, so that's why we very early on called the attorney to make sure that he had possession of all of our notes.
Moorhus: This is the attorney for the station?
Tanabe: Yes, for the station. And then I took extreme precaution with my own family, too. It was just a time to be extra careful. As it turns out, Rewald tried to use as his defense that he was a CIA operation and he was a CIA agent and was working under orders from the government, among other things.
When all of this started to come out, then the networks became involved. The Wall Street Journal became involved. The Journal did a huge story on the front page about this operation. All three networks did something. To a certain extent, when they got involved, they gave legitimacy to Rewald's claim. But in the end, he was convicted and sentenced to prison. He has to serve a minimum of eighty years. He got a 480-year sentence for all the counts of fraud.
Toward the end, when the courts took over and it became a legal issue, then I started to back away and other reporters came in, because it became a fairly routine job. But I remember going to federal court, and this was a hot case. I mean, the courtroom was packed, and so I peeked in. I thought, "There's nowhere to sit," and I was going to back out.
Well, the judge saw me, Judge Fong. He said, "Oh, Barbara, come on in!" He said, "There's a chair right here. Why don't you come up here and sit down."
Well, it was a chair right in front next to Rewald. I went in there and made myself as small as possible and just took notes. I found out later that Rewald filed a suit to set aside the sentence based on harassment because the judge made him sit next to me. For him it became a very personal battle with a reporter. But again, I look back and I did not do anything that any good journalist would not have done to pursue a story, make sure that only the facts were stated. And so even though he threatened us with a lawsuit, there was never any lawsuit against me or the station. We did everything correctly.
It's interesting, because I have a black folder over there. After I quit news and I came over here, this lady showed up one day and said, "Barbara, this is a clipping of all the Rewald stories that I kept, because it was such a fascinating story, and it occurred to me that you may want it for your own." She just gave it to me. I don't really want it, but it's still there. There are a number of stories on that case. It was really one of the biggest stories that shook the town.
Moorhus: If I understand correctly, you didn't suspect the story that ultimately came out. That's not what you were investigating.
Tanabe: No, I did not. No. I was just trying to find out what the subpoena was for, what's going on here, what does this company do.
Moorhus: And your curiosity was aroused initially because the analysis of the flow of capital from Hong Kong—
Tanabe: Was very poor, and that's all it was. Can you imagine that? Here is a recent graduate with an M.B.A. reading this thing and saying, "This is really worthless stuff," and that's how it started.
Moorhus: And you kind of backed or fell into something that was huge.
Tanabe: That's right. Huge. Huge, that's what it was.
Moorhus: That's amazing.
Tanabe: It is.
Moorhus: But it obviously became very personal. He attacked you very personally.
Tanabe: Oh, yes, very personally. Then it causes you to question what you have done, and I did. I looked very closely at everything that I had done, and I said, "But I didn't do anything wrong. Everything was right, and I'm going to continue this." So I didn't give up. I was a little bulldog as far as digging into the story, until the FBI took over and the courts took over and it became a legal issue.
Even the FBI called me on occasion and wanted to know what I knew, and I said, "Look, I'm not your investigator. I'll give you information that's a matter of public record and that you yourself can find out, phone numbers of some of his contacts in Minnesota and things like that. But everything else, you guys can do yourself." I wasn't going to be helping them out. But I was very courteous about everything, and they understood I'm a professional journalist, I'm not a researcher for them.
Moorhus: And the station supported you throughout this?
Tanabe: Yes, they did. They did. They were very good about that. I remember the story broke in August. I didn't take any time off during that Christmas holiday. It was Easter before I finally got a day off, because I worked Saturday and Sunday, my normal anchor days, and then during the week every single day I was on the Rewald case. It's a good thing I have stamina.
Moorhus: Stamina and a supportive husband.
Tanabe: Yes. That's very major. That was very major.
Moorhus: Did this reporting coverage win you awards?
Tanabe: No. In all the years that I was a journalist, I never submitted any of my stories for awards. The Emmy that came out of Seattle was because the station submitted it. I didn't even know I was nominated until we won it. But KHON wasn't into submitting anything at the time, during the time I was there. Later on, they started to submit documentaries and things. But, no.
This may sound a little self-serving, but I really wasn't a reporter to get awards. You're just a reporter to do what you feel is a good job. I didn't need awards to reinforce that. I knew that what I was doing was okay, and so it wasn't that important for me.
Moorhus: But the station could see that it certainly had done them well.
Tanabe: Oh, yes. We were the ones that were on top of the story. We were the ones.
Moorhus: That must have been a very draining, draining period for you.
Tanabe: Yes, it was. And it was also the time when a friend of mine who ran this company called and said, "Maybe there's something more that you could do," and I started to think seriously about moving on into a different field. I felt that I'd done everything that I really wanted to do as a reporter, and in order to be a real member of the community, you have to do more than just look at problems and be objective of the whole thing. You have to be able to come up with solutions and then work at those solutions.
I was in my late thirties and I was well known in the community, and I felt that I wanted to do more. As a journalist, it's very difficult to get too involved in actual solutions, because then you do take a position and you advocate a certain position. And so I felt that perhaps I needed to rethink my role.
Moorhus: But before you left, you did a major documentary.
Tanabe: I did.
Moorhus: So even though by the spring of '84 you were beginning to think there may be other options, you certainly didn't give up your involvement.
Tanabe: I didn't give up at all. The big thing coming up, obviously, was the [Ferdinand] Marcos-[Corazon] Aquino battle.* We have a very large Filipino base here, and they're basically Ilocano, which is Marcos' home town. This is a very big Marcos community.
Moorhus: What was the—
Tanabe: Ilocano. It's I-L-O-C-A-N-O. That is a region of the Philippines which is Ferdinand Marcos' hometown. He'd come through here many times and always had a rousing reception from the people.
Anyway, I felt that he was being seriously challenged. There was a real threat to his power base because of what had happened to Benigno Aquino—he was assassinated*—and it would be a very good time to do a story on him. I managed to convince the station to send me over to Manila at the height of the campaign between Aquino* and Marcos.
Again, I followed the same method that I normally do. I made contact with the Filipino community here on both sides of the issue, the Ilocanos versus the anti-Marcos group, and I had
* In the 1985 election, Ferdinand Marcos ran against Corazon Aquino for the Philippine presidency.
*Former Philippine Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., was shot dead on August 21, 1983, the day he returned to Manila from exile.
*Corazon C. "Cory" Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino, assumed presidency of the Philippines February 26, 1986, after winning the election against Ferdinand Marcos.
credibility with both. I got names of people, set up interviews, and then I went over there to do a story.
I remember the first day, I got a phone call from the news director saying, "Okay, Barbara, so who's going to win, Marcos or Aquino?"
I said, "It's going to be Aquino," and he nearly dropped the phone.
He said, "Wait a minute. Everyone knows it's going to be Marcos."
I said, "No, it's not," because I had seen the Marcos campaign, I had seen the Aquino campaign, and there was a difference in the commitment and the intensity of the people at these rallies. The Aquino people were really committed. You could see it in their eyes. There was a sense of mission. They were dead serious. The Marcos campaign had many freeloaders. They were there milling around. They weren't really interested in what was being discussed. They were there to get food, money. It was very obvious.
I was a foreign reporter. And there was intimidation of the foreign journalists everywhere we went. I'm not used to this at all. You'd walk into your hotel and you'd have to go with your arms up because there were armed guards and they'd frisk you. At the hallways on every floor, there was an armed guard with bullets and a machine gun. All over you'd see evidence of—
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Moorhus: You were talking about the Aquino campaign.
Tanabe: Yes, and how I was convinced that she was going to win if we went by the kinds of commitment given [to the campaign]. But it was also, you must understand, the Philippines are very violent, where life is really not valued as much as we ourselves would.
Before I went, obviously I was going to cover the Marcos-Aquino campaign, but it was also necessary to cover some of the conditions of the country itself, how the people felt, how they were doing, what some of those with interests from Hawaii were—for instance, the Del Monte operation, which is substantial, what were they doing, and there were lots of things that I did. I was there for over a week and traveled throughout. I followed Ferdinand Marcos when he gave a very big rally in a little province called Pangasinan, which was north of Manila, where many people from Hawaii came. I also went to Negros, where there was major insurgency problems and there were alleged violations of human rights because insurgents were beaten and things like that. I went to the Bacolod jail and interviewed those insurgents. I also went to Cebu, where Mrs. [Imelda] Marcos held a rally, to cover that rally and also visit with the cardinal there, who was against Marcos, and he explained to us why. I went down to the southernmost island, Mindanao, where there was tremendous upheaval with the insurgency. And Del Monte had a major operation, so we flew down there in a private airplane. As we were guarded by bodyguards, we did a number of stories and toured their plantations.
Moorhus: Bodyguards provided by Del Monte?
Tanabe: Oh, yes, provided by Del Monte. During the whole time I was there, I was really on edge. In fact, before I went I got extra life insurance—isn't that awful—because I was so worried. But I felt it was an important story to do. And I never told the photographer this. Norris was my photographer.
Tanabe: Norris Tanigawa was the photographer. Everywhere we went, the first thing I always did was figure out a route of escape and a route of protection, so I always looked for walls and trees and things behind which we could duck if anything should happen. I always planned it this way before we went anywhere because I was so afraid of things that might occur to us.
On the plane coming home, I finally told Norris what I had been doing all along, and he said, "Well, Barbara, I was doing the same thing, and I didn't want to frighten you." It was really funny. We were both exhausted by the time we left, because we were on edge all the time.
It's a fascinating country and it's a different people, and you can't feel it until you actually go there and experience it, go into these crowds, hear what people are saying, listen to them, and then walk the streets.
One of the most touching things—in addition to doing the Marcos-Aquino campaign, I went to a very poor part of Manila, which is not that far away from Malacanang Palace, where Imelda Marcos served caviar all the time to her guests. It was a dump yard, the city dump, in this area where generations of families lived because they couldn't make a living doing anything else. They would sift through the garbage, find salvageable materials which they would sell for cents so they could buy food. There was a Christian group based out of Hawaii that was doing what it could to provide medical assistance to these kids. You'd see these kids and you knew that they weren't going to live beyond their teenage years. You look in their eyes and they're—it's hard to describe, but I saw that same look in the eyes of a child in Cebu. Very dull. There's no life in their eyes. It's as if they know they're going to die.
I was really affected when I was in Cebu. There was a family that lived on a boat, a mother and father and a baby, and the father dove for coins that tourists on a pier threw at them for enjoyment, just to watch him dive. He would get the coins so that he could buy food for the family. The little baby was totally listless, and you could see the eyes were—I mean, I'm sure the child was barely alive. I was so angry at these tourists, and I told Norris, "Make them stop. It's not right that they force the family into this indignant way of life."
He said, "Barbara, we're in a different country. There's a different value placed on life. You can't tell them what to do." And, you know, he's right. In a Third World country, people die. People are born and people die, whatever age, and that's the way it is. It just seemed to me very unfair for those who are just so incapable of helping themselves. So I made sure that I did a lot of stories on the work of—this Christian group was called Youth With A Mission. I found out the following year, one year later, after Aquino had won, the mission director said, "Barbara, I'm so glad you did this story, because after you did, we got so many contributions and so many people were interested in what we do and we got so much support."
That's the kind of thing that we as journalists can do. When there is a need we can put a spotlight on it and show how groups of people are really trying to make a difference in areas where it's so easy to just look the other way and say, "We can't do anything." We can in some small way. Anyway, that really opened my eyes a lot to another world perhaps that we aren't used to, and the value of a human life. It really upset me for a long, long time after I saw that.
I did a number of stories in the Philippines, and I remember at the very end the news director said, "So, Barbara, what do you think about the future of the Philippines?" I had to admit, I was very—it's a very sad case. Here is a group of people who are kind and open-hearted
and so full of life, and the country is rich in natural resources. The soil is fertile. They have copper, they have tin, they have wonderful growing seasons. And yet it's not working because of a government that's either corrupt or inefficient, and they're unable to use foreign aid well. It's just a sad case.
But I have a lot of hope for the Philippines, because, as a group, they're very literate. They are English-speaking, so to attract foreign investment, they can provide the language comfort level. It's like they've been orphans for a long time. They've never had a mother and father who has been willing to take care of them, and they've been whipped around by first the Spanish who colonized them and then the Americans after the Spanish-American War, and the Japanese who came in with the occupation in World War II. They've been victimized, and perhaps their pride as a nation had been wounded. What I saw most in Aquino was a hope that she would restore the national pride and give them back what had been lost over many, many years. It's unfortunate that she wasn't able to fulfill that mandate. But unless journalists travel to these places and write about them and send back pictures and things, it's not a message that gets out very well.
I remember I was talking to some officials in the Aquino government, and they told me, "If it weren't for you foreign journalists, we would be nowhere, because you're the ones that made people aware of what we're trying to do and also make the other Filipino people aware of it," because the media was so controlled by whoever is in power that the stories that are written are totally inaccurate. But for anybody in Mindanao or Ilocano or wherever, if they have access to foreign newspapers, they can see what's going on, because foreign journalists are the ones that came and broke the story. It gives you hope as a journalist that you go beyond national borders, that your concerns are very wide, and there's a common denominator in what you're trying to do among all journalists. And I was very proud that we could be a part of that.
Norris bought me this teeshirt that was being sold in Manila, it said, "I'm another meddling foreign journalist." [Laughter.] I still have that teeshirt. But thank God for meddling foreign journalists to a certain extent.
Moorhus: So you did that story as you had done others, in terms of going over there, filming a lot of things, and then coming back and creating a series of stories that you broadcast over here.
Moorhus: What kind of reaction did you get from the community over here?
Tanabe: It was extremely interesting. I knew that this was Ilocano country rather than Visayan. The Visayans tend to be much more anti-Marcos. The Ilocanos here predominate, and there were angry words from the Ilocanos, who felt that I had treated President Marcos unfairly. But my feeling was that I didn't treat President Marcos unfairly. I went there and I did stories on the conditions of the economy. The consul general called me and said, "But, Barbara, you focused on the negatives too much."
I said, "But you know, Raul, it's true. These things are happening and have been happening for generations, and the government has done nothing to help with these types of situations. Look at the country today. It's bankrupt. What happened to the $26 million in foreign aid? Where did it go? I'm sorry, I don't agree with your assessment that this is an unfair series of stories."
We did try to do an interview with Ferdinand Marcos, and he was too busy with other matters. But when I was in Cebu and we took pictures of Imelda Marcos, she drew thousands of
people around her. The only reason she drew thousands of people around her was she was giving away pesos, and we got it on film. And he said, "That was unfair."
I said, "No, it's not unfair. That's what happened, and we saw it. People are there because one peso for them is going to be more than they're ever going to make in a week." And that's what she was doing.
I think that election had a lot of foreign interest. We were there before NBC came and even established a bureau office, so we helped them establish their team and I gave them a lot of video that we shot. We were in Pangasinan covering a Marcos campaign. Unfortunately I had food poisoning. I was very dehydrated, so I had to leave early, before Marcos had finished his speech. I knew something was wrong with him because he was carried on stage. Then when he was standing there, he had an aide holding him up. I understand after he did the speech and he went backstage, he collapsed. The network was frantic trying to get some video. I said, "Look, we have video of him being carried on stage. We have video of him on stage." We provided it for the network, and they were the only station to have him in action in Pangasinan, because we happened to be there.
It was a 400-mile drive by car, and I was so sick. I had a pillow in the back seat, and I was just laying down coming and going. I think it must have been the water or something in the food. Really sick. But we were able as journalists to be very competitive with everyone.
Moorhus: Was KHON an NBC affiliate?
Tanabe: Yes. It still is.
Moorhus: Had it been from the very beginning?
Tanabe: Yes. And KOMO was an ABC affiliate. When we were in Manila, during that whole time I was in touch with a fellow who had been sent by NBC to start up the bureau office there, and everywhere we went, I came back and I gave him video footage that we had. Inside the Bacolod prison in Negros, for instance, we were the only ones that got in. I remember he said, "How did you do that, Barbara?"
I said, "Well, I just went up there and knocked on the prison gate and I said, 'I'd like to talk to the warden, please,' and they let me in."
Then the warden said, "Yes, what can I do for you?"
I said, "I understand that you have some communist insurgents here, seven of them. Can I talk to them, please?"
He said, "Sure," and he brought them out. [Laughter.]
So I said, "It's just a matter of going there and asking." And it's because I was probably non-white and non-male. I didn't look like I was going to do anything major. I just wanted to ask some questions. So I got the interview.
And the same with the cardinal. I had a letter from a member of his congregation here in Hawaii that was a letter of introduction, but I couldn't get through on the telephone. So I finally
went down to the Basilica and banged on the door. Somebody answered, and I said, "Is the cardinal here? I would like to speak to him, please. I'm from Hawaii."
They said, "Oh, yes, he's in the kitchen having breakfast."
So we sat down and had breakfast with the cardinal and we did an interview. It was that kind of a situation, where you have to say, "Okay, I'm going to do it," and just go. You assume, well, the worst they can say to you is no. So that's what we did.
Moorhus: You just made reference to the fact that you were at this point shooting in video rather than in film.
Tanabe: Yes. By this time, it was video, thank goodness.
Moorhus: Did that make a lot of difference in your ability to produce?
Tanabe: Yes. We produced out in the field, and we would satellite back the video footage. We used the NBC satellite, and we'd get certain times. I would satellite the footage back to Hawaii, and then I would do a live insert into the news. The timing difference was just right. It was broad daylight, and we stood on the roof of the Manila Hotel and did the live report for the audience back home. It was really neat.
Moorhus: It sounds really neat.
Tanabe: Yes. It just makes you work like the dickens for ten, twelve hours a day. I remember, you're so much at the whim of your contacts. We were in Cebu, which is about 800 miles south of Manila, several hours by plane, and at midnight I got a call from the NBC bureau guy, saying, "You better get back here real fast because the Marcos people just called and the president will meet with you at 9 a.m."
I said, "Nine a.m.? That's only nine hours. I don't even have a flight out of here."
He said, "Well, try to make it back by nine, okay, and just go directly to the palace."
I find out the first flight leaves at 5 a.m., and by this time I'm frantic trying to figure out things. So we pack and get down there about three o'clock to get on this flight. Of course, I haven't slept all night now. And they said, "Sorry, all the flights are booked. Here's your standby tickets. You're 85 and 86."
Well, there's only fifty seats on the flight. I said, "Well, isn't there an air force plane we could take? I mean, after all, this is for the president." [Laughter.]
He said, "I'm sorry, we don't have an air force flight station down here."
I was pretty frantic, but I was very polite, and I wasn't going to give this guy a bribe. So I said, "We're doing all we can. We're from Hawaii. We're trying to do a story. We were in Cebu to do this and that. I'll just stand by and wait, but I'd really appreciate it if you could get us on this flight, because it's very important for us to be there at nine o'clock."
He said, "All right. Just stand over there."
So they started to go through numbers, and he was calling twenty-five, twenty-six, and I knew there was no way we could get on. Finally, he looks at me, so I said, "Yes?"
He said, "Give me your standby numbers." So I gave it to him. He said, "You guys have the next two seats." He threw the numbers away, and he put us on the flight. So we got there by eight o'clock into the palace. It was a real wild trip. We sat next to some guy with chickens.
Moorhus: With chickens?
Moorhus: Live chickens on the flight?
Tanabe: Live chickens on the flight. And then we got there to the palace, and we had to wait around for six hours. I hadn't had any sleep and I'm tired. By this time, there were other networks there at the same time. Obviously these were new people because they didn't know any of the staff. At least I knew some of the Marcos people. So they kept following me around, which really bothered me because I couldn't get any private conversations with these other competitors looking at me.
But I remember I was getting hungry, because it was around noon and we were still hanging around waiting for the president, and Mrs. Marcos sent somebody over and said, "If you are hungry, why don't you go and have some lunch in the state ballroom." They had set out a buffet, so we got to eat in the state ballroom and had lunch. Mrs. Marcos recognized me from Cebu, so when she saw me, she came right to me and said, "Aren't you the team from Hawaii?" We must have met for ten seconds in Cebu, and she remembered that. So we had a chat, and then she went and did her thing. She and the president had separate offices, and she would have a contingent of people coming in to see her and the president had others coming in to see him.
I remember when we were waiting there, the American ambassador Steven Bosworth came in. So I sat and talked to him for a while. He was very uncomfortable, because at this time they're getting very close to the people power revolution and he realized that things were happening.
It was just a very interesting situation and a very neat time to be there to see all of this.
Moorhus: And you went back one year later, then.
Tanabe: Yes, to do a follow-up on the Aquino presidency, and we got to tour the Malacanang Palace. Again, I went to the same places that we went to earlier. I visited the Youth For A Mission to do a follow-up. I went down to Negros to look at the sugar operations, and then I started talking to people. And by this time, the hope had been tarnished.
Moorhus: So quickly?
Tanabe: Mrs. Aquino had not come through, and there was a sense, especially within the business community, that things weren't getting done. I did go to Forbes Park and talk to some of the businesspeople there.
And then after that story, then I joined Communications Pacific. It was not Hill & Knowlton at the time. It was Communications Pacific. We were acquired by Hill & Knowlton a year later. So that was really the last big thing that I did as a journalist.
Moorhus: Before we get you out of KHON, however, I want you to talk about the "Song of the Imin."*
Tanabe: That was in '85, right. I did that before I went to Manila. That was the one-hundredth-year anniversary of the first contract laborers that came from Japan, and it was a big deal.
Moorhus: This was a documentary?
Tanabe: It was a documentary. I decided to go back and follow the footsteps of the first group, the first boatload of people that came from Hiroshima. What I did was, going through old records and things, I managed to find the exact place where a lot of these people came from. It was a small town outside of Hiroshima called Jigozen. Today it's part of Hiroshima City. It's a small village that was incorporated into Hiroshima. But I was able to, by digging, find descendants of some of these people and do a series of interviews to get a better sense of what it was like, what caused them come out, and what they were looking for.
Then I went back to Hiroshima and worked with some of the Hiroshima City people who helped us out. I found the grave sites of some of them and old, old people who remembered things. It was kind of funny, because every time we went through Jigozen, a small little village with tiny streets, and I'd go to the market here and there and I'd tell them I'm from Hawaii. Everybody had a relative here and they all knew about Hawaii, so they were more than happy to speak to us. We found a little sign that said there's going to be a village celebration. It's the Tondo celebration, which is not done in many cities of Japan anymore. It's an old tradition that's dying out. That's when the whole village gets together and they have a huge bonfire to burn all the decorations for the new year. It's supposed to signify the messages going up to the divine being, who will hear them for the rest of eternity. It was a neat ceremony. We went and we were treated by one of the villagers as one of their own and got to eat their traditional soup and the rice balls and things like that. It was really like going back to an old era, and it was wonderful.
What we did was, we re-created things and we put together dialogues. It was a different type of a documentary. What I was trying to do was involve more of the current generation of people and see if they would put in the voices of their ancestors so that I could get more community involvement. I worked with a group that did a lot of plays, live performances, Japanese studio type, to see if we could get more involvement. Some worked, some didn't. And so that's the documentary that was produced.
Moorhus: One of the credits is with the University of Hawaii Oral History Project, which I found quite fascinating. It seems to be oral history through it, but I gather that some of it is not the speakers, but you used actors.
Tanabe: Yes. I used actors to say the words, but those transcripts are actual descriptions. They are actual things that occurred. But in order to bring it to life, instead of a reporter just reading, I wanted to get actual people. So that's why I tried to use actors in it to make it more of a sense of
* "Song of the Imin" - produced by KHON, Channel 2 News (1985) in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to the Hawaiian islands. Imin means immigrants.
realness instead of make-believe. It's just a documentary, and documentaries tend to be a little boring.
Moorhus: But there's some fascinating old footage in there and old photographs of working in the sugarcane fields.
Tanabe: We went to the state archives to look for all of those and got those. And then the actual footage in Hiroshima, we went and looked for those spots, and was it cold! We were in the midst of a blizzard one day, but it was important for us to get that feeling.
Moorhus: What kind of a response did that get here?
Tanabe: It was very positive, very, very positive. I heard from a lot of people, especially those who traced their roots to Hiroshima that didn't realize that Grandma and Grandpa and Great-grandma and Great-grandpa had gone through something like this. It increased their appreciation for not only the old country, but for what the old folks had gone through. The legislature gave me a resolution for doing it, which was totally unexpected, but it was nice that they also recognized it.
It's something that becomes part of history, I think, or a family's tradition. It's kind of the way I started out almost twenty years ago when I did the "The Fence at Minidoka." It's important to remember. You can't restore things, but you can remember and make sure that if there were errors made or poor judgment or whatever it was, that we don't repeat those. And the best way not to repeat is to learn from it, and the way to learn from it is to remember and keep those memories alive.
That's why I think the United States is a great country in what we do. We have a lot of oral history projects. We have a lot of situations where people go back and remember, whether they were injustices or great events, so that we become better for it. Japan as a nation has never done that with its history of what it did in World War II, and for that it's being constantly criticized. It's not going to be admitted as a member of the international arena, because it is unable to come to grips with what it did, the atrocities that it committed against its own neighbors. And until it does, it's never going to be on equal footing with a country such as the United States or others, who are willing to face those facts and make amends.
That's why I really do believe what we have done in the United States in creating really a very free press, upholding absolutely the First Amendment rights of expression. It's been good for everyone, not just the founding fathers and their people, who may have been from Europe, who have been all white males, but for others who believe in the rights to free expression. It enriches us all and it lifts those who have been stereotyped into positions of minorities and, perhaps unfairly, in positions where people don't see much hope for future growth. We can use avenues of free expression without resorting to violence or revolution or anarchy.
Moorhus: As a reporter, did you get involved with the issues of sovereignty and the concerns of the native Hawaiians here?
Tanabe: At that time, not that much. But that's certainly an area that we as a company are very involved in today.
Moorhus: That's a relatively recent movement, isn't it?
Tanabe: It is a recent movement within the Hawaiian groups, and I think it's very healthy. We encourage our clients to help their employees address this issue and to support those who are raising this issue and creating forums for dialogue, because it's very important that the Hawaiians be able to freely describe what they believe was an injustice and what they would like to see as restitution so that all of us can participate in creating some kind of a sovereign entity for the Hawaiians themselves. It's not right that they were the ones that gave Hawaii the meaning of Hawaii and really built it and then not be a part of its future. That's not right.
Moorhus: Tell me how you got from KHON to what was then Communications Pacific and is now Hill & Knowlton.
Tanabe: It's Hill & Knowlton, Hawaii now.
I think in the late eighties there were a number of things occurring, among which were an influx of Japanese investments and Japanese capital, and I think Hawaii was seen as more than just a tourist spot, but also a place where there were opportunities for businesses, whether it's to make investments or participate in economic growth or for a new market for products or for Hawaiian products to be marketed and sold abroad. I was looking at Hawaii as more than just an island and just a state, and because of my background and my facility with the Japanese language, I felt that I could do a lot to help the Japanese companies that were coming into Hawaii and being somewhat criticized for their business practices and their lack of acceptance of certain forms of communication.
Very early on, I believe it was about '85, '86, Clif Kagawa and Rick Zwern, who were heads of this company, Communications Pacific, indicated an interest in having me join. I thought about it, and I wasn't ready at the time because I had too many commitments with various projects at the station. The Imin documentary was one. The other one was the Marcos campaign. But I always thought about it, and I had already thought in my mind that maybe it would be time for me to move out of journalism, not necessarily because I don't like it or I don't love it or I'm not motivated by what I was doing, but because it was time to be more of a participant in resolving community problems or community issues. It's one thing to make sure people talk about it; it's another to make sure that you go the next step.
That's the big thing about being an active member of the community, that you participate. It was hard for me to do that as a journalist without coming under certain situations of conflict or questions about objectivity. Although I think in many instances I'd been an advocate for more dialogue on an issue, I felt I really needed to do more. I needed more depth. I needed to be able to use my mind a little bit more creatively, because I knew I could do certain things well, but now I wanted to look for solutions and help solve problems, and I couldn't do that as a journalist.
So that's when I started to talk to my husband. I never did anything without discussion with my husband, because he was the other half of my life. He was very hesitant about having me leave news, because it had been very good to us. I was very well known here in the community, I had a very good reputation, and going into business is something different. And so we thought about it. I don't make snap judgments. So we thought about it for three years, is what it amounts to, because we started thinking and talking about it in '85, and it was actually '87, for two years, before I finally did anything. But I decided, okay, it is time for me to make the move.
The station by this time was number one. I had done just about everything that I wanted to do. It was clear I probably wouldn't be moving into management at the television station, because they saw my strengths more in reporting and the visibility thing, and they already had people
from the mainland who were coming in and had specific ideas on how TV stations should be run. So I thought, "Okay, that's something that they want to do."
Moorhus: What about the NBC network? Did they offer you any opportunities?
Tanabe: Not really, and that's because by this time there were lots of women, Asian women, so it wasn't as if I was a rare commodity as I was back in the early seventies when they were looking for those with experience. Plus, I really wasn't interested in going to the network. From my observations of people who worked in the network in the past and the kinds of things that they did, I just didn't think it would be a real secure future.
Moorhus: And that would have involved a move back to the mainland, too.
Tanabe: That's right, and quality of life was very important to me. I remember always what Dan told me about wanting his child to grow up to manhood being very confident about himself before he went to the mainland, and I thought that would be important for my son. We had made a decision that we wanted to stay here at least until our son was an adult, and I wanted to get more involved in the community. Plus, I didn't like being so visible, because for my son, I mean, you'd see Mom on TV and Mom would always get stopped in the streets, and it just wasn't normal. It wasn't normal to have a mother that was too visible, and I didn't need it anymore.
Before I got to the point where I would have too many doubts about continuing in television, I thought it was time to make a decision. So I made a decision, and KHON was shocked. They said, "Barbara, here's a new contract."
It was a tremendously generous contract, but I said, "Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate you coming back with this kind of a generous offer, but it's really not money I'm talking about. It's more the kinds of things that I would like to do. There's a new mountain I want to climb. It's a new way to challenge my mind. I'll always think very kindly about KHON, but it really is time for me to move on."
So we had a very good, amicable parting of the ways, and I still keep in touch with everybody over there. I think I left when things were best, and that's the way to leave. You want very good memories of journalism. I still have very good memories of it. I still believe that what I tried to do is something that was not wrong.
In this field, I find that I'm still doing a lot of the basic things as far as trying to get our clients to be comfortable talking to the news media, to provide information that will help reporters do a good accurate story, to be responsive to the community so that there is information and perspective that they can understand when they make decisions, to be in touch with government regulators, political leaders all the time so that they know what private business concerns are so when they make public policy decisions it's with the entire picture in hand.
I think it's very important that we raise the level of community participation in all segments, business, as well as individuals, as well as communities. In a way I feel like I'm still doing the basic thing I was doing as a journalist, but obviously we're advocating certain positions on behalf of our clients. It's been an extremely rewarding and very, very stimulating past seven years since I've been in private business.
Moorhus: Did you come over here as president and CEO?
Tanabe: No, I came over here as senior vice president. I worked a lot with the Japanese businesses and helped counsel them on certain types of practices in which it is important for them to communicate not only with their employees, but communities.
Moorhus: Can you give me some examples of that?
Tanabe: For instance, when a Japanese investor purchased property that he wanted to develop into a golf course and there was community opposition, he couldn't understand it. He couldn't understand why people wouldn't support him, because it would beautify the area, it would increase property values. A typical Japanese says, "This is my land and I'm going to do it because it's legal, and I don't have to tell anybody about it, because this is going to be good for everyone." It's that kind of an attitude which to a lot of people is arrogance. To the Japanese, it's normal. So it was a matter of working with the Japanese investor to understand that in the United States government approval processes require community support. If the community does not understand what you are trying to do, they will not support it, and therefore the government will find it difficult to allow permits to go ahead with that plan. And so it requires more dialogue, more sharing of information, more discussion and meetings with the community, and it's that kind of thing that I work with the Japanese on.
When the Japanese investments started to dry up because they had their own problems back home, I did a lot of work with American companies going into Japan. I would work with them on Japanese business etiquette, where I would take them through a full-day program where I would work with them on Japanese traditions, historical behavior patterns, proper etiquette, right down to name cards, bowing, how to enter a room, how to seat yourself, how to address people, how to negotiate, the body language to look for, and then in dining, some of the protocol for dining. My mother was a very, very old-style Japanese and taught me a lot about manners, because she felt it was very important when you're dealing with people. Today, those types of manners are not normally taught to most Japanese. They have to go to manners school to learn the proper way to eat, the proper way to use chopsticks, which foods to start with, all of those kinds of things.
I worked with a lot of Americans, or I should say Westerners, who were going into Japan. I worked with them here. I trained Australians, New Zealanders, a lot of Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese who were unfamiliar with Japanese. So it's almost like coming full circle. I'm going back to my Japanese roots and trying to explain some of the Japanese traditions that cause people to think that the Japanese are not real open. Well, it looks that way. It's just that the behavior patterns are different, and it's easy to interpret that as a closed society when actually it's more open than people think.
Moorhus: So you're kind of a cultural broker and interpreter.
Tanabe: In many ways, yes, and that's a role that a lot of Japanese-Americans play, second-, third-, fourth-generation individuals such as myself, who are very knowledgeable about Japanese culture, traditions, language, history. I work very closely with the Japanese foreign ministry, for instance. A couple of years ago when there was Japan-bashing at its height, you remember when Toshiba was accused of selling secrets to the Soviets and the Toshiba products were bashed on the Capitol steps by some congressmen, the foreign ministry called four public relations specialists from throughout the nation to go to Tokyo and give them a sense of what the problem was and how we as public relations specialists saw possible solutions. I was one of the four flown from Hawaii, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, and we had several days of discussion on that.
One of the key things we told them was the need for Japanese companies and Japanese government officials to be more accessible to the news media, because when we see Japan with a face, there's less of a tendency to blame Japan as deliberately trying to circumvent American foreign policy. It's always easy to dislike somebody you don't really know. But if you have Japanese officials, Japanese company executives, Japanese community leaders who are willing to come out and meet with the media and talk about things and try to come up with solutions, it's a lot better. So that was a key thing that we emphasized—more meetings with reporters, more meetings with community organizations, and those types of things.
I think there currently is more of an effort being made at various levels—business, academic, community organizations—to do more an exchange of information with Japan. So although the trade war talks and words are very sharp at that narrow level, everywhere else it's fine. There's great business relationships, great academic relationships between schools, great discussion between American and Japanese reporters. It's probably a better, stronger relationship than we have had at any time in the past fifty years. But if you only look at the headlines, it does look bad.
Ambassador [Walter] Mondale was here a couple of weeks ago, and he said, "Yes, we're having a trade spat, but so what? We do this all the time. We did it with our European partners, we did it with Mexico, everybody. We have these kinds of conflicts, but it's not a conflict that's going to destroy a strong relationship."
Moorhus: It's interesting that this seems to fit very well with the University of Washington School of Communications. It was not the School of Journalism, but the School of Communications.
Tanabe: The School of Communications, that's right.
Moorhus: And so you've taken communications in yet another direction from the journalism.
Tanabe: Yes, that's how I feel.
Moorhus: Do you apply some of the ethics of journalism to what you do now?
Tanabe: Oh, yes. Never lie, cheat, steal, those types of things. But if you look at the ethics of journalism, the ethics of business, they're very similar. It's pretty basic stuff. I think truth, integrity, those are all things that are emphasized by any reputable organization and group.
John Hill is the founder of Hill & Knowlton, and his big thing was, "Integrity is it. If you cannot be honest about it, don't do it, because it's wrong." It's as simple as that, and it's something that we always try to adhere to here, also, although many people believe that public relations means cover-up, that whenever a public relations firm is called in, that means there's a major cover-up going on.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Tanabe: I remember one public relations critic called me one day and said, "We did a survey and found out that whenever public relations people were involved on an issue, especially a controversial issue, the amount of news coverage went up. Don't you think that's bad?"
I said, "I think that's great, because what it shows is there's more coverage, there's more discussion, and people are exposed to all the perspectives of this particular issue, and it leads to
better decisions in the long run. There's nothing wrong with public relations firms being involved. If they are involved, that's great." I never saw the story written. [Laughter.]
So I feel in many instances that we do work with reporters providing information, and there are other instances when we work with reporters to correct information. But there's nothing wrong with that. If there are inaccurate statements in print or in the public domain, they should be corrected, because it leads to bad decisions.
Moorhus: When did you become president here?
Tanabe: I became president last May and I became CEO in January, so this is my first full year, or it will be, as president and CEO of this operation.
Moorhus: How does your being a woman influence your management style?
Tanabe: That's a difficult question. I think my management style really is quite flexible, and it depends on the situation. When I'm dealing in a crisis situation, I'm not real participatory. I'll make decisions and will move very quickly, but those are decisions based on a lot of facts. It has to be, and it's based on my experience. But in normal instances, my style is to involve all the group managers and get their input and together try to reach a decision. Now, sometimes that's a little too slow for my liking, but I have found that that kind of decision-making is the one that helps people feel a part of the company. They have to have ownership of a decision or a policy. Otherwise, it's very difficult for them to feel affected or feel supportive.
So it is much more participatory, and I've heard feedback from our managers saying that it's a much more open system than they've been used to in the past. I also do share with them a lot more information as far as financial and policy issues than has been in the past. And again, this is because I feel that as managers they need to know how I think, and so I do get them more involved.
I have been criticized by some who say that, "Barbara, you seem to be too hands-on. You're always looking over my shoulder." Well, my feeling is that I'm the CEO and I'm responsible for everything that happens, so therefore I do get involved, and I will be hands-on until the managers have a better sense of the way I make decisions. When I meet with them, I always want to know what their recommendations are. I want to know what the facts are. I want to know what their recommendations are, and I want to know why they're recommending that. And then I either approve it or we have other discussions and look at other options, and then together we come up with a solution. But that's how I feel we need to operate in order to make sure that managers are trained properly, because management is not something you're born with. It's not a gift that you're born with. It's a skill that must be developed, and I find that every year I feel like I'm becoming a better manager, because it's experience. It also helps that I have a teenage son.
Moorhus: Which is a very humbling experience.
Tanabe: It's a very humbling experience. You learn to deal with various options. It may not be what you want most, but you don't have to make a perfect decision every time. It's a decision that should involve and provide as much benefit as possible to as many people as possible, and that's kind of where you have to go. Obviously, there are certain objectives that you try to reach, too, but those objectives have to be supported by as many people as possible. So I think my style tends to border on participatory and autocratic, depending on the issue.
Moorhus: You've made a couple of references, as we've been talking, to religious issues and to participation in religious activities, and I know from one of the articles you sent that you have taught Sunday school. How would you describe the importance of a religious framework on your personal and professional life?
Tanabe: It's very important, but I wouldn't consider myself very religious, and I think I need to explain that. As a child, when there aren't too many humans you can trust, you have to believe that there is a greater spirit somewhere that's watching out for you and you have to have absolute, absolute belief in that. Otherwise, there's nothing for you as a child to hang on to. I just felt that there was something out there watching out for me all the time, whether it's the God that the Christians refer to with a capital G or the spirit that the Buddhists believe in or the Shintos pray for as their deity. It's a spirit. It's a sense that there is a greater good that we all strive for, and it's common among all religions.
As a child, I always went to Sunday school and I always went to church. It didn't matter which church I went to. I didn't really care, as long as I knew that there was something or someone listening to my needs, and then I just did the best I could. We were baptized as Episcopalians, and Father Nakayama, to whom I referred, is an Episcopalian priest in Seattle. That's the congregation that my grandmother belonged to. But when we came over here, we went to a Congregational church, because that was the church that my friends went to. And then there was another church, which is a Methodist church, which I took Nicolas to as a child because his friends were there. And so again, it didn't matter to me. But I wanted Nicolas to know that whatever happened to Mom and Dad, that there would be a greater love for him, and that's why I was very deliberate in choosing for him a private school with some kind of a religious support.
The first school he went to was Punahou, which was founded by Christian missionaries. But it's very interesting, every seventh day they have a chapel service, and they start out by singing shalom, and they talk about Buddhism and Christian and all these kinds of things. But they always talk about some of the basic values that we as Christians adhere to, and that's very important. I wanted my son to learn about it, and it had to be a part of his education. He now goes to a Lutheran school, so we've been all over. But I think it is very important.
Moorhus: But basically Christian?
Tanabe: It's Christian, and the reason it's Christian is because the Christian religion is more based on Western culture, which is more my attitude and my thinking. I've always believed in God and I've always believed that God provides strength when you're in a time of need, and when you're in a time of success that God reminds you to be humble, because there are others not as fortunate who can benefit from your success, and that's what you need to look at. So I think in my own way I've created a process that's comfortable for me. I don't go to church every day. I don't go to church every week. But I think about that a lot.
Moorhus: It makes a lot of sense.
Tanabe: And I'm not one to blame God or give Him credit, because I don't believe God causes storms and I don't believe God takes away a child in Cebu. I believe we have to work together to make situations better so those types of things don't happen. But when natural calamities happen, it just happens. It's not anyone's fault. We have to pick up after it.
Moorhus: So we are ultimately responsible for ourselves.
Tanabe: We are responsible for ourselves, not God. He gives us certain rules through various disciples and through various religious denominations, and we choose to follow those rules that will help us become stronger to deal with calamities, but it's not Him that we are to blame or to give credit, I don't think.
Moorhus: I don't know whether this is a difficult or a loaded question, but do you think of yourself as American, Japanese-American, Asian-American? Do those labels mean anything to you?
Tanabe: Well, sure, labels mean a lot, because that's what people use to judge you. So by definition, I can't ignore them. I may not like them, but I can't ignore them.
I've always thought of myself as an American, because technically that is my citizenship and so that is most accurate. The hyphenated descriptions are to explain situations, I think. I'm a Japanese-American because that explains my heritage. But, you know, those things change all the time. I probably thought of myself more as a Japanese-American as I was growing up and as I was going to school, but now I think of myself more as an Asian-American, and the reason I think that way is because it's too narrow to only identify myself with a small country in this world. We have attributes as Asians that are common among many countries. It's in the way that sometimes we think, it's in the values that we hold, it's in the cultural traditions that we share, so that when I went to China, when I went to the Philippines, and even when I met the Vietnamese, I felt a certain kinship. I would not have felt that way if I had been living only in Japan or living only in the United States. I feel a wider identification with people who look like me who are people of color.
I don't identify myself as closely with black Americans or Hispanic-Americans, because I haven't had that association with them. I haven't visited their countries or their roots. Perhaps I would. So right now, if I have to be labeled, Asian-American is probably a more accurate description of how I feel. Now, maybe twenty years down in the future I might find a different label that may fit how I feel. We're always growing and constantly changing, and the United States is constantly changing, so we shouldn't be stuck with a certain label. There's only one label that I'm comfortable with, and that's as an American, and then anything else is descriptive of that particular time or that particular situation. I refuse to be stuck with one label. If people think I'm Japanese-American, well, that's fine. Asian-American, that's fine, too. I know what I am.
Moorhus: So you see that the labels have evolved, and certainly as a reflection of you and how you think of yourself, the label has evolved, but you would rather not have a hyphenated label?
Tanabe: No. Americans are going to look like all colors, and we do right now. We do. There's nothing wrong with that. I mean, who said an American had to look like a European? That may have been true 100 years ago, but it's not true today. I think it's great that we're all different. The only thing that really is not different is that we believe in the Constitution. We believe in certain principles that led to the founding of our country. That's what's important.
Now, sure, some of those are under attack because of the change in values people have, but I think the founding fathers did a pretty good job, considering what they were faced with, to come out with certain principles. The interpretation may differ now. You look at the way the Supreme Court and the courts of the land interpret the Constitution, and it's right that it changed now and then. The laws shouldn't be rigid for hundreds of years.
Moorhus: Does Nicolas know Japanese?
Tanabe: A little bit. He's anxious to go to Japan and learn more about it. I haven't pushed his Japanese on him, because I want it to become more naturally. Plus, I had kind of an unusual childhood, so it's difficult for me to figure out what would be normal to describe to him. He knows what I went through in that I grew up in Japan and that I ate certain types of things and I observe certain holidays in a different manner, and that's no big deal to him. But then I think as a teenager he has started to ask questions more about Japan, and he wants to go the next time I go on a trip so that he could check things out himself. I'm just really concerned about what he's going to check out. [Laughter.] But it's a pretty safe country, and I think that he'll be okay and it might be a lot of fun. But I think I would like for him to learn a little bit more about the language so he's not totally at a loss.
Moorhus: But you and Roy have not tried to create a bilingual household?
Tanabe: There are certain words that we use, but beyond that, it's been quite normal. I have noticed, however, that his Japanese pronunciation is very good, and it's probably because he's heard us pronounce certain Japanese words. I took him one time for a very short time to study karate, and I noticed that his rhythm was very, very good. He's a natural in certain things. So those are things that I would like for him to continue, but again I didn't push it. He's into basketball and other things now. I think at some point he'll want to go and learn more about my tradition, but the priority is for him to get through his teenage years. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: The priority for all three of you to get through his teenage years, yes.
One last question is about your hobbies. Are you still doing origami?
Moorhus: I see only one piece of origami, which looks to be a frog.
Tanabe: Well, yes. You know what I did was I've stopped doing it as I used to do all the time for relaxation, but I still do it at home. I have a huge bookshelf of books that I've collected, and when I go to Japan I always go to origami stores and I buy paper, so I have this drawer filled with paper. I still teach it to my nieces, and I get great enjoyment in doing that. It's a wonderful art, and I've done it with Nicolas' school classes. When I go to Japan, I visit my uncle, who is a master origami folder. When he retired, which is about five years ago, he went whole hog into this. He and I have always shared origami things. But now he's really into it, and he does fabulous folding. So every time I go, he saves things for me, and so together we spend hours just folding.
Moorhus: How wonderful!
Tanabe: He's a great master, and some day I hope to be able to do things like he can, because it's a wonderful art.
I still enjoy reading immensely, but I read a lot of novels just to get me out of this break of always reading heavy things, and it helps. I read popular novels just to find out what people are talking about and why movies are being made, but I don't get as upset about some of these popular novels as a lot of other organizations do. I basically look at it as entertainment, much as television is. I don't watch as much TV, but I still do a lot of reading and origami, and I've taken up golf. I used to do tennis, but my elbow went out, so now I do golf and kick myself constantly, but I love it because it takes you outside and it's like being in a park and you can really relax.
So what, the white ball doesn't go everywhere you want it to go, but you're in a beautiful environment. And so I've learned to relax a little bit better.
Moorhus: That's good. And do you visit the mainland?
Tanabe: Very often, because my folks are in Seattle, so I go over there quite frequently. I go to New York and visit the head office when necessary. I enjoy going to the mainland. Every time I go it seems different, and I love it that it changes.
Moorhus: Thank you very much. Anything I didn't ask you that I should have?
Tanabe: No, other than I was really floored when the Washington Press Club Foundation called and asked about it, because it just never occurred to me that what I was doing was different. It was hard, but it was exciting and challenging, and I just thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. To be able to participate in something like this is really a great honor. I'm just so glad it's being done. So I thank you for this opportunity.
Moorhus: Thank you.
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