Remembering Dean Borg

Iowa Press | Episode
Mar 27, 2020 | 27 min

Dean Borg, former host of Iowa Press, died Sunday, March 22, 2020 at the age of 81 due to complications caused by pancreatic cancer.

This 2017 Iowa Press special, with new commentary, takes a look back at more than 40 years of the state's longest-running public affairs broadcast with host and moderator. Through archival footage from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s and interviews with Borg and reporters David Yepsen, Kay Henderson, Mike Glover, James Lynch and Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Press revisits the roundtable discussions intertwined with national and statewide political history.



In recent days, longtime Iowa PBS host Dean Borg passed away. The 81-year-old from Mount Vernon, Iowa hosted Iowa Press for more than 40 years, dating back to the 1970s. On this special edition of Iowa Press, we look back at the half century history of the program, and remember our friend, host and colleague, Dean Borg.

Iowa Press, Sunday, January 23rd.

Hello, I'm Dean Borg.

Good evening, I'm Dean Borg.

Good afternoon, this is Iowa Press, I'm Dean Borg and welcome back.

You're about to see a change in the guard of Iowa’s government as leadership is transferred to republican Terry Branstad and democrat Bob Anderson.

Good evening.

The price tag for the contested races in tomorrow’s primary election is not just high, it’s unprecedented.

Here is Dean Borg.

Good evening.

Dean has a fascinating history.

These are tough questions.

You want to make news.

This democracy thing doesn’t work unless we’re informed.

It took wannabe presidents not very long at all to figure out that Iowa Press was a must stop.

What they did get on Iowa Press was exposure.

Politics is the only game for adults.

It’s important that Iowans have a forum.

I think there’s no better place to cover politics than Iowa.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation.

The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public’s partner in building Iowa’s highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure.

I’m a dad.

I’m a mom.

I’m a kid.

I’m a kid at heart.

I’m a banker.

I’m an Iowa banker.

No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.


Dean Borg: At that time we were, that first show was from what people will recognize as the Tech High School building in downtown Des Moines at the corner of Grand and Fleur. And our first show was in a second floor classroom because this public television station had no studios, they had a mobile truck and so the cables from the television camera in that second floor classroom ran out the window of the classroom building and down into this parking lot where the truck was parked and that was our first studio was a classroom in Des Moines Tech High School.


Borg: I think that Iowans, and they have repeatedly told me over the years, the guests that we’ve had on are so informative to let them know what the different sides of each issue is in the Iowa legislature and that’s what we wanted to do on Iowa Press is to go beyond sound bites and to expose issues and the different reasoning behind each side of a controversial issue.

David Yepsen: I don’t think the show has changed much, what the network does, the production values are a lot better, we look a lot better out there. But still the notion that policymakers and newsmakers come out there and have an opportunity to talk to people all across the state unfiltered, that they have time to share a thought, it’s not just some 30 second sound bite. The show is not a food fight show, it’s not a shout fest. I like to think it’s Iowa nice.

Andrew Batt: What makes for a good Iowa Press program is a combination of things. You need a host and reporters that are engaged, that know the issues and have the time to sit down and map out what you consider the kind of questions, as we say it, Iowans would want to know.

Mike Glover: We would always come about an hour before the show was taped and we’d sit around a table in a back room at Iowa Public Television and we’d toss around ideas. What do we want to get out of this show? What’s going on in the world that we want to ask about? And so we would write out a series of questions.

Kay Henderson: And then we sort of rank them in order of importance. Our first question is always a question that we think will catch the eye and the ear of the viewer at home because it’s something that they might ask themselves.

Yepsen: So my goal as a reporter coming out there was always what’s the news here? What is new and different and out of the ordinary? What are we going to get from this guest that rises to the level of news? And often times we succeeded at that and the show made news, people would watch it because they knew that a Governor might come on and have a chance to talk about his program.

James Lynch: And sometimes the guest doesn’t want to make news and they don’t want to answer those questions and I think Dean, as the moderator, will sometimes ask the question again. If I ask a question and it doesn’t get much of a response he’ll ask it again or sort of reword it trying to get that person to respond.

Kathie Obradovich: It’s excruciating. Occasionally there’s a guest that just doesn’t want to say anything and we can push and push and push and you get five or six word sentences and usually by the end of the show we are writing questions on the fly because we didn’t have enough. We know usually how many questions you need to get through the time period.

Glover: At AP I would, my stomach would sour if the Register had something I didn’t have and I took great delight in beating them to the punch on a story like that. So we competed, that’s life, that’s real. But around that table it’s a congenial sort of a thing and you’ve got to learn to balance that in this business, to have your own personal thing, but to be able to be a part of a group like Iowa Press, knowing that you’re really accomplishing different things.

Borg: They knew that they were going to get a half hour of direct, incisive questions and candidates would have to be prepared for follow up questions, not just answer a question and go onto the next subject, but the reporters on Iowa Press were really controlling the environment and not all politicians like that.

Yepsen: I’ve always said politics is the only game for adults. I like football and I like basketball and I like the theatre. But politics has consequences.



Borg: I think there’s no better place to cover politics than Iowa, other than Washington, D.C., because this is where it all begins, the presidential politics, and you get into Iowa, all of the people who are just dipping their toes, their political toes into the possibility of running for higher office –


-- we get to see them here.

We, if you will, expose them to public scrutiny and this is where they decide, I don’t know whether I will or not, or yeah, this is a pretty good thing, I think we’ll make a run for it.

Iowa Public Television reporter Dean Borg in the lobby of the Civic Center. Dean?

Borg: The question now is, what did the republicans get here tonight? We’re going to pose that to James Baker who heads the Bush campaign.

Now, with Ronald Reagan gone, just what did you accomplish here tonight in setting your man apart from the man who is acknowledged to be the frontrunner?

James Baker: Dean, I’d be very happy to accept the analysis that Hugh and John, your commentators, just put on the whole program. I think the fact that Governor Reagan was not here will hurt him in Iowa and perhaps elsewhere in the country.

Borg: Also what you should watch for is how is the guest reacting to that incisive, direct questioning and the follow up questions that say, that answer wasn’t acceptable, you didn’t answer my question and here is the question, I’ll repeat it to you. Watch the body language and watch what is said after that.

Iowa Press, Sunday, March 2nd with guest Jimmy Carter, former Governor of Georgia.

Jimmy Carter: To be disassociated with the horrible bureaucratic mess that exists in Washington right now is a political advantage. I think to have had a broad range of experience professionally is an advantage. I’m a farmer, I’m a full-time farmer, I’ve been an engineer, I’ve been a planner, I’ve been a scientist.


Iowa Press, a weekly news interview program for Sunday, April 22nd. This week, former CIA Director and republican presidential candidate George Bush.

Borg: Doesn’t it frustrate you to be constantly asked about Ronald Reagan? And without having Ronald Reagan visible before the people he is back –

George Bush: No, it would frustrate me if I weren’t being able to put together the strongest, best organization in this state. If his invisibility denied me access to people or kept people from failing to commit to me then I would be frustrated. But really you raised the question, I wasn’t about to sit here and somehow figure out how do I work in the fact that Reagan is not giving and taking on Q&As or doing as much on debating. I’m not too concerned about that.

Borg: But the point I was making is, we said at the beginning of this program your name isn’t really a household word, but Ronald Reagan can be at the ranch, issue press releases without exposing himself to the Q&A that you were talking about and yet is a frontrunner. Doesn’t that frustrate you?

Bush: No, it doesn’t frustrate me because we’re making headway in the ways – also I might add you could throw in Connelly and Baker, they’re both much better known and I used to be an asterisk on the polls and then I creep up to five percent. I think that’s fantastic.

Glover: It took wannabe presidents not very long at all to figure out that Iowa Press was a must stop on their campaign swing through Iowa, that very soon after they started coming to Iowa, Iowa Press ought to be high on their agenda. It was never difficult to get those candidates on, although we would occasionally have a rub with someone or someone would get irritated about some question that got asked. That’s part of the business.

Borg: One of the things that will stop a candidate very fast is to drag a skeleton out of the closet. And one way to stop that, on your part, is to expose it ahead of time. Any skeletons you want to tell us about now that somebody might drag out in the future to stop Jesse Jackson?

Jesse Jackson: First of all, I am afraid of skeletons and ghosts and so I would not have many around me.


Yepsen: Senator, some people say that the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary start so early that you have to make statements and promises and commitments, but that later on when you become president, the realities change. And therefore you can’t keep the commitments and promises that you make. And a good example to choose is the one about embargoes. How do you view that?

Gary Hart: Well, I think the American people, whether in Iowa or Colorado or anywhere else, understand that the world is not static and that no set of conditions or facts ever stays the same forever.

Are you the democratic Reagan when it comes to strong defense and use of the military?

John Glenn: My experience with the military in 23 years in the Marine Corp was in two wars and it was not making movies on the 20th Century lot. I was not in Hellcats for the Navy. I was flying them.

Yepsen: If Uncle Sam dumped into Iowa the kind of money that is poured into your state for military spending the economy here would grow too. How do you respond to that criticism?

Michael Dukakis: Well, there’s no question we do some defense work, David, although it’s only about 7% of our economy and I would not want us to repeat the mistakes of the ‘60s when we got so dependent on the defense budget that when people started cutting the Pentagon budget we had some very serious problems. Our manufacturers are getting the daylights beat out of them.

Borg: So a flat income tax.

A flat income tax and an end to these trade deals –

Borg: -- statement earlier we’re at peace because of the leadership of prior administrations. How long it is going to take – have we eroded that?

No, peace is a fairly fragile thing but it’s still a very dangerous world, it’s still a very uncertain world, it’s still a world that requires aggressive acting U.S. leadership for there to be peace and stability in the world and our ability to intervene at crucial moments on key issues, you don’t want to intervene in every situation, we don’t have a dog in every fight. But it’s the U.S. ability to reach out there and organize the world, so to speak, to deal with the crisis of the moment that has been eroded and undermined by the way Bill Clinton has done business.

Borg: Speak to the caucus goer, why should you, George W. Bush, be the republican nominee for President?

George Bush: Well, I appreciate that, Dean. I’m running because I want to change the tone in Washington. I believe we need a President who can lift our spirits and lift our sights, a president who can get rid of this business about zero sum politics, I win you lose or you win I lose attitude.

Borg: Realistically, I said you’re in the upper tier right now, Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, yourself and maybe John Edwards creeping very closely right now. Where do you have to finish on January 19th, realistically, in order to keep your campaign viable?

John Kerry: This man has written a lot about the caucuses, knows more about it than I do, and he says there are only three tickets out of Iowa. I’ll take any one of them but I’ll tell you what, it would be great to have a first class one.

Mitt Romney: I do believe the Republican Party, I’ve said this before, but is not going to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House by acting like Hillary Clinton. We have to be distinct and we have to act like republicans.

Glover: You’re in a pretty tough battle here with a couple of pretty tough contenders, can you withstand a loss in Iowa?

Hillary Clinton: Well first, Mike, let me say that I always thought this would get close and so this is what happens in a contested election and that’s the best of our democracy where everybody gets out, makes their case, the voters make up their mind, here in Iowa they really start focusing very intently on who to caucus for.

Borg: Among caucus goers you still hear the reservations of perhaps a lack of experience in other things. That is a matter of resume. Either it’s there or it’s not. So how do you explain that?

Barack Obama: If they want somebody who has been in Washington a long time I’m obviously not their choice. There are folks who have been there 30 years. If, on the other hand, what they’re looking for is real change and somebody who is going to take on the culture of Washington, then I have the strongest qualifications for bringing about that change.

Glover: Senator, you are an African-American candidate for president running in a state with a very, very tiny African-American population. Can you get a fair hearing here? Are you getting a fair hearing?

Obama: I am getting a fair hearing and I Will get a fair hearing and I think we’re going to win this place.

Borg: I think that viewers when they’re watching a program such as Iowa Press, and I’ll speak about Iowa Press specifically, what they should watch for is are the reporters unbiased, number one. Are those questions fair? I don’t mean catering to whomever the guest is, but are they fair and don’t come into it with a seeming agenda.

Yepsen: Will you vote for real cuts in the Pentagon budget if you’re elected to the Senate? I will vote to trim a lot of the waste that we have, to enact legislation that will take care of things like this. I always, in fact, I carry it around in my pocket now, Dave, here’s a little part –

Yepsen: He has his own props.

I have my own little part right here, it’s a little piece of metal that goes into a jet engine. This was sent to me by a businessman from Dallas, Texas and he wanted the contract to make them for the military for $25 each, which I thought was a rip-off in itself, until I found out that we’re buying this little part from Boeing Aircraft for $805 each.

You don’t think that Congressman Grassley believes that government should be involved in those areas?

Well, I think when it comes to protecting the public interest I think we do have a different perspective on the appropriate role of government.

Charles Grassley: I’ve been saying in this campaign that there ought to be at least one farmer and hopefully two in the United States Senate and I’ve said that there’s been 70 lawyers there. I wouldn’t even want 70 farmers in the United States Senate. No one profession should be overly represented. And I’ve been trying to make the point that my relationship directly with agriculture gives me a better understanding of the farmers than somebody else.

Yepsen: Do you have to be a chef to know the soup tastes bad? And do you have to be a farmer to be able to go to Washington and represent farm interests and the complex sort of economics and all that sort of thing that goes on?

Grassley: No, you do not. But I think that when people know that I have an understanding of their problems as I’ve stressed being a teacher, factory worker, farmer, today my son is farming our farm, my background as a state legislator, I think that my understanding of people’s problems gives them more credibility in what I’m going to do and then my whole motive is to help re-establish some credibility in the whole process of government.


Borg: I don’t think Iowa Governors ever used Iowa Press as a platform. That was not ever possible because they knew on Iowa Press they were going to get a half hour of direct, hard questions and would have to be prepared to answer those and that the entire state would be listening.

What Harold Hughes will offer Iowans if he runs for Governor is what we’ll find out from him this week on Iowa Press. He’ll be questioned by David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, John McCormally, Columnist with the Harris Newspapers and by Tom Witosky with the Des Moines Tribune.

Governor, in 1973 you said you were done with politics. Now in 1981 you say you want back into politics. Why?

Well, there’s been a lot of things in my life that have changed since 1973. It has been a long growth period.

What makes you think after 14 years you can beat Bob Ray?

Well, first of all, I don’t know whether Bob Ray will be the candidate. I’m assuming he will be. And I’m assuming that if I run I can defeat whoever runs against me regardless of who that may be.

Borg: Tonight in a special edition of Iowa Press, Governor Ray will be answering questions concerning his proposed property tax relief measures.



Iowa Press Special Edition --


-- with IEBN Correspondent Dan Miller. Here is moderator Dean Borg.

Borg: Governor Ray, the legislature in its wisdom goes ahead and gives them the authority to tax with local option, you’re just shifting the burden to a local option tax then. Do you think that’s possible?

Robert Ray: I think that’s possible. I’m not suggesting and I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that actually shifts.


Iowa Press, a weekly news program for Sunday, June 4th.

Borg: This afternoon we have with us the three republicans who are vying for the right to be Governor Ray’s running mate for lieutenant governor.

Borg: You thought pretty much independently and you haven’t supported everything that Bob Ray has advocated.

Terry Branstad: And I think that’s good because I’ve tried to represent my constituents and I Think that’s the reason why I’ve been able to carry every precinct in my district because I have been independent and sometimes I’ve disagreed with the Governor when I’ve felt that the majority of the people in my area or the majority of the people in the state of Iowa wanted me to vote a different way.

Yepsen: The public’s perception of you and Mrs. Conlin, one of those is reflected in some poll data that has been done that shows that people don’t think you’re as smart or as intelligent as she is. How do you respond to that?

Branstad: I think you’re talking about the Iowa Poll that showed that I was ahead in experience, that I was more capable of handling the state in terms of a crisis situation and I was ahead in every category and so the people that supported her had to have some reason why they wanted to support her and so they said that they thought she was intelligent. I agree, she is intelligent, but she doesn’t have the experience or the understanding or the ability to handle the tough job as governor that I have.

Yepsen: As we head into the ‘90s we’re going into reapportionment, a lot of these rural-urban issues are going to be back. Is there anything you can think of that you’re going to be doing differently to avoid some of these rural-urban divisions in Iowa?

Branstad: Well, first of all, I think we’ve resolved a lot of those controversial issues. The school aid formula, the revision of the road use tax formula have helped resolve some of those issues. And I think also more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that we are interdependent.

Borg: Are you alleging, Mr. Vilsack, that insurance companies are getting rich? You’ve presented some figures and a difference, a profit in there some place, and you asked the question rhetorically I guess, where does the other 75 cents out of this dollar, you’re saying, who do you think is getting it?

Tom Vilsack: Well, I’ll just say this, Mr. Borg, in the last ten years the property and casualty insurance industry of which medical malpractice is a part has had its assets grow from $82 billion in 1974 to $264 billion, a quarter of a trillion dollars, in just ten years.

Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Hello and welcome to the 1998 Iowa State Fair. As you can see we are not in our familiar set at Iowa Public Television Studios.

Vilsack: When I began this campaign I disclosed give years fully and completely of my tax returns, every line, every page, every schedule. Last August, Jim, you promised that if other candidates did it, you’d do it too. When can we expect to see five years of your tax returns and find out how much you made as a lobbyist last year?

First of all, I wasn’t a lobbyist because it was against the law and I’d appreciate it if you’d quit trying to twist that as you like to do. As I mentioned, this isn’t a courtroom, Tom, we’re talking to the people here.

Borg: It takes the cooperation of a willing audience whom we’ve asked to hold off on their partisan applause. So now we’re going to lift that request and invite our audience here at the show ring at the Cattle Barn at the State Fair to applaud their candidates. Go ahead.



Henderson: Not only has Dean covered these things but he has a remarkable memory about circumstances and even what ties people were wearing when they were on the program.

Batt: I’m not sure Dean notices this necessarily, but many of the people that work around him here at the station, that either run camera or help in the control room or even produce the program, Dean has been doing this so long that many of these people weren’t even born when he started hosting Iowa Press. That’s a testament to his commitment to public policy, to politics, to public broadcasting and it’s something that we are so lucky to have here at Iowa Public Television.

Glover: Dean is a very curious man. He wants to know about things and he’s interested in a lot of things.


Obradovich: I think that we really, really appreciate having that history. Some of us have been covering politics for quite a while, more than one decade, but nothing like four decades.

Yepsen: He drove back and forth from eastern Iowa at least once a week for most of 40 years. I’ve sort of calculated mentally, he probably could have driven to the moon and back for as much driving as he has done. And he shows up early, stays late, he’s got a real farm boy ethic that made the rest of us step up our pace and we had to kind of keep up with that.

Henderson: He’s a diligent journalist. I’ve seen Dean stand up for the rights of journalists to be present at news events, I’ve seen him go toe-to-toe with state officials who have said it’s a no go here for you journalists. And in most of those skirmishes Dean has won.

Lynch: Talk about going back to the 1950s, working in television, his career being in Vietnam, working in Iowa news and things like that, he is a consummate professional, really dedicated to news principles and getting the news and so I think that’s what really drives him. And that may not be as obvious when you’re sitting at home watching the show as when you’re up close with Dean and can sort of feel his intensity on the set sometimes.


Good day from Des Moines. Vice President Spiro Agnew is about to speak before an audience composed mostly of Drake University students.

Hello, shortly we’ll hear Governor Robert Ray deliver his 12th Condition of the State Address before this 69th General Assembly which convened in Des Moines yesterday.

For our news panel, I’m Dean Borg, have a good week.

For our panelists today, I’m Dean Borg, thank you for joining us.

Good afternoon. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next week.

I’m Dean Borg and thanks for joining us today.



Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation.

The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public’s partner in building Iowa’s highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure.

I’m a dad.

I’m a mom.

I’m a kid.

I’m a kid at heart.

I’m a banker.

I’m an Iowa banker.

No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.