The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Friday, September 10, 2004
Flashback on the Post and the Times from Shafer
In Net terms, July 4 1998 is back in the Middle Ages. And a piece from Jack Shafer might as well be a clipping from Froissart.
The conceit is that, back in 1991 (around the time of the Hittites), the Washington Post and New York Times exchanged ethoses:
One day, it seemed, the Post rollicked readers with its cheeky personality and the next suffocated them with the sort of overcast official news that made the Times famous.
And vice versa.
I've no idea whether this is right or not; but the time travel involved - Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham are namechecked, amongst a galaxy of stars - is piquant.
The striking thing is how damned positive Shafer's tone is. The guy is Pollyanna. For instance,
Times Editorial Page Editor Howell Raines writes barrelhouse editorials demanding action--such as the resignation of Janet Reno--that stir substance and fanfaronade.
Even downsides are expressed in an upbeat fashion:
On the vice side of the exchange, the Times ... takes a lot of risks. It's now the primary exponent of what Postie Bob Woodward famously called the "holy shit" story--pieces so astonishing that you scream spontaneous profanities when you read them.
There's a sort of Three Musketeers feel - indulgently smiling at boys being boys:
In its pursuit of holy shit, the Times routinely spins out of control.
Like a daredevil comic-book racer pranging the old bus.
Shafer proceeds to list some Times prangs: printing the William Kennedy Smith rape victim's name; running an extract from Kitty Kelley's fabulous Reagan bio; and
In a transparent lunge for a Pulitzer Prize in early 1996, the Times published a seven-part series alleging that the downsizing of the American workforce was creating "millions of casualties."
Transparent lunge? Good to see Shafer freeing his own spirit and going editor-free back then.
The compare and contrast with the Post:
Horrible! Just horrible! But consider the alternative. Who wants to read a porcelain white newspaper that has flushed all its holy shit? Whose reporters drive Volvos to work?
Better by far to be Wrong but Wromantic than Right but Repulsive!
If this was journo-criticism back in '98, no wonder barrelhouse Howard Raines and his friends at W 43rd St let it all go to their heads. The shit on Iraqi WMD offered each day from the prodigiously productive colon of Sulzberger favourite Judith Miller was every so very far from holy...
While down memory lane, and mentioning Kitty Kelley, an interesting 1991 (love those deep, free archives!) Columbia Journalism Review piece, off Kelley's Reagan crapfest, looks at the utter lack of book publishers' fact-checking.
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