Friday, June 04, 2010

Today's Reading Assignment

Traditional, "print" journalism (as typlified by your daily newspaper) is dying on the vine. You need a score card to keep track of the papers that have gone belly up over the past 20 years.

And news magazines aren't far behind (pssst...hey buddy, wanna buy Newsweek? No, not a copy--the whole thing). Jon Meacham can't envision a society without his magazine, but apparently the Washington Post Company can. Unfortunately, they haven't found anyone willing to take the money-losing publication off their hands.

Needless to say, members of the MSM--and their friends in the Democratic Party--view the demise of print journalism as a sign of the apocalypse. Barney Frank was among the first on Capitol Hill to float the idea of a newspaper bailout and more recently, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed financial aid for media companies and even government programs to "promote" the hiring of journalists. Mark Tapscott wonders aloud if journalists will awaken in time to save their profession from the FTC.

But we digress. Obviously, free markets are the best way to determine the future media landscape, and quite naturally, that idea is feared by journos and their political cronies alike. Left entirely to the forces of capitalism, the current media model won't exist in 10-15 years, with daily newspapers going the way of the Edsel and AM rock stations. That means thousands of J-school grads will have to find a real job (or actually report the news), and politicians will have to look elsewhere for fawning coverage.

Still, there might be a third way to save journalism, without increased government regulation and subsidies, and without eliminating all the newspapers and magazines. In his latest piece for The Weekly Standard, P.J. O'Rourke proposes a radical solution that might boost readership, without any infusion of taxpayer dollars. He calls it The Pre-Obituary:

The main advantage of the Pre-Obit over the traditional obituary is the knowledge of reader and writer alike that the as-good-as-dead people are still around to have their feelings hurt. It was a travesty of literary justice that we waited until J. D. Salinger finally hit the delete key at 91 before admitting that Catcher in the Rye stinks. The book’s only virtue is that it captures, with annoying accuracy, the maunderings of a twerp. The book’s only pleasure is in slamming the cover shut—simpler than slamming the door shut on a real Holden Caulfield, if less satisfying. The rest of Salinger’s published oeuvre was precious or boring or both. But we felt constrained to delay saying so, perhaps because of an outdated Victorian hope for a death-bed flash of genius.

Let us wait no more. With the Pre-Obituary we can abandon pusillanimous constraint and false hope and say what we think about the lives of public nuisances when their lives are not yet a dead letter. And we won’t be stuck in the treacle of nostalgia and sentiment. We won’t find ourselves saying of some oaf, “His like will not pass this way again.” Or, if we do say it, we can comfortably add, “Thank God!” The precept of Diogenes isn’t “Do not speak ill of the living.”

Think of the opportunities we’ve missed already. Bea Arthur (1922-2009) performed a grievous disservice to popular culture by uniting two equally dreadful but previously discrete American types. In her portrayal of loud, Bolshie Maude, Arthur taught every angry feminist to be a common scold and every termagant housewife to be Emma Goldman. Once Arthur had become respectable by dying no one had the nerve to title her funeral notice “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Paul Newman (1925-2008) was not, in and of himself, a bad person. But he deserved to be damned to his face for lending charm to the smirk of liberalism. And after he’d become an immortal only a heartless writer would have pointed out that for an entire generation of young people, Paul Newman is, mainly, a salad dressing.


Jimmy Carter is 85. We must hasten to throw the Camp David Accord in his face before he heads to his eternal camp-out with Anwar el-Sadat. Gore Vidal is 84. There’s no chance he’ll end up in the same place as Bill Buckley. We ought to take up Buckley’s gauntlet and slap Gore’s face here and now. Noam Chomsky is 81. Why should Satan have all the fun? We own pitchforks of fact aplenty with which to prod his living flesh. Norman Lear is 87 and will be married to Maude forever any minute now. (Although Lear may find himself forgiven. He never meant to make Archie Bunker a hero and a role model, but perhaps the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.) Ed Asner is 80. Put him together with Ben Bradlee (88) and Alan J. Pakula, director of All the President’s Men (died in 1998, darn it), and you have the villains in the tragic tale of the American newspaper’s self-congratulatory ossification. Ross Perot also will be 80 soon. We owe him one Bill Clinton-sized philippic. Ralph Nader is 76. High time that someone, metaphorically, flipped him in a Corvair. And Paul Ehrlich is 78. In these days of the graying workforce, baby bust, and demographic decline, surely he needs a population bomb in his underpants.

The pre-obituary. An idea whose time has come. Before theirs does.


Dymphna said...


How about pre-obits for folks we like so they don't have to wait till they're dead to know how much we admired them?

Bush, Sr. is one. Of course, he's easy to make fun of but I find him an admirable man. Which may be why he was only a so-so politician.

And there's SecDef Gates. I have no idea whether or not he's doing a "good" job in the Building. Who on earth could tell? But he strikes me as a decent person. I listened to the commencement address he gave at my son's graduation and was struck by his humaneness, the shakiness of his voice as he described long walks at night as an undergraduate at that same school, wrestling with what it meant to "be of service".

Walter Williams is very humane. Wit and wisdom and humility are his trademarks. His free on-line "classes" entitled something like "Economics for Citizens" are a boon to an economically illiterate society.

Which is not to say that Mr. O'Rourke's round-up wasn't amusing. Trenchant, even. But it is a sign of our decline that we are more likely to single out those who have damaged the social fabric rather than those who've been trying to mend it.

Thomas Sowell, anyone?

Ed Bonderenka said...

Do not disagree with the post, but also agree with Dymphna.