The week (September 29th): Nobody asked me, but…

As New York’s legendary “man about town” columnist Jimmy Cannon used to say, Nobody asked me, but…

THE PERFECT LATE SEPTEMBER weather in New York City over the past two days brought to mind Childe Hassam’s paintings of a sun-drenched Fifth Avenue, canvasses dominated by rows of hanging American flags and the colorful blur of pedestrians and traffic. Is there any better time of the year to be in Manhattan?

PERHAPS THERE IS SOME GOOD TO BE elicited from the revelations that Senator George Allen (R-VA) may have used the “N-word” in college and challenger James Webb’s admission that anyone living in the South in the 1960s and 70s may also have used the racial slur (Webb included), although Webb denies ever using the word as an epithet. The potential good? It serves to remind us of the casual acceptance of racism in the United States—and, perhaps, will provoke some consideration of the powerful legacy of prejudice against African-Americans.

Meanwhile the Senate race in Virginia has tightened; Allen has lost his initial 16 percentage point lead and polls are showing the candidates in a dead heat.

PETER BAKER of the Washington Post, in his recent front-page story “For Bush, War Anguish Expressed Privately” demonstrates how in-depth, balanced reporting and sensitivity to the complexity of life can offer journalistic insights of a near-literary quality. Baker reports that Bush’s contact with the families of killed service members is greater than generally known.

For those who have suffered losses in the wars he initiated, Bush prefers to offer comfort in private. He writes letters to families of those killed, visits soldiers at military hospitals and meets with relatives of the dead. Altogether, according to the White House, Bush has met with 1,149 relatives of 336 dead service members. These sessions generate little attention because the White House bars journalists, but some relatives have described them.

Baker’s news feature offers a different, more somber, portrait of George Bush—one light years removed from the smirking, frat boy image the President oftens projects. That Bush is meeting with the families of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan counters the conventional wisdom that he has been buffered from the considerable suffering produced by the war; that some of the families are confronting him over the deaths of their loved ones is remarkable.

INFORMATION MAY LONG TO BE FREE, as the early Internet (Web 1.0) mantra went, but unless traditional media companies—especially newspapers—can figure out a way to make money with their reportage (“content” in the new lexicon), they will face a no-win future of decimated newsrooms, shrinking coverage and dramatically reduced influence.

The recent conflict between Tribune Company executives and Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeffrey Johnson—where Johnson and Baquet have refused to make personnel cuts mandated by the parent company—highlights the considerable challenges of balancing return-on-investment concerns with journalistic mission.

While Johnson and Baquet are right in arguing that cutting news staff will be counterproductive, and that the short-term solution may be for the Tribune Company to accept lower margins at the Times, what about the long-term? Is this just a postponement of an inevitable down-sizing of the traditional metro newspaper? Even if Tribune settles for a short-term profit margin of say, 5%, and relents on cuts, what happens if Times advertising and circulation revenue continues to erode? No one in the newspaper industry has yet figured out what to do about the continuing loss of readers and advertisers—and the Internet doesn’t yet offer comparable returns.

FILE UNDER HOLLYWOOD ENDINGS Notre Dame’s improbable comeback win against Michigan State last Saturday, where the Fighting Irish scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to prevail 40-37. Quarterback Brady Quinn threw for five touchdowns, showing why professional scouts rate him so highly, and the Irish defense toughened in the second half, pressuring the Spartans into turnovers. The win kept Notre Dame’s slim hopes for a national title alive.

SOME ARRESTING PASSAGES FROM AN E-MAIL of a Marine serving in Iraq recently caught my eye. According to DefenseTech.org, the e-mail came from a Marine in Fallujah and is “making the rounds.” The absurdity of war and its moments of dark humor are perfectly captured in this entry:

Most Surreal Moment – Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

The unnamed Marine closed his email with the universal longing expressed by warriors throughout the ages:

Most Common Thought – Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don’t write more. Yep, always thinking of home.

PERHAPS SOME DAY SOMEONE WILL EXPLAIN the draw of NASCAR to me. I just don’t get it. What is it about watching cars drive around in a big circle that attracts viewers and spectators? Morbid curiosity? Even stranger: one of the Boston sports radio stations broadcasts play-by-play of NASCAR races. Listeners are treated to the sound of engines in the background as the announcer follows the “action.”

SOMETIMES I THINK GEORGE BERNARD SHAW had it right: “Everything happens to everybody sooner or later if there is time enough.”


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Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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