I WAS A FRUSTRATED NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
A prime minister of Imperial China started his career on the bottom rung of the ladder to success, cleaning the public outhouse. He observed the behavior of the rats. The fattest ones dared to make their way to the granary nearby, while the lean ones stayed put. He followed the fat rats’ lead, improved his circumstances, and eventually made his way to the top.
“Why wait?” I asked myself shortly after I blew into Miami on the heels of Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, nearly flat broke and with no intention of taking up bookkeeping again to make a living. No, I was no longer a bookkeeper: I no longer kept accounts: I gave them. “Why not start at the top instead of the bottom? Why not land a column at top publication in town, The Miami Herald? I’ll hit up the top man there for a column,” I resolved to my alter ego, “and be the outstanding columnist that I am! Theodore Dreiser could barely finish a sentence when he pestered an editor into hiring him. Why not follow his lead? With my talent and skills, how can I not succeed?”
I whipped off an email to Tom Fiedler, the Herald’s executive editor, purportedly one of the most reputable people in the newspaper business. I asked him to take a look at my work and to give me the break I deserved. I could obviously write up a storm about all sorts of things, the very activity that kept editors employed. I said I was well aware of the steps one is supposed to climb nowadays to become a newspaper columnist, but I felt obliged to skip them because I was a late bloomer who had insufficient time for the process. Besides, the steps were too slippery with decades of bullshit. Most importantly, I was already able to write the best column around – my work speaks for itself. Therefore I wanted him, one of the most admired editors in town if not this great nation of ours, to take me on at the Herald, so that I could enhance its prestige.
Mr. Fiedler responded at once. He had not bothered to read the samples of the work I had attached to my email. Of course I was delighted that he responded at all, for few esteemed executive editors deign to personally answer email from nobodies in want of a work. Perhaps my verbal kowtowing favorably impressed him.
He said he admired my determination, and would not bother to parrot those who already have a high perch and are therefore wont to talk about the necessary rungs to climb before reaching a slot as a columnist at a major newspaper like his. Instead, he informed me that “a complex calculus comes into play in choosing columnists for the newspaper, a calculation that goes beyond the ability to write well; to wit: market need, experience, reputation, credibility in a subject, demographic profile – race, gender and ethnicity.”
“Furthermore,” he said, “some excellent writers simply never get a column because they’re in the unfortunate position of not being the right something-or-other to suit the paper’s needs at the time when an opening occurs. In other words, he said, he could not alleviate my frustration, although he wishes me the best.”
Would I take a polite “no” for an answer? Hell no, I would not! An honest panhandler would surely curse anyone who turned him down, and a serious candidate for a newspaper column would put up an honest fight for the job.
I confess that I resent rejection so much that I thrive on it, doing everything in my power to elevate my high opinion of myself over the opinions of those who fail to subserve mine. Of course my supererogation gives them further cause to reject me, with nary a word in response, for fear that, as the courts are wont to hold from time to time, verbal consideration of my species of argument might dignify frivolity or lend it the color of merit.
Naturally silence is no deterrence to my likes, and in fact provokes me to produce interminable screeds and rants, wherein no doubt there is some merit worthy of judicious notice by the more patient and impartial arbitrator. Just as there is some truth in good humor, truth can be found as well in ill humor provoked by wounded pride. Of course all hell would break loose if everyone spoke their minds truthfully, for there is nothing as insulting as the god’s truth about ourselves; that is precisely why the gentry prefer to ignore it if not make jokes of it. The vulgar likes of me, raised in alleys where no holds are barred, would rather rake muck for amusement than hunt foxes or otherwise join like packs of peers in noble pursuits.
Notwithstanding its local virtues, The Miami Herald has its vices in common with other Establishment papers. They constitute a national propaganda organ for a single party, a party-paper we might as well call The So-Called Truth. Their differences are as superficial as the differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties.
I mulled over Mr. Fiedler’s courteous rejection for two minutes. In the interest of striking a blow against America’s version of Pravda, I hastily keyed the following Reply and clicked on Send before I had a chance to edit it:
Dear Tom Fiedler:
Correct me if I am mistaken, but according your guidelines, it appears that the “credibility” you have identified depends on the gullibility of the public; i.e., the “market need”, as assessed by those who have an interest in manipulating that market for personal and political gain.
As you know very well, many of today’s “reputable” columnists cut their teeth not as reporters but as political hack writers; for instance, the right-wing ideologue Charles Krauthammer, whose reputation depends on his ability to perpetuate the divisive agenda of his fraction. And, on the ideologically “liberal” side we have, for example, a “reputable” syndicated columnist with the New York Times, a divisive political-economist whose prejudice and downright personal hatred of so-called conservatives blinds him to any merits voiced on “the other side” as he is wont to define it.
As if there were only two sides to a solid issue. To take one of the sides, all a fool has to do is read up on the difference between conservative and liberal and how to be one or the other.
Neither side is “reputable” to the other; overall, both sides are disreputable to the public. In fact the newspapers are filled with political hack writers who “think in the box” and who perpetuate the continuous fragmentation of the moral (mental) integrity of their audience. The most irrational statements are made and passed off as reasonable to the unwitting. The like can be said of certain unnamed editors who write editorial opinions foolishly quoted by campaigning political candidates as oracles of truth: “Candidate Joe Blow’s plan would sink every ship in the harbor.” (The Miami Herald)
Today there exists a great “market need” for reasonable discourse that at least attempts to arrive at the truth of a subject from time to time no matter where that might land, instead of deliberately dividing the public and pandering to partisan prejudices which, when carefully examined, reveal how rotten the heart of corporate America has become.
The recent jingoistic conduct of the mainstream media in respect to the pre-emptive attack on the people of Iraq disgraced “this great nation of ours”, and everyone of sound mind knows it. Although the rhetorical formalities were maintained, the differences between news, analysis, and opinion were substantially ignored. In effect, news, analysis, and opinion, despite the formalities of style, amounted to advertising belligerent propaganda.
To justify the selling out of America by shifting the blame to the public is reprehensible in my opinion. The establishment’s media does not really pander to the “market need” or the base credulity of the general public, but manipulates it while prostituting itself to the forces of darkness governing corporate board tribalism.
The Miami Herald needs a writer who thinks out of the box because he has never been in one. Don’t you agree? That writer is me. Give me a call.
David Arthur Walters
Although I followed up on many occasions, I never heard from Tom Fiedler again. Given the delusions of grandeur inherited from my father, I like to think that some of the provocations I sent to the Herald from time to time helped inspire the paper’s muckraking department – its muckraking has been ‘stellar’ since the paper changed hands.
David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach 2006