New York, New York
On this day, 3/31, in 1940, New York's La Guardia Airport opened, almost 57 years after the Brooklyn Bridge was opened to traffic. (See below)
. . . Meanwhile, back in Chicago Sat. 3/29 after an Eastern trip (NY & PA), the constant reader finds Chi Trib with two big collateral-damage color pix on page one -- one of coffins with white-wrapped bodies of people killed in an explosion at a busy Baghad market (an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile gone astray, said the Brits later, not quoted in the story here), the other of a family, folks like you and me, running past an Iraqi tank in Basra. No pix of U.S. soldiers.
(But next day, front and center pic of Marine doctor holding little girl who had survived crossfire and below another of marines at service honoring two dead comrades in flag-draped coffins with helmets atop.)
On 3/29 Michael Martinez has "lawlessness feared" in Basra because local law-abiders gave up guns and can't protect selves vs. Sadaam-friendly Baath Party marauders and looters. John Birch of Oak Brook -- prolific publicist for Concealed Carry Inc. and repeated accuser of Mayor Daley of complicity in citizens' violent deaths in an unarmed Chicago, where bad guys have guns but good guys don't -- would find this a warning sign and case in point.
And Stephen J. Hedges and Douglas Holt in Washington quote "some active and retired military officers and analysts" as thinking "a battle against the Republican Guard will be a crucial moment in the war" -- a point that's been made so many times by so many, including government sources, that you have to wonder for whom Hedges and Holt are writing. It's another case of The Lumbering Tribune Story.
. . . In sharp contrast has been war coverage by USA Today
, once derided in j-circles as McPaper but giving every sign of being very tightly edited. Vivid and timely too, as in on-scene report 3/27 by Army Times
reporter Sean D. Naylor of a motor convoy's dash through blazing gunfire
and flying grenades. A reporter could do worse than tell of the Humvee driver steering with knees and one hand while firing off bullets and grenades with the other at the bad guys at roadside 100 yards away.
Tight editing was especially apparent in a war overview in which highlights were pulled together by a rewrite man in 2,000 words or so. And all 2,000 made sense.
NY Times, on the other hand, was presenting diffuse and repetitive accounts. It was as if the paper was padded to look impressive. Nor was the material easy to read. One asks, where are the copy editors? There's an overall lack of focus but two other things: 1) There's insufficient discipline as regards traditional reporting constraints. Somewhere between Sgt. Friday's "the facts, ma'am" and editorializing there has to be respect for the reader in holding back opinions and judgments and in being perfectly clear. 2) There seems to be a sort of cult of the immediate and the unedited, which is the same objection stated differently.
. . . Returning to Chi Trib and its oddly aimed (off-target?) page one, it must be added that the rest of the paper fulfills its high Saturday expectations. It's full of news to at least page 15, with darn few ads and lots of meat. The Trib may be the only paper in the world whose Saturday edition upstages its Sunday edition, in which a newspaper tries to be a magazine.
Then came Sunday in wartime, and the above argument fell to the ground. News was actually the order of the day 3/30, with only two stand-back-and-reflect pieces: "Critics: U.S. took guerillas lightly" and "In the Arab world: U.S. can't shake image of malevolent, imperialist power." An "anguish of war" piece about worried-sick soldier families rounded out the essential worried-reflection contributions.
What are you gonna do? It's The Trib. But the top head and one other were war reportage, and inside was lots of news, most of it hard and clear. Newsies come through when fast-action chips arae down.
. . . Then came later Sunday morning (3/30) on WGN-AM -- Dateline 720, a news-interview program hosted by David Stewart -- and another demonstration by Chicago's own Studs Terkel of his ability to shock and awe, in this case by calling U.S. airmen terrorists. As in much of his diatribe, against Bush and his administration, he alluded specifically to the Viet Nam war, but in answer to the timidly offered objection from Stewart about the Iraq invasion being part of our war on terrorism. Studs clearly meant our airmen in this war.
At least once before, right after 9/11, he said something like that, voicing sympathy for the attackers so as to earn sharp reprimand from columnist Steve Neal of the Sun-Times. To this Studs responded with a letter claiming a context defense but also attacking Neal as a boot-licking ingrate whom Studs had befriended years earlier when he was new in Chicago.
It isn't easy being a public person.
. . . On the other hand, "Believe it or not, we're winning"
is Mark Steyn's column the same day, in Sun-Times
, where he distinguishes himself as a phrase-maker in addition to shrewd analyst and thorough reporter. For instance, "the sob sisters of the American networks" could not get into high gear about coalition casualties in the first few days because most of them were British. Sob sisters. That's good.
"The best way to honor the dead is to press on to victory," however, as even Fleet Street's "unrepentant Stalinists" and others know. On this street of British newspapers are not "a lot of mushy ninnies for whom a run of bad luck is cause to question the entire strategy."
Item by item, we viewers, listeners, and readers get a steady diet of bad news. But "keep your eye on the big picture, not the radio-serial cliffhangers," Steyn advises. "The 'story of the day' is not the story."
. . . Earlier in the week, NY Post of 3/25 had a "Page Six" item exposing the correctness climate at NY Times, where British MP Boris Johnson had submitted an op-ed on request. The op-ed ran 3/16, but only after a "bizarre, hourlong negotiation" with the harried-wretch editor in which Johnson was told there could be no "deprecatory" comments about a black African country and no use of "Gee, thanks" because (wow) "Gee" is short for Jesus (it is?) and the Times, owned as it is by Jews, has to be "very careful" about offending Christians. (It does?) Johnson told the London Spectator all about it, calling it "insane," which sounds about right.
. . . Did you hear the guy ask Rumsfeld at a D.C. p.c. if the govt. was falsifying injury reports in Iraq? Seriously. An accredited journalist. R. was almost speechless, said in effect he knew not how someone would think that of our government. (He didn't?)
And what of the guy getting a round of applause from fellow and sister reporters at a Dohar-Quatar briefing when he asked if the million-dollar briefing room was worth their being diddled by government spokespeople?
Just after they cheered news of the wiped-out Iraqi tank battalion. Just kidding.
. . . In the middle of the 3/24 NY Times, a gem of sorts, a Julie Salamon story about Azar Nafisi, Iranian English teacher now at Johns Hopkins. Asked by students whether the Zora Neale Hurston heroine Janie (from her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God) was a feminist, Nafisi said, "Who cares?" Janie's "contradictions" were what made her "interesting."
This Ms. Nafisi taught western authors in Iran and almost caused riots, but students there paid very close attention. Now at Johns Hopkins, they are polite not excited. Her new book, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, was due out in a few days from Random House.
On U.S.-Middle Eastern relations, the overriding issue is neither politics nor economics but the culture, she told Salamon, especially as regards women. Bin Laden, for instance -- "not a poor man" -- sees his "whole way of being" jeopardized by Western culture, she argued.
The Hurston novel, by the way, makes the miles and hours go quickly on one's way to Brooklyn, New York, and its famous bridge -- played on tape, of course, as narrated by a gifted reader. I say that because I'm a white man seeking comfort, according to black critics of the 1930s and 40s. This is a white man's book, they felt. For instance, Richard Wright dismissed it, saying, "It carries no theme, no message."
Alice Walker, of Color Purple fame, thought differently. In Their Eyes etc., Hurston "was exposing not simply an adequate culture but a superior one," said Walker, who discovered her for herself in the 1970s and brought her back to the world's attention. Hurston had published nothing after 1948 and had died poor in 1960.
. . . Yes, there's that bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan and how nice it is to walk across it on a beautiful day in March. In the distance is the Statue of Liberty. Right up close are cables knotted and tied. You can grab them and shake them in a silly effort to bring the whole thing down, Samson-like. Below one level is the auto traffic. On your level half the walkway is for pedestrians, half for bicycles. What a work.
It took 14 years, from 1870, when the site was cleared for the Brooklyn-side tower, to 1883, when it was opened to traffic. It connected what was then the two cities of Brooklyn and New York and was also known as the Great East River Bridge. Great indeed.
There is also Coney Island Beach, in Brooklyn, which dwarfs the biggest of Chicago Lake Michigan beaches. It's all there for you tourists to the Big Apple. And if for some reason you like to read the Times, they sell it at cut-rate prices there, you know. What a deal.