Today Ill be attending a luncheon for Vice President Dick Cheney who will be here to support David McSweeney for 8th district Congress whom I am very partial to. I must say that I have not been strong for many vice presidents. Not for Gore (Clinton), nor particularly Quayle (with George H. W. Bush) nor George H. W. Bush (with Reagan), nor Mondale (with Carter), nor Rockefeller (with Ford), nor Ford with (Nixon), nor Agnew (with Nixon), nor Humphrey whom I liked but didnt agree with (with LBJ), nor LBJ (with Kennedy) nor Nixon (with Eisenhower). But I am very high on Cheney whom I think has been the best vice president in history
The newspaper that dare not speak its philosophy because it has none since most of its editorials on difficult issues meander first this way, then that and conclude with time will tell
the newspaper that goes in the pantry and mixes its Op Eds so that there is single themea dash of Charles Krauthammer here, a slug of the leftist Mollie Ivins there, a jigger of libertarianism from one who eschews national security ID checks here (the former New Republic editor Steve Chapman), a trace of upper-class Brahmin there (Garrison Keillor), a thimble-ful of its old hair-on-the-chest conservatism once weekly (the excellent Dennis Byrne) here
and a syndicated cartoon that may be either left or right herebecause the paper cannot face up to an artist who must draw to the definitive right or left
you know the paper I meanthe one with the liberal editorial page Op Ed editor who had put together a cookbook balanced by a professional gay rights Hispanic
what paper am I talking about? The Tribune, of course
That paper may endorse down-the-line Republicans as a deal it makes with its marketing gurus but whose staff except for its editorial page editor is largely left-ward
that paper put out a piece yesterday that the staff showed its support for by giving it a banner-line. It was by Don Wycliff who takes the conservative TV talk show host Bill OReilly to task. All in all, it was the most vociferous presentation I have ever read from Wycliff who, when he was editorial page editor, spoke and wrote with such a vocal and literary hushed, parsed phrasing that it required a metaphysician to deduce what he was talking about. After he had deemed that I had insulted the Honorable Eddie Burke (the alderman who preens while he surveys his own greatness) Wycliffe called me and spent a great deal of time hemming and hawingon the one hand we want fresh stuff, on the other hand we dont want strident stuff, but dont think we want to dictate but on the other hand you shouldnt imagine you should shock. So I said what in the hell are you getting at Donald?
Were thinking that maybe
lets put it this way: were leaning towell leaning is not the word
lets say that after weve talked it over herenot just us but others who have an equal interestwell, maybe not an equal interest, lets say a proportionate interest, or proportionalyes, thats itproportional interestthat wed just as soon conclude our relationship now. Not that it has anything to do with what you wrote about Burke which we should have caughtmy fault, therenot that it had anything whatsoever to do with that because if theres anything we want its fresh stuff
Don, I have to go to the gym. So whats your saying is that were fini, right?
In a manner of speaking.
(Now contrast that with the admirably terse Steve Huntleys way of delivery:
(Tom, youre gone. Stay in touch. Bye. Click
The Don Wycliffe I just described left the editorial page editorship for what his newspaper calls the job of Public Editor. Now the Public Editor is supposed to be the ombudsman, someone with the definitive strength to tell the newspaper where it went wrong. The all-time best ombudsman or Public Editor
who set a gold standard which cannot ever be exceeded
was Daniel Okrent of The New York Times. You can say a lot against this paper but you know where it is from the second you pick it up which makes it in my estimation still one of the great newspapers of the world. Okrent, who is a world-class biographer and author, took the job not as a sinecure but for a year which he announced he would serve and not return. His first piece was to announce something that as brilliant as the The Times has been, it could not face.
He said and I paraphrase: Lets face it. The Times is a liberal newspaper. Very liberal. Thats o.k. but its too damned liberalso liberal, in fact, that while it shades the news liberal and thats o.k., it does so with such dishonesty that it employs de-constructionism, the ignoring of facts that refute its case.
Had he talked about how the newspaper goofed up spelling of surnames or failed to correctly identify a photo, he would have done what the papers majestically pompous liberals had expected him to do
but he didnt. He was gone in a year true to his word but I have been searching for him ever since (and now I hear hes just authored another book).
You cannot imagine, do you, that Wycliffe
the parsing Wycliffe who speaks on the phone with such a whisper that one imagines for a time he has left the receiver on the desk top
you cannot imagine that Wycliffe would have been another Daniel Okrent, do you? Well, let me not surprise you: he most emphatically was not. His view of serving his masters was to acknowledge as little as possible had gone wrong and give the newspapers side. It was agony, sheer agony (I imagine the veins standing out in his forehead) to acknowledge error as once in a while he had to. That is the Tribune way.
But imagine a different Wycliffe. He writes: If intellectual dishonesty could be said to have a face, I saw it Tuesday evening as I watched Bill OReillys program on Fox news. I watched it without sound. Then he goes on to say that he read the bullet-points for OReillys commentary. OReilly was angered about the mutilation and murder of two American soldiers. Not unusual, but OReilly evidently wanted something done about it. Its always when one gets to the point of doing something about it that upsets Wycliffe because that resembles a culture clash to the one with which Wycliffe has been most comfortable: the editorial board which parses careful pseudo solutions
such as tossing a life-preserver on a 25-foot line to one drowning 50 feet off shore and saying they went at least half-way
such as suggesting that after a climatic battle the humanitarian thing to do is to shoot the woundedyou know, the decently moderate
that is the m-o-d-e-r-a-t-e Tribune solution.
Wycliffes moderate solution is to level blame for the death of the two soldiers. Whos to blame? Get this: Donald Rumsfeld. He didnt send enough troops there and in smashing Saddam Hussein he destroyed the Iraq army so the nations defenses are weak. Actually, reading this makes one happy that Wycliffe is no longer with the newspaper. Where is he?
Hes the flack for Notre Dame. Its president, a Father Jenkins, vowed to restore Notre Dame as a Catholic institution. His inaugural address promised to do so. And he followed through. He announced that the porno play lauding homosexuality, The Vagina Monologues would not be allowed to be presented on the Notre Dame campus.
Then Father Jenkins changed his mind and allows it. It is not clear whether his initial public decision was done with the professional counsel of Don Wycliffe
or the second change of mind. But I have my own idea.
In any event, Bill OReilly shouldnt lose any sleep over the atypical tirade by Wycliffe in the bland-blander-blandest newspaper ever concocted under the panoply of Gods heavens
or the namby-pamby foot-stomping fit that the Op Ed department gave a typically weird headline: The impenetrable fog of Bill OReilly. If OReilly is guilty of anything, its slugging with a baseball bat: no fog about him. But he has achieved one thing anyhow.
He has made Wycliffe take a positionthe first blunt one seen in many years.