It's been just 24 hours since journalism's Ben Bradlee -- one of the handful of folks in our lifetime you wouldn't feel awkward describing as a "legend" -- passed away at the age of 93, and the streaming torrent of obituaries, tributes and first-person remembrances continues to flood the Internet. Actually, it's safe to assume that a fair number of folks who are under the age of 40 and who aren't in the media business don't even know who Bradlee was -- he retired as executive editor as the Washington Post in 1991...not only before wide use of the Web but before hardly anyone outside of Arkansas had heard of Bill or Hillary Clinton. In other words, a long time ago.
But for us folks of a certain age, Bradlee is a perfect storm of remembrance -- inextricably linked to one of the biggest stories of modern times (Watergate), played in an Oscar-winning role (by Jason Robards) in "all The President's Men," confidant to a glamorous president (JFK) and taker-down of a crooked one (Nixon), and an icon of the glory years of a now faded industry (newspapers). For the Beltway insiders who populate cable shows like MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Bradlee's passing was a kind of a cultural Pearl Harbor-type event.
In a way, I thought the obituary outpouring underscored several long-held beliefs about newspapers and the people who run them. In more than 30 years in the business, I've worked under a relatively small numbers of top editors (less than a dozen) and while their styles varied dramatically, from the gruff and the profane to the surprisingly low-key, each shared one thing: They conveyed something of an air of mystery to their underlings. Everywhere I've worked, the rank-and-file reporters knew the top editor worked hard, but no one really knew what the heck he (and unfortunately, it's always been a "he") did all day. The Bradlee remembrances are more of the same -- leaving his office a couple of times a day to walk across the newsroom, inspiring and sometimes frightening his lowly minions, then disappearing into a glass office again to do God knows what. It was no surprise that in the breaking news reports last night, I saw more clips of Jason Robards playing Bradlee than I saw of Bradlee.
There's a great scene in "Seinfeld" -- OK, there's a lot of those, but I'm talking about the one where Jerry reserves a mid-sized car at the airport rental agency, only to be told that they're out of cars. Jerry notes that having a car ready is the entire point of the reservation.
Agent: "I know why we have reservations."
Jerry: "I don't think you do..."
In the same vein, I have to wonder if the Chinese Communist Party understands "why we have Communism." The folks that are currently running protest-wracked Hong Kong on behalf of China's corrupt totalitarian regime have casually admitted that while the workers may control the means of production, etc., etc. when it comes to power of the rich oligarchs in modern Chinese society, the masses won't be losing their chains anytime in the near future:
Consider, if you will, the plight of the poor institutional Democrat. People are confused over just what today's Democratic Party stands for -- and nobody is more confused than the various liberal groups that are supposed to be "the base" of the party. In dozens of races, Democratic candidates are running away from the millions of newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, while tripping over each other to adopt "me too" Republican-lite programs, like an unwise travel ban as a response to the Ebola overhype. Such cowardice doesn't take a single vote from the GOP, but it will surely make some Democrats think twice about even bothering to vote on Nov. 4.
No wonder actual progressives are looking at strategies to work around the Democratic Party as much as work with it. This weekend, I wrote about the arrival in Philadelphia of the Working Families Party, which over the last decade has pushed politics leftward in New York City, and wants to do the same here. Here's an excerpt:
An underlying message of the Working Families' push is that more than six decades of Democratic rule in Philadelphia has thwarted radical change.
As The Post’s Mark Berman has snarkily noted, the pumpkin festival debacle “was reminiscent of Ferguson, one might say, if one was willing to equate years of simmering tension finally boiling over with a bunch of college kids setting things on fire.”
That has not been lost on people in Missouri. On Monday, a group of protesters armed with pumpkins descended upon the St. Louis Justice Center, a common site for post-Ferguson demonstrations. St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Steve Giegerich was on the scene, and reported that two people were arrested.
There's an outstanding front-page story in today's Daily News by Dana DiFilippo about a traffic stop and violent encounter three years ago in North Philadelphia that raises questions about police conduct, their account of the event, and our local system of justice. Here's an excerpt:
"I would never stoop that low to plead to something that I did not do," Lewis said in a letter to the Daily News from the State Correctional Facility at Waymart, where he is awaiting a Nov. 12 trial. "Those officers most definitely broke some of my bones. However, they didn't break my spirit."
A prison inmate who denies his guilt is nothing new.
Wow....at this point there have been so many "white riots" in the last couple of years -- Huntington Beach, Santa Barbara, Penn State (more than once), and just this week, Morgantown, and now, most epic-ally of all-time, the great Pumpkin Festival riots of Keene, N.H. It's gotten to the point where all of the obvious jokes, about how the white community needs to have a serious conversation about getting our own house in order, or asking where are the (white) fathers, have been made again and again and again. O you silly rioters of mid-season college football wins and smashed pumpkins, you make comedy too easy!
Still, the ironies abound (and not just the appearance of would-be New Hampshire senator Scott Brown, who seems to inspire bad behavior wherever he goes). Keene is the town that was ridiculed just a couple of months ago by HBO's John Oliver for buying a mine-resistant armored personnel carrier and for citing the need to protect the annual Pumpkin Festival (although I guess the assumption was protect it from al-Qaeda and not from boisterous Natty Light drinkers). Will Oliver apologize? Of course, in reality, the real-life response this weekend of the Keene police -- in riot gear, lobbing tear gas -- is every bit as questionable and should get the same level of scrutiny as it did in Ferguson. It probably won't, though.
Speaking of Ferguson, if you have a few minutes read the news accounts of what happened in New Hampshire -- the youths who set fires and threw rocks or pumpkins were described as "rowdy" or "boisterous" or participants in "unrest." Do you remember such genteel language to describe the protesters in Missouri? Me neither...I wonder why.
See this. It's the Philadelphia Union logo, with its snake loosely based on the Gadsden flag made popular in the American Revolution. You may know that image as "the Tea Party flag," since it was adopted as a symbol of the right-wing movement that started so magically* on the afternoon of Jan. 20, 2009. But once upon a time, the iconic snake and the "Join or Die" motto not only called for "union" (hence the association with the 21st Century soccer team...get it?) but for core principles like free speech.
But exercising your 1st Amendment rights at the Union's partially taxpayer-backed soccer palace in Chester is complicated, as a few disenchanted fans learned during the team's last home game of the 2014 season on Saturday night, when the boys in blue didn't quite salvage a hugely disappointing season with a 2-1 win over defending Major League Soccer champions Sporting Kansas City.
As noted here last week, the Union missed the playoffs for the 4th time in 5 seasons and a growing number of fans -- rightly, in my biased opinion -- blame the bizarre personnel moves of the teams' founding CEO (and a part owner), Nick Sakiewicz. So much so that several fans in the River End -- home to the way-beyond-fanatical supporters' group the Sons of Ben -- brought homemade banners to show their displeasure.