“I was the unlucky man who won the prize, the luck of the draw. That’s why I’m now here, not of my own free will or by your choice. I know that — for no one likes a messenger who comes bearing unwelcome news with him.”
— Sophocles’ “Antigone,”
The newspaper is the last mass medium. In one convenient bundle it delivers the top news of the day, commentary and opinion, analyses and features. Everything from obituaries to comics pages. Not to mention movie listings, an almanac, book reviews, horoscopes, sports scores, advice columns, traffic information, recipes, business stats, TV listings, puzzles and games, retail and classified ads.
What more could anyone possibly want?
Well, let’s start with the gentle reader who took us to task for failing to pay proper homage to the passage of television personality Tim Russert.
“One is forced to wonder what sort of grudge the Review-Journal held against Tim Russert, one of the most beloved public figures of our time. On Saturday, June 14th, the day after his death, coverage of his passing was on page 7A. What dramatic news pre-empted his story from Page One? Why, District Court Judge Halverson, of course. She is more newsworthy than Mr. Russert? …
“Even his competitors took time to salute him and his life. The Review-Journal’s lack of coverage was extremely conspicuous by its absence.”
Firstly, the story about District Judge Elizabeth Halverson was on the cover of the Nevada section, not the front page of the paper. But more importantly, the newspaper does not salute on its news pages. It is not a substitute for a headstone. It does not memorialize or commemorate or celebrate.
In fact, the Review-Journal’s e-mail news alert eRJ reported the death of Russert at 12:43 p.m. on Friday, and the news was on our Web site soon after that. The news was on all the cable and network news programs. By the next morning, few did not know of his death.
But on Saturday’s Newsline page, which we consider our second front page, we carried a five-column photo of Russert and a news story that jumped to another page inside, containing more words than one could read aloud in 15 minutes, more than you could get from most broadcasts.
Then there was the lady who called with a profanity-laced diatribe complaining about the paper not having a story about the death of George “Seven Dirty Words” Carlin. After it was pointed out that the story about the frequent Las Vegas performer was on the front page, she called back to complain about the fact there was no photograph of him.
Unlike Russert, Carlin’s death was first reported late Sunday evening. That eRJ news alert was sent at 11:04 p.m. on a night the newspaper had early deadlines due to some press reconfiguration work. Editors scrambled to even get the news in the paper, working with the press crew to stretch deadlines.
It was not a matter of memorializing. It was a matter of reporting fresh news.
In another vein of opprobrium, several people took issue with columnist Norm Clarke quoting Penn Jillette — of the Rio illusionist team of Penn & Teller — commenting on television on the bling sported by one of his competitors, Criss Angel.
“What I like most about Criss Angel,” Clarke quoted Jillette from the broadcast, “is that cross he wears around his neck is big enough to actually staple a Jew to it.”
Several readers demanded an apology from the paper for accurately quoting the popular performer, provocateur and iconoclast. Not sure how many called the television station.
As one reader put it: “Just because Jillette made an anti-Semitic remark, Norm showed a poor lack of judgment quoting him and the paper should be held responsible for even printing it. … I think Norm should apologize to his readers in his next article. As for Jillette, I have lost all respect for him as he has shown his true colors and I do hope you will let him know that he really should have kept his mouth shut.” Irreverent maybe, but anti-Semitic?
If we had demurred in quoting the colorful Jillette or any other public figure — such as former Virginia Sen. George Allen calling someone a “macaca” — would we not be rightfully taken to task for covering up for or protecting that person?
If such language offends you, don’t patronize or vote for the speaker, but should the conveyor of the information be likewise tarred?
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.