OFF THE GRID

Old Newsmen Never Die…And the White House Party Crashers Weren’t Working Alone

Dec 1, 09 | 9:39 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There is a club in the West 40s in Manhattan which includes among its members many old newsmen who, curiously, have sworn, on pain of expulsion, never to utter its name in the press—a quaintness by which I will abide.

I had lunch yesterday, in the members’ dining room, with one of my favorites, back in New York for the holidays from his retirement home in Florida. This is what old newsmen talk about:

The world will be in sorry, sorry shape when newspapers die, cautioned my friend, who edited one of the most storied papers of the age. Still, it is true, he admitted without too much hesitation, that newspaper men are not so bright and newspapers, in terms of the journalism they produce, are, generally speaking, pretty piss-poor. Still, without at least the best papers, as a nation, we will be poorer.

But, speaking of piss-poor, the Times had become little more than worthless. Flash! he said, shaking his head in disgust about a weekend front-page story: More people use food stamps in a recession. The paper was ill-edited, flaccid, boring…the front page, metro, culture, the Sunday magazine, all had lost their way. His voice began to rise. And here was his real zinger: The Times, he said, with incredulity, had dumbed down the crossword puzzle. He could finish it in pen, with no fudges, twice a week now—in its heyday, he couldn’t do that more than a few times a year.

Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal was, he said, simply better than the Times!

And Tiger Woods! He smacked his lips. The truth about tabloid journalism, he said—noting with a solicitous twinkle my own tabloid troubles—is that it has a certain honesty. It is just a big dumb screw, tabloid journalism, which if it came in your direction, would, without fear or favor or concern for the consequences, drill right through you. Poor Tiger.

And Murdoch and Google. There is something about Google that naturally rankles all old newsmen—a sense, undoubtedly, of our obsolescence. But, still, my friend unsentimentally averred, Rupert, pretty clearly, had stayed too long at the party. (My friend, whose career spanned the greatest years of the media boom before he was ignominiously dismissed from his last post, said, all in all, he was glad to have gotten out while the going was good.)

And Obama! What a sorry story that was becoming. (Contrary to press reports, I have always found newsmen, at least the successful ones, to be a predictably conservative bunch.)

And the party crashers. There, said my friend with a savvy editor’s instinct, was a story not being told.

Well, tell.

“You’ve been to the White House. Nobody slips through, unless someone waves you in.”

“Of course!” I kicked myself. “An inside job.”

We all have, by digital command, access to more information than has ever been available before—and free at that—but I have a men’s club full of forgotten and ossifying newsmen where I’m going to continue to get my news.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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