Thursday, March 24, 2011

“The New York Times, Revisited”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a busy morning at the Icehouse.

The telephone rang as I was pouring a cup of coffee. I had intended to begin work on a newspaper column. But fate, it seemed, had other ideas.

“Hello, Mr. Ice?” the caller said cheerfully. “I am Giles Mead. Do you remember me?”

“Who?” I stammered.

“Giles Mead,” he repeated. “You interviewed with me two years ago. We were working on the prospective Great Lakes Gazetteer project.”

I struggled to remember. “Gazetteer?”

“The New York Times is my employer,” he screeched. “Does that ring a bell?”

“Gazetteer from the Times,” I repeated. “Okay…”

“It didn’t work out as we planned,” he admitted. “But… no matter. One of our reporters is in the midst of a story about Tea Party activism. I remembered our conversation and wondered if you might offer some insight into this phenomena.”

“What?” I barked. “You must have me confused with someone else…”

“Come now Mr., Ice,” he laughed. “I’m sure you hold strong opinions about your movement…”

My face went red. “Listen, I’m a journalist, not a politician.”

Mead coughed into the telephone. “Please Mr. Ice. Let’s be honest, shall we? Your sympathies are quite obvious.”

“Obvious?” I huffed. “You must be kidding. I’ve worked very hard to report events in my county without interjecting personal opinions.”

“So,” he whined. “You don’t consider yourself a Tea Party member?”

My heart was pounding. “No, I don’t.”

“Indeed!” he hissed. “Well, I find that to be most amusing… haven’t you written favorably about Rep. Ron Paul of Texas?”

A silent pause elapsed. “I have tried to report about all participants in the national dialogue. Providing information is my mission, after all. Paul was active long before the current wave of protesters made their presence known. At the moment, he seems to be an important, if marginal, figure.”

“Aha! So, you now openly admit your Tea Party sympathies?” he crooned.

“I sympathize with democracy. Citizens should be engaged in the political process,” I said. “It is the same with labor activists who want to speak out in defense of collective bargaining. Our system only functions when we participate.”

Mead was flustered. “You are making no sense!”

“Look,” I cautioned. “I personally believe many Tea Party members are a bit tardy in coming to the table. Focusing on the growth of government at this late hour is politically convenient. But not convincing on the strength of real principles. When George W. Bush was drastically inflating our national debt, where were they? When bankers and insurance companies were being bailed out by taxpayers, where was their outrage?”

Mead gasped for air. “You surprise me, Mr. Ice!”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Well then, you should’ve read more of my work. The labor movement has a long and important history in America. But union leaders have often wandered from the original purpose of truly representing their workers. The time for average people to speak out is long overdue. I think we have arrived at a moment when all sides are raising their voices. That is a healthy thing for our nation. We need to hear from regular folks instead of professional pundits and Washington insiders.”

“But… the political debate is at a fever pitch!” he complained.

My eyes narrowed. “I don’t fear a spirited debate. What I fear is a lack of dissent. If I disagree with my neighbor, and we reason together as equals, the result can be greater than both of us…”

The phone line crackled. “So, you won’t participate in our story?”

“You just want a good quote or two criticizing the current administration. Is that it?” I whispered.

“In a word, yes!” he pleaded.

“And what will the upshot of your report be?” I asked. “Sensational, one-sided headlines, or real analysis of the problems facing America?”

“Well… we have to sell newspapers, of course.” He confessed.

“So… you want me to sling some mud. But how does that promote a real political dialogue?” I wondered out loud.

Mead snorted like a bull. “Dialogue isn’t my responsibility.”

“Perhaps not,” I agreed. “But providing genuine news is your job. Speaking truth, without bias. Without an agenda.”

“Please Mr. Ice,” he said mockingly. “You sound like a Fox News promo.”

My voice went hoarse. “Actually, I’m a CNN junkie at the moment. But never mind. The New York Times is well known around the world. Shouldn’t you strive to protect your banner from bias and editorial drift?”

“Hah!” he exploded. “I see now that this call was a mistake.”

“Yes it was,” I replied. “If your goal was to gather evidence to support conclusions already made in the editorial offices.”

“Well then, good day, Mr. Ice!” he shouted.

“Thanks for you call,” I replied in a monotone voice. The phone line went silent.

Now, it was time to reheat my coffee!

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