Abe Rosenthal’s funeral on Sunday was dignified throughout and touching at moments, especially when his son Andrew spoke with affection about his dad. He described how Rosenthal, who could be so fierce and demanding of his staff at the New York Times, at home liked to tell silly jokes and sing, very badly. His son recalled Abe’s very own rendition of “I’m an Okie from Muskogee.” “He was the cowboy from the Grand Concourse,” Andrew said, occasionally breaking down at his memories.
At the service were many of the grand old lions of media, including Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, and that rare lioness Barbara Walters. Arthur Gelb and William Safire also spoke, and among the honorary pall bearers were Bill Buckley and Bernard Kalb.
But the new leaders of the journalism pack just weren’t there. Television’s $15 million stars and the cable-channel pundits were all missing, it seems. Maybe they didn’t know Abe. He had, after all, been out of power for several years. Maybe they had other things to do. It was Mothers’ Day.
But, it struck me that this coming together on a gray and chilly morning was really a kind of sunset moment for journalism–at least, the kind of journalism that Abe, as idealistic as he was imperious, believed should be practiced.
Both Gelb and Safire noted that Abe wanted for his epitaph “He Kept the Paper Straight.” As editor he often said he wanted every story covered as fairly as humanly possible and that it should not favor any one point of view. On how he kept his staff’s journalistic integrity, Abe often declared, “I don’t care if a reporter sleeps with the elephants, as long as he doesn’t cover the circus.” (That’s not really a direct quote, because Abe didn’t say “sleeps with.”)
Let’s admit it; it’s a very different story today, including at the New York Times, though the powers that be there may deny it. Moreover, there isn’t much value in trying to hew to the straight and narrow. Giving opinions, more or less obliquely, is certainly the style of the day and the way to make an impact. Probably the best known writer on the Times right now is Maureen Dowd, who has made a career out of snarkiness.
And in Monday morning’s Times, David Carr, the paper’s media columnist, penned a virtual Valentine to Arianna Huffington, who has made her career out of having opinions, often totally contradictory ones, and being shamelessly outspoken about whatever viewpoint she is currently holding. Arianna, during the time I have known her, has gone from being an anti-feminist, far right-wing conservative to the far Left blogger queen she is today. While many people’s politics have evolved–mine included–Arianna’s have whiplashed.
But, hey, she keeps being on TV, even with that grating accent, and keeps mixing in more and more rarefied celeb circles. Remember, Arianna was once dubbed the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus. Last week she was picked by Time magazine as one of America’s 100 Most Influential People, and she hobnobbed at the party at the Time Warner Center with J-Lo and Condoleezza Rice. In true journalistic spirit, the only question she asked, when face-to-face with the secretary of State, was who had designed Rice’s dress. That allegedly bothered some of the Huffington Post’s more anti-adminstration readers. But don’t they know that, while politics are changeable, a girl’s interest in evening gowns is eternal?
Add to this the hottest media rumor that was floated around–that Tina Brown, who calls herself the erstwhile Queen of Buzz, is being considered as a possible next editor of Time. John Huey, Time Inc.’s new editor-in-chief, wants an “outsider,” it is said. Although Tina is a long shot she would be just the kind of choice that gets lots of attention from our self-absorbed media. One of the reasons that Tina might be a contender is that Time may want to become even more focused on celebrities than it is now. (Listed among Time’s 100 Influencers were the Dixie Chicks, who entertained at the Time Warner party, and just happen to have a new DVD coming out.) And writing about celebs is a skill that Tina, who is now working on a book about Princess Diana, certainly has.
Yes, the journalism of today is very different from the way it was in Abe’s day, when having an opinion, and voicing it loudly and in front of the camera, was not the making of a star journalist. And celebrities and their marketing campaigns were not yet in bed and “sleeping with” the media.
—Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness—and Liberalism—to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.