Bench Memos

Abe Who?

With apologies to the folks at the Media Blog for poaching on their territory, I have to remark on the scant coverage in some of our country’s top newspapers of the bicentenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  In today’s New York Times, buried in the Arts section, you’ll find an item a little more than 100 words in length, noting that the Lincoln Prize given by Gettysburg College will be shared by two authors of recent books, James M. McPherson and Craig L. Symonds.  No mention in the story that the announcement of the Prize is timed to coincide with Lincoln’s birthday.  I don’t think you’d learn from the Times today that this is Lincoln’s birthday, not to mention that it’s the two-hundredth anniversary of it.  Charles Darwin, on the other hand, who was born the same day as Lincoln, rates two pieces in the editorial pages

The Washington Post does a little better: nothing in the A section at all, nor on the editorial pages, but there are some stories in Metro and Style that relate to Lincoln and mention the birthday’s bicentenary.  Again Darwin gets bigger play–a front-page article and an op-ed.

Contrast this with a century ago.  The Post, a paper for a city that then had a distinctly southern tilt, nonetheless played the Lincoln centenary very strongly.  The paper for February 12, 1909–a total of 16 broadsheet pages–carried a two-page spread devoted to Lincoln, with large illustrations, facsimiles of documents in his hand, and much else.  The paper’s lead editorial began, “As the world counts greatness, there have been but two native Americans of the first rank,” namely Washington and Lincoln.  Darwin?  Never heard of ‘im.

But the Times really outdid itself on February 12, 1909.  Of its 20 broadsheet pages, six pages–six!–were turned over entirely to commemoration of Lincoln.  One of those pages was a reprint of the entire front page of the Times of April 16, 1865, reporting Lincoln’s assassination.  Elsewhere there were illustrations, documents, poetry, book reviews, and much else besides.  The lead editorial of the Times called him “Lincoln the Beloved,” saying “No man in our history, or, indeed, in all history, has earned that title more richly against such adverse conditions.”

Darwin rated a celebratory op-ed on the same page, by a Dartmouth biology professor.  But there was no mistaking which man’s birthday was more important to the editors and readers of the Times.

Today in the Times it’s “Abe who?”  Thank goodness for NRO, with Allen Guelzo today, and Bill Bennett and John Cribb–and thank goodness for Bill’s radio show, devoted almost entirely to Lincoln this morning.

UPDATE: I should also have mentioned John J. Miller’s “Between the Covers” interview with Michael J. Kline, author of The Baltimore Plot, which sounds very interesting.

Most Popular