A Little of This, A Little of That
"My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see."
--Novelist Joseph Conrad
In the crush of events--war, work, community projects & kids--I've neglected to recognize a couple, hell, a bunch, of important things of late. But to make up a little ground, I'll mention just three here now. And they go like this, in no special order: Salon.com's latest near-death experience, the ever-diligent Robert Caro's Pulitzer prize and intellectual-gangster-parading-as-Supreme-Court-Judge Antonin Scalia's recent appearance at John Carroll.
If you care about web publishing, you can't help but root for Salon, which was first out of the box with web-only journalism. Internet-fearing folk have been forever waiting by its death bed, ready to pounce in full gloat when it dies, hoping to prove that the web, alas, doesn't really work after all. But the site always manages to confound these Flintstones, by snatching an 11th hour reprieve from some deep-pocketed Californian or other with lib politics who also has a vested interest in proving otherwise about the web (interestingly, Adobe, whose founder is a former JCU faculty member, was an original keystone investor). The site, edited by the admittedly tiresome Bay Area knee-jerk-leftie David Talbott, has now racked up more than $80 million in accumulated deficits as it continues to search for some combination of models that will allow it to break even without these periodic half-million-dollar bailouts from its moneyed fans. As a one-time $35-a-year subscriber (who continues the daily habit for free, via daily one-day-pass sign-ups) myself, I wish it well. Over the years, it has published work from at least four fine Cleveland-connected writers, CWRU J-prof Ted Gup, whose two best Salon pieces may be here and here, the then-little-known Jimi Izrael (who wrote a smart take on Jesse Jackson and has since been appearing locally in Urban Dialect and Scene) and Kristin Ohlson, an old Cleveland Edition fellow traveler who wrote a heart-wrenching memoir of her son, and whose first book, Stalking the Divine, is awaited with delicious anticipation by anyone who reads this Salon piece. Plus, Salon carried a great eyewitness account of the 2000 Florida election stand-off (which I can't seem to find in the archives) by former Clevelander Mark Winegardner, who now heads the writing program at Florida State.
Alas, Gup looks as if he's following the Winegardner example, using Cleveland as a brief academic stop-off before going on to bigger and better elsewhere. He's leaving on a two-year sabattical, but don't be surprised if he never returns. Some people--well, lots of people to be truthful--found him aloof and insufferable--but by all reports the one-time Bob Woodward protege did well by his students at CWRU, where he brought the first-ever serious journalism education component to the long-time engineering-centric school.
As for Caro and his second Pulitzer (he won his first way back in the '70s for his monumental study of New York's development czar Robert Moses, The Power Broker, still probably the best book ever written about how things really work in large American cities), it's simply a recognition of his doggedness in chasing down the life and times of Lyndon Johnson through three thick installments (with a fourth and final book now underway). Caro is clearly an acquired taste. Not everyone wants to plow through these huge LBJ books. Bets are now on that the author won't live long enough to finish the last in the series. His three books on Johnson's pre-Presidential career have now actually taken longer to research and write than Johnson took to live them!
But the most interesting detail of all was buried in a Washington Post report on the prizes. Caro, just back from a research trip to the Johnson library in Texas, where he had gained access to a never-before-seen cache of LBJ documents, was just as excited about his find as by his latest recognition. "Yesterday Caro was so excited--about the fresh Johnson papers as much as the prize--he could hardly talk. 'These are documents that nobody has ever seen before!' the account went. After more than 20 years investigating a life, this guy still gets excited about discovering yet more new details. Simply unbelievable.
Finally, the loathsome Scalia, who came to JCU no doubt through old ties to his former law firm Jones, Day (which has done what you might call some "special ops" legal work for the university over the years, making various potential controversies go quietly into the night). Anyway, the Justice's refusal to allow media coverage of both his JCU and City Club addresses turned into a predictable one-day national uproar, especially since P.D. editor Doug Clifton had just been selected as Editor & Publisher's editor of the year even as he chairs the national editor's group on freedom of information. But lost in that smaller (merely cause it's ever-recurring) controversy was a larger, more important one: the impossibly constricted view of the Constitution that this powerful man publicly espoused. And leave it to trusty Nat Henthoff, simply the best and most dogged writer on the subject of freedom of expression, to pick up on it and make it a central point. Henthoff began his recent account in the Village Voice thusly: "On March 18, the Associated Press reported that at John Carroll University, in a Cleveland suburb, Justice Antonin Scalia said that 'most of the rights you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires' because 'the Constitution just sets minimums.'" He goes on to call it an "ominous speech," for which there was no actual text available, at least not one Scalia's folks were going to share. Perhaps, like the mob, Scalia wants to leave no physical evidence behind of his creative reworking of the Constitution.
Oh, well: at least JCU made the national news. Maybe next time it will be for a positive development...