The first thing some people do in the morning is swear at an alarm clock, but at least you can quickly silence the beep, and it only happens once a day. I reserve my slander for the telephone, because the chances of it being someone I actually want to speak to are around one in twenty. It’s rarely, or never, a publisher offering me a six-figure, five-book contract, or a magazine editor proposing a fat freelance deal for an article I could write off the top of my head from the safety of my desk (“Yes, we’re looking for a piece entitled 50 Things To Bitch About Before You’ve Even Left The House”). If it’s not one of my daughters’ class mates calling to find out what their biology homework is, it’s a pointless marketing survey (“We were wondering, How often do you field annoying phone calls just as you’re preparing dinner?”), or a guilt-edged inquiry about your willingness to contribute to the Veteran Fireman’s Retirement Fund, with the unspoken issue hanging over the conversation of just how rapidly an emergency response vehicle might make it your front door should you choose not to make a contribution.
You can tell a junk call because of a slight delay at the other end (they’re usually calling several people simultaneously), and the fact they always ask for my wife, whose simple surname they hopelessly mangle because it’s foreign. Mostly I hang up straightaway, but this morning, for some reason, I asked them what they wanted. I’m so glad that I did. It turned out they were from The Washington Examiner, a daily paper owned by reclusive billionaire Philip Anschutz that is occasionally delivered to our front door, at no cost and certainly not at our request. They wanted to know what I thought of it.
Here’s an example of the slant in last Thursday’s edition, which I’ve just fished out of the recycling pile. The editorial attacks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for having the temerity to be a tough Democrat. Stop Kicking In Our Doors, Madame Speaker says the headline, illustrated by a picture of her looking like she’s about to hit someone. The main story is about a transgender aide suing Montgomery County Council under an anti-discrimination law she helped draft – the newspaper’s main front page headline ‘Transgender sues under her own law’ is inaccurate, missing as it is the word ‘aide’, while the story itself is 99 per cent unfounded insinuation. A page of ‘Crime & Punishment’, with pictures of two wannabe tough looking crime reporters standing with their arms folded, relishes both the crime and presumably the ensuing punishment by perniciously linking separate issues with headlines like Police: Illegal Immigrants Raped Alexandria Woman, and Panamanian Murderer Caught, Lived Off Federal Subsidies. Columnist Chris Stirewalt devotes several hundred words to criticising President Obama because he seems “gloomy”, a result of “the desperate spectacle of the president’s effort to impose his health care plan on a defiant electorate.” Two more pieces on the Politics pages talks of Obama being “off message” on health care, and House Democrats “working desperately” to pass health care reform, topped off with a commentary from David Freddos on What Obamacare Has Already Done For Massachusetts (everyone’s as good as dead up there already, apparently).
That’s the health care reform bill that was passed yesterday, despite all this stunningly objective journalism. So, what do I think of the Washington Examiner? I’m so glad you asked.
“You mean that crappy right wing rag you keep tossing on to my property? I’d rather you didn’t, thanks. It goes straight in the trash. Your paper’s a disgrace. It’s verging on the fascist. So even though I know it effectively means you can’t even give your shitty paper away, I’d be really grateful if you stopped delivering it and we can all make a saving on the waste paper.”
“Are you a subscriber to the Washington Post, sir?” the caller wanted to know. Subtext: “Yeah, well that’s the kind of thing I’d expect to hear from a communist, America-hating Post reader.” Though the Post is a paper I almost cancelled when it ran an editorial supporting the Bush invasion of Iraq (but I like to know the weather, and read Get Fuzzy).
“Yes, I am,” I said with as much pride as you can muster for subscribing to a daily paper. And I should have added, thanks for letting me have my say. Your call has made my day.