A Confederacy of Eunuchs

Look ma! No package. Posted by Picasa

Reader Charles (who could write this better in his sleep than I can when I’m hitting on all cylinders) sent me this link where we find a buncha ombudsmen sitting around bitching about the only people who know they exist.

Last night at the National Press Club, the Kalb Report (celebrating its 50th episode) convened the ombudsmen (or as host Marvin Kalb called them, “the inside/outside person of journalism who knows the good, bad and the ugly”) from the New York Times (Byron Calame), the Washington Post (Deborah Howell), PBS (Michael Getler, formerly the Post’s ombudsman) and National Public Radio (Jeffrey Dvorkin) for a discussion on their roles within their respective news organizations and the state of newspapers generally.

Kalb asked their opinion on some hot issues, from Cartoon-gate (only Michael Getler thought it appropriate to run the cartoon) to Plame-gate to the Washington Post’s story on “black sites” in Eastern Europe to the New York Times’ decision to hold James Risen’s story on NSA’s domestic surveillance.

When the discussion drifted to the actual on-the-job machinations of the four ombudsman, it was hard not to get the sense that all four ombudsmen found readers to be, well, quite a nuisance, especially the feedback generated by website driven email campaigns.

I try not to get too excited about ombudsmen since I pretty much regard their position as the most worthless job at the newspaper. Any serious error is generally going to be corrected by the editors tucked away on some inside page under Corrections. For example:

Correction: In the May 15, 2005 article “Local Shriners Bring Joy To Children”, Dr. Leonard Buechler was mistakely identified as a “pederast”. Dr. Buechler is a “podiatrist”. The Times-Bloviator regrets the error.

The real job of the ombudsman is to smooth things over with the cranks who go over every printed word with a finetooth comb looking for their own personal blasphemy. In fact, it seems that the only time you really hear about the ombudsman is when the editors commit the sin of changing the comic page line-up resulting in death threats against the Lifestyle Editor (“How could you drop Marmaduke? I know where you live, you fuck! You will fucking regret this the rest of your fucking miserable life!!!”). The rest of the time their main job is to go ask an editor why they used a certain word and the editor pulls out the style book and shows them the page…and they pass it along. Story over. If there is a sampler on the ombudsmans office wall it surely says, “Can’t we all just get along?”. It’s right next to the one that says, “Time for my nap“.

It has only been in the age of Okrent and Howell that they have started to bare their teeth and roll their eyes and make exaggerated teenaged sighing sounds about the common riff-raff who refuse to quit chewing on their bone of contention du jour. And there is a reason for that.

Your average ombudsman is in the twilight of their journalistic career and the job is the last stop before they are given a once-a-month column to write about the good old days and how they compare to the bad new days. The last thing they want to hear about (and from) are bloggers who are, to them, just a bunch of rabble-rousing punks who won’t get the hell off of their goddam lawn and dammit, I used to take a crap in the stall next to Walter Lippman, you little shits! A job that was supposed to be about explaining why nobody covered the cat show and errors in Jumble has turned into the complaint department at the Wal-Mart located at the corner of Hell and oblivion.

So let us give the ombudsmen of the world a break. They’re old. They’re cranky. And they’d like to believe in the promise of the immortal words of David Bowie when he sang:

Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years

Gold. Whop whop whop.

Previous post

The brilliance of James Inhofe

Next post

Mass editorial walkout at NYPress over the cartoons



Yeah. Like I would tell you....