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Newspaper days at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, when it was still a Southern grand dame.
It is sad but scarcely surprising to learn that the crisis of the ink-and-paper media industry is taking its toll on what once was one of the broadsheets’ grand old Southern dames — the Richmond Times-Dispatch. On April 2, hemorrhaging money, the paper laid off 59 employees, many of them senior writers and editors as well as the esteemed editorial cartoonist, Gary Brookins.
The newspaper has published continuously since 1850 — 11 years before the “late unpleasantness” commemorated by Richmond’s stately Monument Avenue — and has been dominated by the genteel Bryan family for most of its history.
In 1979, when I went to work in the magnolia-shaded building on East Grace Street as an editorial writer in a little office next to Brookins’ studio, there was a reverent air of yesteryear about the Times-Dispatch and Richmond’s socio-political life in general. The prevailing joke was, “How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb?”
Answer: Five. One to change the light bulb, another to pour juleps, and three more to drink and reminisce about how great the old light bulb had been.
There was no other automobile in town like the humpbacked black Mercedes belonging to company chairman David Tennant Bryan. Local legend had it that Mr. Bryan had obtained the car as a wedding present in the cataclysmic year when Franklin Roosevelt sent Herbert Hoover into exile. Many a morning or evening I would witness the unmistakable sight of Mr. Bryan driving between his West End home and the newspaper office.
A few weeks into the job, the editorial page editor informed me that Mr. Bryan wanted to see me. Mr. Bryan had been CEO of the company for 35 years, and I was all of 24 years old. I was already becoming aware of what an outsider I was to the community. Not a Richmonder, not a Virginian, not even a Southerner, I was from what I imagine the St. A’s boys in Charlottesville considered the dark satanic mills of Midwestern urban industrialism.
Tall, white-haired, bow-tied, patrician, the old man greeted me. “I have read this editorial in this morning’s paper and I understand you wrote it.”
Mr. Bryan proceeded to explain that I had misused the word “convince.”
“For the meaning you were intending to convey,” he instructed me, “never use ‘convince.’ The word is ‘persuade.’”
“Yes, sir, and thank you very much, sir.” So did I get to keep my job?
“And welcome to the Times-Dispatch. We are happy to have you here.”
The local U.S. Congressman, David Satterfield, a Democrat, was to the right of just about any conservative Republican in captivity. Senior U.S. Senator Harry Flood Byrd, Jr., ran for election as an Independent but caucused with the Democratic majority and thus held key subcommittee chairmanships. No Bernie Sanders, he was every inch as conservative as his friend from neighboring North Carolina, Jesse Helms.
The octogenarian editor emeritus, a prolific author of books, popped into the office from time to time to thumb through yellowed clippings from the morgue. He was the very eponym of the Old Dominion, Virginius Dabney. In 1922, he joined the Bryans’ afternoon Richmond daily, the News Leader, where his writing won the admiration of H.L. Mencken. Eventually he migrated across the hall to the Times-Dispatch, where he was editor from 1936 to 1969.
“V” Dabney was a liberal by the standards of the first half of Richmond’s 20th century, but he spent the last of his years trying to “prove” the unverifiable proposition that his direct ancestor Thomas Jefferson “never had sex with that woman,” Sally Hemings. At the helm of the News Leader during Dabney’s salad days was the eminent historian Douglas Southall Freeman, not a liberal in anyone’s book. At the beginning of the 1950s, as Dr. Freeman — yes, a Ph.D. historian — prepared for retirement, he and Tennant Bryan recruited and groomed a young writer named James Jackson Kilpatrick to take the editor’s chair.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?