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Newspaper days at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, when it was still a Southern grand dame.
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During the 1970s, one of the most effective figures in conservative politics was the News Leader cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, a young genius who made the whole world convulse with laughter at the ridiculousness of Jimmy Carter, Fidel Castro, Muammar Khadafy and the other fish-in-the-barrel we smart-aleck editorial writers would bombard with rhetorical buckshot. Tennant Bryan himself was not a mere businessman but a conservative intellectual who helped make the Age of Reagan possible through wise leadership on the board of the Hoover Institution. Mr. Bryan would preside over the executive committee of Media General, publisher of the Richmond and Tampa newspapers and a holder of lucrative cable television franchises, during the closure of the News Leader in 1992, and until a year before his death in 1998. His son, John Stewart Bryan III, leads the company today.
The Richmond newspapers used to take in dollars — Yankee, Confederate, and, in a gesture of Realpolitik following the Lost Cause, Mr. Lincoln’s Legal Tender Notes — as though there were no tomorrow, fittingly for enterprises whose spiritual world was a chivalrous Old South where every dawn greeted a shining new yesterday. Those times and their dispatches are gone with the insalubrious currents that used to waft from the Bryans’ shuttered newsprint mills. Before the nonagenarians Tennant Bryan and “V” Dabney passed away, Virginians elected an African-American governor. Today the state’s chief executive is a liberal Democrat and former social worker from the upper Midwest. The odds-on favorite to become the next occupant of the Governor’s Mansion is a hustling newcomer to the Old Dominion, late of Syracuse, New York, the Clinton machine’s prodigious bag man Terry McAuliffe.
But still we have our memories. Some of the things I find unsettling about the blogging world are instant, unedited, and often very rude and unintelligent “comments” that readers are allowed to post.
As the low man on the totem pole of the editorial page of the ultra-traditional Times-Dispatch three decades ago, I had the chore to edit letters to the editor — “The Voice of the People,” as the feature was called. In that place and time, the People’s utterances were heavily, I mean heavily, edited.
Every day I rummaged through a fat canvas bag of U.S. Mail. Always it was abounding with correspondence from inmates of the Virginia State Penitentiary; I came to be able to tell just by the handwriting which lifer was striving to have his say in the civic discourse. But these were not our only contributors with ample time and torrential streams of consciousness. An atheist from the Shenandoah Valley hamlet of Grottoes, Virginia, sent a steady flow of missives, some of which I had to publish because I learned from my elders that it was a Times-Dispatch tradition to print the occasional outburst from this fellow, probably a UVA or William & Mary fraternity brother of one of the executives upstairs. With every letter selected for publication — even from a correspondent whose name and oeuvre I knew like the back of my hand — a scrupulous member of our clerical staff telephoned to make absolutely sure the letter and its author were authentic. Then I edited the letters, mercilessly if need be, to put them into readable and grammatically correct style.
As a young dévoté of Mencken and protégé of The American Spectator’s R. Emmett Tyrrell, I considered it an obligation of common sense to have a private laugh, alone or with Gary Brookins, before consigning to the trash can letters that were manifestly the work of cranks.
Then one morning my editor summoned me to his office. I stared anxiously through the picture window, regarding on the cracked earth hundreds, maybe thousands, of browning, indestructible leaves from Mr. Bryan’s proud magnolia.
“Did you get a letter from Miss ______? And not publish it?”
I searched my memory. “Oh, yes, I think that’s the name of someone who sends these long, rambling things advocating total, unilateral U.S. disarmament.”
“So? You mean to tell me you did receive a letter from Miss _____ and you threw it away?”
“Well, yes — yes, sir. I didn’t think that’s the kind of letter we publish.”
“Son, don’t you know who she is? Let me tell you something. Miss ______ is President Tyler’s granddaughter.”
“President Tyler? He was President in 1841, and this is 1981. His granddaughter?”
“Yes, his granddaughter. And our newspaper always publishes letters from persons of the stature of a granddaughter of President Tyler.”
(Gentle Reader, I am not pulling your leg. Richmond’s own United States President, the Thurmondesque John Tyler, born in 1790, had 15 legitimate children from his two marriages and continued procreating for as long as he could hold back the grim reaper — a very long time. Not only did he have a living granddaughter in Richmond 30 years ago, but Wikipedia, the archive of choice for the New Age Dabneys and Freemans, indicates two of his grandsons are still above ground and breathing today, in the Year of Our Lord 2009. Who knows, maybe one of these marvels of longevity will make a snarky blog post in response to this article. C’mon, guys, have a free-for-all: “Fair Play for Cuba”; “Save the Whales”; “Cap and Trade” — bring it on. Far be it from me to censor a President’s grandchild!)
No number of Richmonders — not a thousand, not a hundred thousand — ever can replace the spent lights and silenced bells of the old cast-iron teletypes, the coffee- and Bourbon-stained seersucker suits, the antebellum manners and customs, the obsolete ways we used to live and communicate. As the characters of Flann O’Brien are wont to say, “we will never see their likes again.”
(Joseph Duggan was an editorial writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 1979 to 1981, when he moved to New York City, believing, in the rash and confused state of youth, “I’ve been going to sleep in a city that never wakes up.”)
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?