Christmas is for children, a cynic once said. Not so, it can argued, when the message should be dearer to those adults to whom the promise is more near in time.
Ah, well, let’s see what Christmas, 2006, could bring. A turn of the TV tube and there on C-Span was Bobby Seale recounting the early days of the Black Panther Party, a recording made at Cooper Union October 18th, but somehow deemed appropriate for Christmas morn. The black-bereted speaker recounted the founding of the party in California. Seale offered a survey of the gun laws at the time and how Panthers learned to take advantage of them, as e.g. when it was legal to carry long arms that were loaded as opposed to hand guns that could rarely be carried loaded. Studied also were times when police must abide close scrutiny of their activity. His lengthy account was accorded sustained applause, with the first “question” from the audience an appeal for the cause of Philadelphia’s convicted murderer, Mumia.
Well, on to other channels. Shock. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, had passed. He had given the world the lasting phrase, “I Feel Good.” We were assured that Brown had brought popular music to its current pass, that his world renown was second only to that of Elvis Presley. Later biographical material would mention armed robbery in the teen years, a drug habit that resulted in one bullet-riddled police chase, and continual run-ins with the law over the periodic beatings of one or several of his four wives. But, after all, this was Christmas and he’ll surely be missed.
Well, what about Iraq? The “war.” A click of the clicker and we learn that the death toll among Americans has edged past that of the attack of 9/11. And, yes, they continue to call the U. S. role in Iraq a “war,” despite the fact that the war ended in 2003, when the Iraqi Army surrendered, when all government officials either gave up or fled, and the chief of state, Saddam Hussein, dug himself a hole in the ground. By any measure of conflict the war ended then. What remains was and is a postliminium dispute among several sectarian factions for control, with the United States remaining as arbiter to cajole or impose a regime that will look favorably on the nation that “won” the 2003 “war.” But on Christmas morning, 2006, politicians and pundits in America were still speaking assuredly of a “war.”
While the turkey cooks we could note other passages from the past. Bertram Powers, 84, made the Christmas obit pages, “Bert” was president of the newspaper typographer’s union in New York who led his union through a 114-day strike some 40 years ago, over automated typesetting. His was what they call a pyrrhic victory — a little raise for the workers and a promise later of lifetime employment. But it meant the end for several of the big city newspapers. And an opportunity for several radio stations to try and fill the information gap.
Word came on Christmas, 2006, of the December 24th passing of a man who did more than any other to establish the Columbia Broadcasting System as a titan of news and information. Frank Stanton was CBS President for 26 years and nurtured a series of radio stations into a network of Television News and Entertainment. Dr. Stanton was front man in a fight with Congress in 1971 over “outtakes” — unused segments left out of finished news productions — that had its origin in a controversial documentary and its editing. He risked contempt and jail for his stand, the equivalent of protecting a reporter’s notes. But he won the day.
Frank Stanton lost another day. The network Chief Executive, William Paley, decided to exempt himself from the company’s mandatory retirement age of 65. Stanton stepped down as CBS President in 1971, when 63, and in 1973 he was quietly pastured. He then chaired the American Red Cross for a number of years.
This reporter was a CBS Correspondent in New York during that time and it was Dr. Stanton who provided a stark example of how the mighty are fallen, and forgotten. I was writing at my desk in the main newsroom one day and became aware of a figure that had entered the room and was simply standing there. A fairly tall fellow in a top coat, holding a sheaf of papers. People looked up quizzically as if to say, “what does that guy want and how’d he get in here?” I stood and approached.
“Why, yes. You’re Collins?”
It was Frank Stanton, who for some unknown reason was personally delivering a series of American Red Cross public service announcements! I assured him they’d be properly handled. He looked about, at the place he had created but which had forgotten him, and left.
The lesson hurt that day and it hurt again this Christmas Day on learning he had lived to 98, time enough to be forgotten even more.
So we beat on, boats against the current…but no, that’s already been used…let’s settle for Happy New Year.