Samuel Taylor Coleridge, famous poet and critic of the Romantic era and friend of William Wordsworth, once declared 'Unless you understand a writer's ignorance presume yourself ignorant of his understanding'. Never was a text more suited to such an approach than the New York Times' hatchet-job on Senator John McCain, undisputed leader of the Holier-Than-Thou-And-Thou-And-Yes- -I-Mean-Thou wing of the Republican Party.
Yes, I know, all of us who live on planet Earth or simply still have relatives there realize that the Old Gray Lady has long morphed into a toothless hag. It's the Toilet Paper of Broken Record. It pimps out it's reporters to the Democratic Party and its constellation of Loony Lefties. It promoted Jason Blair beyond his, er, competence. No doubt the shade of Dan Rather's Career appears nightly to publisher Pinch Sulzberger in the parking garage to hoarsely urge him to 'follow the memos'. Yet. Yet.
Yet, indeed! The 3000 word love letter to journalistic malfeasance that frontpaged - above, gasp, the Fold - last Wednesday had all the substance of the hole in a donut. Rush Limbaugh denounced it as Page Six tabloidery but that is to denigrate the subtle art of the gutter journalist who at least practises his nudge and wink with the deft sliminess Peter Lorre trademarked in Casablanca. This piece of twaddle, on the other hand, was character assassination unworthy of a 7th Grade playground. The aforementioned Jason, coming up empty for the Nth time, at least had the cojones to make something up. Decent man that he is he felt obliged to pay that much respect to his readers' - and his bosses' - expectations. This story, no, this piece - as in 'piéce de (pas) resistance' - is akin to the Emperor yelling out to his adoring subjects "Look, look I'm really butt-naked'.
Bill Keller, the august editor who foisted this farrago on us, is no Jason Blair. He has been, as we have learned to say, 'vetted'. Earned his stripes, so to speak. Worked his way up. A hard-bitten hack wise in the ways of his rough and tumble profession. Old Blood 'n Guts himself. Lou Grants' Lou Grant. A guy you'd be happy to have a Bud with. In other words, he can walk, talk, scratch his nose and chew gum all at the same time. What dark spirit moved him, we ask, to kamikaze himself like this? It's so, so, what's the word? Yes, pointless. Self-defeating is another word. Stupid, inane, wrongheaded, career-disenhancing. That's a bunch of other words.
All of which brings us back to old Sam Coleridge who could be sharp as a tack when he wasn't stoned out of his fine mind on opium products.
'Unless you understand a writer's ignorance presume yourself ignorant of his understanding.'
What applies to writers applies a fortiori to editors.
There has to be more to this, surely. Are Bill and Boss Pinch launching a kite in the hope that a sudden squall from nowhere will send it soaring? Are they just biding their time and waiting for what British Prime Minister Harlold MacMillan called 'events, dear boy, events' to finish the job for them?
As the photographer said to the porn star, 'We must await developments'.