When I was a wee little high school journalist, toiling away for the monthly College High Nautilus, I had visions of myself working for the New York Times. I expect most folks who wanted to be reporters had that fantasy. My byline on the great Gray Lady herself, perhaps on a feature story that offered some great human insight. Or maybe with an investigative piece that shook the corridors of power and sent malefactors scurrying for their lawyers to start arranging plea bargains.
Lately, the Lady's been a little haggard. Circulation figures slump, public opinion of the paper isn't as high as it used to be and meteoric drops in ad revenue have given the parent company a case of cash flow hemophilia that doesn't seem to have much of an end in sight.
But it's still had the aura of the national "Paper of Record." Step outside its sometimes bare-faced agenda for progressive change and you were still reading some of the country's better newspaper writers. You were still seeing what could happen when a free press responsibly used that freedom to explore the world, from the parts that nobody else might have thought to explore to parts that some wished to keep hidden from view.
Even though I've left the news profession, I still have a little memory of my awe the words New York Times can bring. But not anymore.
At Wednesday's press conference, Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked President Barack Obama what about the office he's held for 100 days "enchanted" him, among other things.
Enchanted? Enchanted? Seriously, a reporter for the New York Times has the opportunity to ask a question of the leader of the free world in a time of economic uncertainty, global unrest and who knows what else, and he throws out a warm fuzzy that People wouldn't print and Oprah Winfrey would say is a little too touchy-feely?
I never worked for a big paper, but I spent a lot of time around reporters young and old, and I can't think of a one of them that wouldn't laugh Zeleny out of a bar, take away his notebook and his lunch money and give him a wedgie over a question like that.
Here's a hint, Eric. That fella behind the blue podium, the one with the fancy seal on it? The guy who seems to have a lot of large, silent young men who stare at everyone real hard standing around him? He's the president -- he's not Brad explaining how he fell in love with Angelina even though he was married to Jennifer.
The press represents the people of this country, and we guaranteed your freedom because you hold leaders and the powerful accountable by telling us what they're doing. I'm only one of those people, but I don't give a flying unprintable how the president feels about his time in office. I bet I'm not alone in caring about what he's going to do and how he expects to do it.
Crusty old reporters used to be said to have "ink in their blood." Seems today like the Times is stuck with folks who have water in their veins.