Verse XIII of the Swingin’ Hit “I’m a Crusty Old Fart Complaining About Kids Today”
Having given more than four years of my life to the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina – and crediting most of my future success to said paper – I feel pretty damned qualified in bitching and moaning about what has become of the Daily Tar Heel.
Last week, one of their columnists, a venomous right-wing guttersnipe named Jillian Bandes, wrote a piece saying that she wished every Arab coming near an airport would get a cavity search, being “sexed up” as they did so. Go ahead and read the article, I dare you. [Oops, it’s not there. This has replaced it. Anyone in the comments section find it somewhere? Yes! Thanks, Mr. The Budster!]
After an unusual uproar, the editor of the DTH fired her ass, not for being a racist asshole, but because she’d taken quotes out of context and misled her subjects as to her true intentions. It being a slow post-Katrina news cycle, Yahoo! picked up the story, and then the columnist fired off one last salvo in which she gives a shout-out to her Wiccan God of Venal Cruelty, Ann Coulter herself.
Now, we can get into racial profiling all you want: as an American with a heart, I feel as though none of my fellow countrymen should bear an unfair burden in our democracy, but as an American with a brain, I understand the end-game of racial profiling is a bunch of old Norwegian women with bombs. This girl’s article is reptilian hatred being sold as common sense, and it’s not even particularly original.
No, I would like to step back a little bit and say what I hate about this shit: it’s bad writing.
The editors of the paper should have smelled this car-fart for what it was: a naked attempt at stirring up controversy, and one girl’s pathetic lunge at the scraps of right-wing chaff being discarded by the likes of Coulter and Michelle Malkin. One may hate Coulter and Malkin, but at least they’re effective conduits of essentially evil misinformation; most of what I read on that DTH page scans like decongestant instructions.
I know how college moves at seven times the speed of the real world, thus everyone in Chapel Hill is sick of thinking about the Brandes brouhaha, and no doubt Jillian herself will use the publicity to land herself a coffee-fetching job at the conservative thinktank of her choice.
But the mediocrity of what used to be the brightest beacon of college journalism continues unabated. You may laugh and make deeply unoriginal “old jokes” about my perceived curmudgeonliness, but the Daily Tar Heel spawned Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yoder, 3-time Peabody and 10-time Emmy winner Charles Kuralt and, of course, Jeff MacNelly started his comics career there (and then won three Pulitzers).
In my day, the late 80s to early 90s, we were helmed by Jean Lutes – Doctor Jean Lutes to you – who would have NEVER allowed such claptrap to get near her paper. David Surowiecki was taking pictures (and would go on to capture the most horrific moments of 9/11), and current Nation reporter Matt Bivens was editing my column. Future professor at Utah State Brian McCuskey was writing on Tuesdays, now-Hollywood-writer Jim Rash had Thursdays, and they let me have Wednesdays. God, the Dream Team we had: Bill Yelverton, Laura Pearlman, David Rowell, Jennifer Wing, Mondy Lamb… these were people who recruited for and ran a paper that won basketfuls of awards every year.
Yes, the current DTH is run by 19-year-old kids. You know what? We were fucking 19 years old too, and didn’t let it get in our way. I’ve held off criticism for many years, first because I have WAY too much love for the DTH in my heart to wish any ill will, and secondly, because in college, the advice – or opprobrium – of older alumni is about as welcome as herpes simplex 3.
The only reason I bother is because that little student newspaper, tucked away in the virtually-windowless anus of the student union, gave life to every creative dream I’ve ever had. For a few short years, it gave me – a dorky, friendless, virginal violin player – as much social power in a major university as someone on our basketball team. It let me indulge in exorcising my past and gave me the confidence to dare string words together for a living.
The pinch-hitting DTH editor writes that this column “sparked an outrage that could be quantified as the largest in our history.” Oh how wrong you’d be. Forget the Vietnam War – the biggest scandal in DTH history occurred twenty years ago this week, when the editors put a quote by Nietzsche at the bottom of the paper: God is Dead.
What followed were thousands of letters to the editor, entire classes being overtaken by Nietzschian philosophy, liberals throwing water balloons at the crazy groups of galloping Baptists in the Pit, parents threatening to take their kids out of school, and calls for the student newspaper to be defunded. As a silent, brooding, scared freshman, I was stunned that so much dialogue had opened up a floodgate of opposing philosophy. I was IN COLLEGE and it was AWESOME. I ran to the DTH and signed up to report on anything they wanted. My first piece: the return of Halley’s Comet.
Get better, Daily Tar Heel. Some other silent, brooding, scared freshman NEEDS you.