There will be quite a commotion tomorrow morning when readers realize that two comic strips will be missing for eight weeks, a sacrifice at the altar of the annual fund-raising campaign for Children's Hospital, conducted by columnist Bob Levey. Additional space is needed for the column during the fund raising, and something besides prospective donors has got to give.
In previous years, polls were conducted to see which strips were expendable, but this didn't work too well. Mr. Levey last week joyously announced to his readers that there would be no such problem this year -- two comic strip authors had volunteered to suspend their appearances in The Post during the fund raising. That's when my phone came alive.
It isn't clear just where the information about the volunteers came from, but the apparent reaction reminded me of the way Swiss schoolchildren used to be taught patriotism. A classic painting from ancient times depicts a line of Swiss guards with one of them two paces in front, his head turned back, exhorting his brothers-in-arms. The commander had just asked for a volunteer to step forward for a dangerous mission. The schoolchildren were taught that the guard out front was giving his comrades the Swiss equivalent of: "I regret I have but one life to give for my country." Cynical historians believe he was snarling: "Who is the pig that pushed me?"
Anyway, the fat's in the fire. The ombudsman has a solution: any addicts who feel they can't survive the eight weeks without those two strips should send in a nice contribution for Children's Hospital with a request to Mr. Levey that they be mailed copies each week of the absent comics. How could anyone refuse?
On less-earthshaking matters, a constant annoyance is use of a word in a news story which actually has more significance in terms of substance than even the reader realizes. Author Mark Twain once observed that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
One of the most abused words in The Post is "defense." In a recent editorial, I counted the word "defense" about a dozen times in a discussion of what were actually military expenditures, which of course could be for defense or otherwise. "Defense expenditure" is somewhat different from "military expenditure." What is worse, in using the word "defense," the writer is adopting the language of the government without wrapping it in quotes, as a caution to the reader. And this is a big no-no.
There was a story a week ago Wednesday inside the Business section on the start of the New York trial for two Beech-Nut corporation executives charged with selling baby food that had fake ingredients, which increased the company's profit margin. The editors considered it important enough to send to New York the paper's editorial authority on corporate greed, Morton Mintz, even though his report was not exactly splashed all over the paper.
To me, the report of the opening of the trial was a nudge about my own failing when the story first broke last year in a 400-count grand jury indictment. It appeared on page nine of the Business section, in my opinion the most underplayed and unappreciated hot news story I've ever encountered in The Post.
I ranted about the handling of this story at the time in my internal memo, thinking this was the most effective way of getting a rise out of the editors responsible. I never mentioned it in this column. That's one guilt I'm rid of now.
While I'm ranting, I might as well rave too. The New York Times devoted a full page to Hofstra University's recent three-day seminar on the Nixon presidency, a "Washington Post story" if I ever saw one. And The Times sent one of its best correspondents from Washington to cover it. The Post dismissed the event with a paragraph in Style's Personalitiescolumn