Nobody likes to be remembered as a common scold or, to press into service a Yiddish word that has crept into the English language, a kvetch. I'd like to glide out on a pair of gossamer wings. David Maraniss, The Post's southwestern correspondent, has made it easy for me.
His feature on the front page last Sunday should be read by every editor and reporter at The Post. I say this only because I have recently discovered that few staffers read their own paper very thoroughly.
The article I refer to was in low key -- no fancy words, no grandiose sentences, no clever turns of phrase, nothing spectacular. It will win no prizes; it is not the stuff appreciated by prize committees and award judges. It's just one of the best features I've ever read and perhaps the only story in this newspaper that I feel was too short.
Mr. Maraniss went to Zachary, La., for a firsthand account of how a home town welcomes back its local football hero. These stories are a cinch. You write about all the hoopla, everybody is willing to talk, they all knew the homecoming king would make it big, and the governor comes down from the capital.
This account was not so much a story about Redskins quarterback Doug Williams as a sensitive outsider's view of the little town where the quarterback grew up. It was about his friends and relatives, with a few hints about how they all -- including the modest Doug Williams -- got where they are today and where they were only yesterday, when Rosa Parks decided to move up front. Good reporting, good writing, good stuff.
In my role as internal critic of The Post, there probably isn't a single reporter, editor or member of management whom I haven't at some time slighted or offended. It says a lot for management that I'm still here and a lot for the editorial people that I'm still alive. I don't know why, but they don't take kindly to criticism. This has been called to my attention on a number of occasions. The one I remember most was when the secretary to the chairman of the board looked startled when she walked into an elevator and saw me standing there alone. "I'm always amazed," she said, "when I see you walking around this building without a bodyguard."
There are still some things I do not understand, such as The Post's preoccupation with what are irreverently referred to around the newsroom as "holy shit" stories -- an ugly term investigative reporter Bob Woodward shamelessly admits to having fathered. It refers to the blockbusting stories that sometimes get the paper prestigious prizes, not to mention plenty of hot water and occasionally an expensive lawsuit. They are one of the strengths of The Post, of which there are many (tolerating an ombudsman with an unrestricted hunting license is another).
But too often these stories are pursued at the expense of everyday stories important to everyday people. Sometimes, The Post even ignores stories -- without apology -- that transcend the drab and the routine, such as the 80-year-old black man who was flown to Washington in the National Guard plane of the governor of Alabama to receive a coveted award from Chuck Yeager at the Smithsonian for his outstanding contribution to aviation. Not a word in The Post, even though at least four top editors I queried knew about the event well in advance. Photographers and reporters that night were all too busy pursuing God knows what. That same evening I observed a reporter and a photographer from The Post briskly covering an ego cocktail party at the Mayflower.
More than a year ago, the board of directors at Wolf Trap elected a new chairman. When I inquired why this was not reported in The Post, I was informed that it was not a "very powerful" job. To this day, readers haven't been informed that John McLucas, a physicist, former secretary of the Air Force and one-time head of the Federal Aviation Administration and chief executive officer of Comsat, devotes much of his busy life to community affairs.
This attitude is perhaps symbolic of The Post's relationship to the arts generally, which I feel deserve far more attention and space than they get. As an example, when theater and music reviews do appear -- sometimes days late -- they frequently run in one edition and that's all. This is a disgrace. I do hope the editors responsible are reading this.