Advantage: Powerline

Ten years ago, an old high school buddy and I wrote a book about our mutual favorite subject, Auburn and Alabama football. It was published in 1995 as “The Uncivil War,” and proved to be a strong regional seller, going back to press less than two months after publication. When we set out to promote the book, Scott Brown and I were surprised at how much trouble we had getting reviewed in the state newspapers. Radio and television were no problem at all (and fair to say, much more fun), but the book was barely noted in the four largest papers. It took nearly a year before I found out why.

I was appearing on a Montgomery, Alabama radio show one afternoon early in the 1996 football season, and remarked off the air to one of the hosts that despite the book’s success and subject matter (easily the most popular topic in the state at any given moment) we still hadn’t been reviewed in any of the big papers. “Well, that’s easy to figure out,” the host said. “Y’all aren’t in the fraternity.”

“Huh?” I asked intelligently.

“Neither of you two guys graduated in journalism. Neither of you has worked for a paper. Neither of you spent ten years covering junior-high track before you were allowed to write about college football. But then you come out of nowhere get published on your first time out. There’s a whole lot of guys who’ve been working in sports sections for ten, fifteen, twenty years who think that’s un-cool. Y’all aren’t in the fraternity, and that’s why they’re trying to ignore you.”

For a more recent example of newspaper parochialism, check out today’s Powerline Blog. John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson, having embarrassed Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial page editor Jim Boyd by calling him out on a frankly slanderous column directed at the two of them, got the opportunity to respond–very much to Boyd’s discontent. Boyd replied to the response on the same page, in one of the most tendentious, pompous, and unintentionally revealing looks into the media mindset that you’re ever likely to read. Here’s a tidbit of Boyd’s column:

We are in the middle of an important national event: the real-time confrontation of a political smear. In previous elections, the examination has almost always been in retrospect. Now the smear, against John Kerry’s military service, is being critically examined as it happens. Vigilance is required, and a little courage.

I see the recent commentary by John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson (“Unwrapping Kerry’s story of Christmas in Cambodia,” Aug. 18) as part of that smear. It did not meet what I believe should be the standards of the Star Tribune’s editorial pages. Such pieces should not appear here, and that one does so for the second time in 10 days pains me greatly.

I’ve no doubt that Boyd is pained by the reappearance of Hinderaker and Johnson–because these two “amateurs” simply buried the “professional” journalist on his own turf. The Powerline columns are pointed, fact-oriented, and light on invective. Boyd’s responses amount to nothing more than a few quibbles surrounded by a whole pile of ad hominem attacks, wrapped with a bow of silly self-righteousness.

Mr. Boyd, I’ll tell you what I previously told your like-minded collegue, Randell Beck of the Argus Leader (South Dakota):

You are a hack, and a dinosaur. You clearly can’t stand it that the “little people” out here aren’t subject to your personal political filter.

Get used to it. We don’t work for you, and… we aren’t terribly interested in your take on things. Your tar pit isn’t getting any smaller–but your influence is.

NOTE: There were two writers in the Alabama press who gave us more than a fair shake during the run of “The Uncivil War.” They were Clyde Bolton of the Birmingham News, then the dean of the state’s sportswriters, and Rick Harmon, the entertainment editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. Scott and I were and remain deeply grateful for their consideration and recognition.

As a second footnote, after the experience of writing the book, Scott became a professional sports writer himself, leaving a successful career as a computer programmer to go back to school and get a journalism degree. He is a staff writer at the Orange County Register (CA) today.