‘Nobody Asked Me, But …’

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By: Greg Mitchell

When I was growing up in western New York in the 1960s, our celebrated local columnist was Bob Curran of The Buffalo Evening News. Curran was a culturally and politically conservative fellow who seemed not only middle-aged but from the Middle Ages, and I routinely found reason to question or even lament what he wrote (this being the late ’60s). A World War II veteran, he was profoundly pro-military at the height of the Vietnam protests, and his column always ended with the infuriating “Hang tough.”

Like any columnist worth his salt, however, he did keep me reading “Curran’s Corner.” And once a week he would write one of those classic Jimmy Cannon “Nobody asked me, but…” type of columns filled with bulleted talking (or barking) points that were easy on the eyes and soft on the head.

Nobody asked him, but Curran was apt to reply, “Bob Dylan sings like a dog in heat,” or “If these longhaired kids think this country is so bad they ought to try Cuba or the Congo.” When I moved to New York City in 1970, instead, he lost me forever, but I noted, upon his death last March, that he continued the column until 1999. So he evidently followed his own advice and hung tough.

Now that I have my own column here, I thought I would, from time to time, pay homage to Curran with my own “Nobody asked me, but…” commentaries. And if by chance there are any young people out there reading this (besides my son) feel free to consider me from the Middle Ages. So here we go…

Nobody asked me but:

* Thanks to the Democrats’ front-loading their primaries, won’t everyone — especially the press — be sick of the presidential campaign and the two candidates by June (if they aren’t already)?

* One of the most revealing statements I’ve seen concerning the media’s performance in the run-up to the Iraq war appeared this week on the Baltimore Sun Web site. It quoted Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times White House correspondent, describing (for a group of college political science students) what it was like to cover that tragically lame Bush press conference on the eve of the war: “I think we were very deferential because … it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.”

* I happen to be one of only a handful of authors who has ever had a book reviewed by new New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus — in The New York Times Book Review. The book was “Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady,” the year was 1998, and let’s just say we didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on Nixon and the lessons of McCarthyism.

* Guess who sent me four e-mails on Monday complaining about our recent coverage of him, one with the immortal words, “Keep on making American journalism better”? Jayson Blair.

* A surprising moment in David Remnick’s tribute to A.J. Leibling in this week’s New Yorker recounts how Leibling had his own Jayson Blair moment at the paper. Apparently he got fired from The New York Times sports department for repeatedly listing as the referee, in basketball box scores, someone named Ignoto. This is Italian for “unknown.”

* A popular e-mail circulating in the biz this week poses this quandary for press photographers: “You are shooting a flood disaster and suddenly President Bush floats by, about to drown and begging for your help. You have two options. You can save him or you can take a photo sure to win a Pulitzer. Here’s the question: Would you select color film or instead go for the simplicity of black-and-white?”

* Jon Pareles, excellent music critic at The New York Times, should have known better than to accept at face value the assertion by Mick Jagger at last week’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction that before Rolling Stone magazine arrived, “Rock performers were treated as third-class fly-by-night citizens having a hard time to form one brain between them.” In fact, most rock historians consider Crawdaddy “the first magazine to take rock and roll seriously.” It appeared in 1966, a full year before Rolling Stone was born. P.S. I was senior editor at Crawdaddy for much of the 1970s. One of my co-workers: Jon Pareles.

* E&P Managing Editor Shawn Moynihan, who pens a piece for our April issue (out on Monday) asking, “When is a rock critic too old to rock?”, is himself co-leader of a fine little band called Next Big Thing with a debut CD called “Radiate.”

* The performance of the press this week, attempting to cover the battle of the century — Richard Clarke vs. The White House — reminds me of a line from a song by a certain rock star who sings like a dog in heat, “And you know something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you?”

Hang tough.

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