So, Virginia, Can Santa Claus Whup Capt. Waskow?

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By: Press Release | National Society of Newspaper Columnists

In conjunction with the publication of an authoritative column collection, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists is choosing the 10 best U.S. columns in history.

NSNC member John Avlon, senior political columnist for Newsweek-The Daily Beast, has selected 15 columns from his book Deadline Artists, and the NSNC is running a survey at asking for them to be ranked. Some of Avlon’s choices are classics all schoolchildren should know: From “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” (Francis Pharcellus Church, 1897) to “The Death of Captain Waskow” (Ernie Pyle, 1944).

Yet the journalist has selections considering Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terror attacks.  Many prominent correspondents are included, such as H.L. Mencken, Mike Royko, Jimmy Breslin and Molly Ivins.

The poll can be accessed at From this web page a free 31-page PDF of all 15 columns can be downloaded. The survey also has been emailed to NSNC members. It will close at noon Eastern, Thursday, June 23, 2011.

Avlon will announce the results June 25 in Detroit at the 35th annual NSNC conference, after which they’ll be posted at as well.

Avlon is co-editor of Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns, to be published Sept. 15 by Overlook Press.

The book’s other editors are Errol Louis, a New York commentator for broadcast and print, and Jesse Angelo, editor in chief of News Corp’s digital publication The Daily.

Here are the 15 columns — headlines, authors and publishers — in order of publication:

    “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” — Francis Pharcellus Church — New York Sun — 9/21/1897

    “Gamalielese” — H.L. Mencken — Baltimore Sun — 3/7/1921

    “The Death of Frankie Jerome” — Westbrook Pegler — News Syndicate — 1/18/24

    “Amelia Earhart” — Walter Lippmann — New York Herald Tribune — 7/8/37

    “The Death of Captain Waskow” — Ernie Pyle — Scripps Howard — 1/10/44

    “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” — Red Smith — New York Herald Tribune — 10/4/1951

    “He Went All the Way” — Murray Kempton — New York Post — 9/22/58

    “It’s an Honor” — Jimmy Breslin — New York Herald Tribune — 11/26/63

    “Daley Embodied Chicago” — Mike Royko — Chicago Sun-Times — 12/21/76

    “A Short Story about the Vietnam War Memorial” — Molly Ivins — Dallas Times Herald — 11/30/82

    “Pithy into the Wind” — Dave Barry — The Miami Herald — 3/29/87

    “We’ll Go Forward From This Moment” — Leonard Pitts Jr. — The Miami Herald — 9/11/2001

    “The Halloween of My Dreams” — Marjorie Williams — The Washington Post — 11/3/04

    “Open Letter to America” — Chris Rose — New Orleans Times-Picayune — 9/6/05

    “Man of the Streets, in Three Suites” — Steve Lopez — Los Angeles Times — 12/4/05

Both Avlon’s new book and this related NSNC survey provide an opportunity to remind news media professionals and the public about the important role columnists have played from before the Revolution to the present, and going forward into the future.

At the conference, Avlon will serve on the panel discussion “Lies, Damned Lies, and Talking Points,” where political columnists give tips on how to cut through conventional wisdom to write about the upcoming election cycle without getting played by party spinmeisters.


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