Joe Queenan  

Joe Queenan  

A weeklong electronic journal.
Oct. 16 1996 2:47 AM

Joe Queenan  

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Day Two
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 1996
       In The Book of Guys, Garrison Keillor has a great story about a politician who is at war with his horrendous local newspaper. If memory serves directly, the politician's wife tells him to stop worrying about the incompetence of the local rag because a good newspaper can never ever be as good as you want it to be, but "a bad newspaper is a joy forever."
       This sentence perfectly captures my feelings about the festively idiotic Gannett paper that services the town in which I live. Because the NewYorkTimes has no interest in covering the prosperous suburbs that ring the city, that task falls to the inept employees of the Gannett organization. You would think that with 61 percent of the American people living in the suburbs, and with an awful lot of power and money concentrated in places like Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey, the paper of record could ax a couple of its rock critics--who only seem to write about bands with names like The Avaricious Ferrets anyway--and hire a couple of people to cover the suburbs instead.
       But no. The Times would rather stick to its copious supply of incompetent stringers and limit its coverage of the 'burbs to Sunday supplements brimming with features about resourceful gardeners and orthodontists who took up the cello at age 50. So if you want to know what's going on in the greater suburban area, you have to read the Gannett paper. This is a fate worse than death.
       It's not just that the DailyNews gets every story wrong, misses the point of every political struggle, falls prey to every kind of spin, routinely misquotes everyone it comes in contact with, and unfailingly runs incomprehensible or inaccurate maps. You expect that from the people who brought you USAToday, an attempt to make bouillabaisse from 150 cans of generic chowder. No, what makes the Gannett paper so special is its heroic attempt to turn every last news item into a story with a specifically local angle.
       "North Salem resident David Letterman" is one of my favorites, as is "Liam Neeson of Pound Ridge." And silly old me thought these guys were Hoosiers or Celts. When TWA 800 went down in July, the paper moved heaven and earth to find every local angle imaginable, as if victims from Pittsburgh or Indiana were less worthy of our grief. When I wrote a book about Dan Quayle a few years ago, the part that the paper decided to mention concerned my attempt to contact the ghost of Jim Morrison to see if he knew who Dan Quayle was. Why did the paper cite this unusual passage? Because the psychic I used as an intermediary between me and the dead rock star was based in White Plains, N.Y., five miles down the road.
       The thing that is most endearing about my paper's herculean effort to localize every story is the editors' golly-gee attitude toward the news. Stories are always written with that flustered, amazed, buttons-poppin'-with-pride attitude of, "Right here in lil' ole Westchester County, sumpin' 'portant happened yesterday." Having persuaded themselves that they are living and working in rural Mississippi--which is where they all belong--the staff always seems amazed to find that people like Ivan Boesky, Carl Icahn, Mariah Carey, or David Letterman actually live in the same county as them. It does not seem to have occurred to Gang Gannett that wealthy, powerful people often live in the suburbs of New York, London, and Paris, as there are large houses there and places to keep one's horse. The Gannett staff are always baffled by such eccentric behavior.
       "Believe it or not, dear reader," each story seems to say, "a large number of rich, famous people are living right here in the suburbs of poky old Gotham. Who'd a thunk it?"
       I love this paper. This paper speaks to me. I only wish the paper had been alive in the time of Christ:
NAZARETH MAN SLAIN IN GOLGOTHA FRACAS
TRI-PROVINCE-AREA HARLOT WEEPS
JUDAS ISCARIOT, YONKERS RESIDENT, FOUND HANGED
       The paper will be sitting there, waiting for me, when I get home this afternoon. I know it will not fail to amuse me. It never does.