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As a Berkeley resident who still insists he's a Chicagoan, it's nice to see a Royko remembrance (see "I Like Mike"). But one point that Weisberg raises about Slats Grobnik and Royko's occasional fictionalizing and whether readers understood it bothers me. It doesn't give enough credit to readers, for one thing, and it neglects the implicit bargain columnists strike with their audiences to be on the level.
It seems like everyone I knew who read his column--and that's nearly everyone I knew growing up, even in the suburbs--understood that Slats and others were inventions. And everyone, I thought, knew the difference between the columns in which Royko would create a situation to make a broad point and the columns in which he was talking about flesh-and-blood people and life-and-death matters. When he got someone real on the spit, you could smell it.
One of the big differences between Royko on one hand and Mike Barnicle and similar truants on the other is that Royko himself didn't confuse his fictions with reality, and he didn't promote confusion about them. Whatever license he had was earned over a long, long time by drawing a clear line between his creations and his journalism, and by scrupulously honoring an unarticulated deal with his readers that he wouldn't lose track of which was which, so they wouldn't, either.
In his "Assessment" of Matt Groening, A. O. Scott says the success of The Simpsons "resulted from the unlikely collusion between Groening ... and Rupert Murdoch." Not really. The real creative story is the collusion between Groening and James L. Brooks, former Mary Tyler Moore Show staffer and creator of flicks such as Broadcast News and Ordinary People. Brooks (and his protégé, Sam Simon) brought with him the story discipline that made The Simpsons such great television. (For the first few years all three men shared the "created by" credit, but that has since changed.) The staff of talented, bitter ex-Ivy League writers, led for years by Conan O'Brien, is responsible for the show's lasting greatness. Groening's a genius and all that, but any moving picture is a collaboration, especially in weekly comedy TV. Writers covering televison and movies should tell their readers that the auteur theory isn't really relevant, especially when a new episode (complete with perfect three-act story structure!) needs to be cranked out once a week.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Lack of Resolution
To Michael Kinsley's on-the-mark "Readme" about linguistic dodges served up by "thoughtful" commentators on the conflict in Kosovo, let me contribute the following, perhaps the grandest of them all--the congressional resolution of "support for our troops." I've never been on the receiving end of such support but, at the risk of appearing ungrateful, I would probably rather know whether Congress also happened to support the mission I was being asked to risk my life for.
I read Jacob Weisberg's column that J.C. Watts Jr. attacked as racist. I'm no fan of Watts. I think you are right that the Republicans place him in the forefront because he's black. The party is trying to appear inclusive when it really is not. However, to say that is his position is a result of affirmative action is offensive. Your premise that affirmative action promotes or gives positions to people of color who don't deserve or are unqualified for these positions is what I find racist.
It's the promulgation of ideas and derogatory comments such as yours that debases affirmative action, and misleads and misinforms people about affirmative action policies. Affirmative action is just that--affirmative. It gives people who are qualified and knowledgeable an opportunity to display their skills. It opens doors that might have otherwise been left closed because of race. It promotes the inherent value of diversity in any given organization or business.
Call J.C. Watts Jr. a front man, or say that he's being prostituted, or whatever. But don't say he's a result of affirmative action.