As we are still technically in the season of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, let us pluck out one of these chestnuts and examine it more closely.
Herewith is an e-mail I received after my Dec. 17 column titled "The Baghdad Shoes Fly in Our Face, Too."
It illustrates a popular and recurring point made by those many right wingers who live in a permanent state of disgust. The writer of this one, with his lower-case preference, is apparently a Texas version of e.e. cummings without the poetic sense):
"it is ironic that in the same paper as your column appeared was an article about newspapers all across the country losing readers to the point that they are having to merge or simply go out of business. as I pondered this I turned to the op-ed page where you were making another attempt to be funny. I failed, I failed you wrote, the truth, the truth I thought. hmm hmm could these opinionated scribes be the downfall of the newspapers? disgusted in texas!!"
Ah yes, that old chestnut .. if only we opinionated scribes would not bash George W. Bush, the newspaper industry would be doing fine.
No, it wouldn't. The Internet is the problem - the whole industry is in the soup, both liberal newspapers and conservatives ones have declining circulations.
The fact is that many people don't depend on newspapers anymore for their news - they find it more convenient to go on the Web. (In frustration, I put the curse of the Aussies upon them: Let all their chickens turn into emus and kick over their patio furniture.)
People know you have to pay for a newspaper subscription but you can read this Web site and others like it for free.
To be sure, you have to buy a computer and you probably have to subscribe to a server but the news comes to you virtually free in the same sense that radio is free for anyone who buys a radio.
That is the problem for newspapers. It is the same problem faced by the world's oldest profession: How's a working girl going to make a living when everybody is giving it away?
If George W. Bush had never been bashed by an opinionated writer, the basic problem would remain.
Of course, it is true that some - OK, many - Bush lovers do give up newspapers because they can't stand criticism of the alleged great one. No surprise there - they are not famous for their open-minds. In fact, a more angry, vengeful group you would be hard-pressed to find, at least judging by my e-mail.
Just this week I saw a postcard from a couple of disgusted readers who had cancelled their subscriptions because they did not like the PG's cartoons, which, they said, were meant to brainwash people into thinking Bush and Cheney are evil. (Actually, it's only Cheney.)
So are we supposed to give up all cartoons? What a business model! Last time I looked Bush's approval rating was about 27 to 29 percent, depending on the poll, at historic low levels. If we cut the criticism of Bush, we would offend the 70 percent or so of Americans who think he is a failure.
My guess is that newspapers will fade away and transform themselves into brand-name Web sites. If you can't beat them, join them.
Sorry, boys. George W. Bush has little to do with it.