This was a difficult week. It saw Clarke Thomas, surely one of Pittsburgh's greatest newspapermen, mourned by his colleagues and friends. His memorial service Thursday was a fitting recognition of his extraordinary life. It moved all of us who were there, and perhaps in unexpected ways.
In the very week that priests distributed ashes to remind us of our mortality, there was Clarke's shining example to challenge every mourner with the implicit question: What will they find to say about us when our time comes? (Say not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.)
I fear my memorialists will have a hard time of it - he liked jokes! - but if I can't imagine what they will say then, I do know what people say about me now. Some of it is good and reassuring. Some of it, not so much .... I know, I know, at least they are reading.
The esteem in which Clarke was generally held was much on my mind as the negative reaction started to roll in about my column Wednesday concerning the uncertain future of the newspaper industry. The Scripps Howard News Service distributes the column nationally and it took a few days before readers in such states as California and Wyoming started to check in.
These were people for whom liberals are bad by definition, stupid and dishonest beings who hate America. Of course, they never knew anyone like Clarke, who was smart, honest as the day is long and a great lover of America. They don't know me either; they just assume they do because Rush Limbaugh educated them about the type.
These were people thoroughly accepting of the stereotypes peddled in the propaganda war that conservative politicians and their promoters have waged against the media, including newspapers, for the last 40 years.
Nor did the critics of newspapers who e-mailed me show the slightest understanding concerning the difference between opinion writers like myself who are paid to have a point of view and reporters who are charged with just reporting the facts. To them, it's all the same. Because I criticized conservatives in that column, that was taken as proof that all the reporters at the PG and every paper in America is therefore liberal.
Of course, I speak for no-one but myself, just as my conservative colleagues Jack Kelly and Ruth Ann Dailey do. But, remarkably, the local critics who wrote to me are so invested in their view of the PG as completely liberal that they can't bring themselves to admit that we have conservative columnists like Jack and Ruth Ann. They are nearly invisible to them. None so blind as those who cannot see.
As for finding a sense of humor in this crowd of critics, forget it. Undertakers would be too mirthful for this crowd.
I fear the dumbing down of America is just about complete. I once defined a journalist in my column as follows..... "A writer who is accused of bias by people who are hopelessly biased."
I recognize that even Clarke Thomas had his critics in his day, but he was unflappable. I fear I am a bit flappable, but it's been a tough week.