No One Has Ever Asked

Ever since I became a journalist I have been held responsible for the actions of the newspaper that employed me.

This was never truer than in 1958 when Bill Knowland, then publisher of the Oakland Tribune, was running for governor against Pat Brown.

The Tribune, predictably, endorsed Knowland for the office, a decision that outraged just about everyone.

I don't know who they expected the paper to endorse, but all of my liberal friends were suddenly not speaking to me because I worked for an institution whose owner, an archconservative, had endorsed himself.

I argued that the man had simply validated his own ego. Why would he put his money in Pat Brown's bank account? And, anyhow, I didn't have a thing to do with it.

As it turned out, the endorsement meant little more than a guy jumping up and down shouting "Choose me!" prior to a kids' baseball game. Brown proved the point by dumping Knowland into political oblivion.

I came to realize that, whether I had anything to do with it or not, anyone who worked for a newspaper would be blamed for the newspaper's judgments, however questionable they might seem.

That was applied on a broader scale as television emerged on the scene and we became lumped together as the mass media. There were more of us, but it still didn't let us individually off the hook.

Barry Goldwater railed against us as sensation-seekers and Spiro Agnew jeered us as nattering nabobs of negativism, both of which caused the silent majority to rise as one and stone us with invective. Better they should have stayed silent.

*

Once that passed, however, things got pretty good. There have been occasional bursts of criticism toward the media, during which I've taken heat as part of the seething mass, but nothing on an individual scale. Until now.

It began early Sunday morning. I was still in bed when the telephone rang and a voice edged with anguish said, "What in God's name have you done?"

I turned to my wife Cinelli and said, "We do anything last night I ought to be ashamed of?"

Without rolling over, she muttered, "Unfortunately, no."

"Who is this," I said into the phone, "and what are you talking about?"

"It's Jenkins," he said, "and I'm talking about your stupid endorsement."

He went on to read passages from our editorial endorsing Pete Wilson for governor. It went kind of like, "You're a sweetheart, Kathy Brown, but, well, Pete's Pete and we gotta go with him." Only it took several hundred words to say it.

"I'm not responsible for newspaper endorsements," I said. "I don't even know who makes them. It's somebody on another floor, and I am never asked to participate."

"I'll tell you one thing," Jenkins said, "if I were one of you brown-skinned people, I'd be pretty p.o.'d."

"It's too early for us brown-skinned people to be p.o.'d," I said. "I'll call you after lunch in a rage."

*

Jenkins couldn't understand how a newspaper that hated Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant measure, could endorse a man who, as patron saint of white-bread California, had come out in favor of it.

I told him it was just one of those Great Mysteries of Life, like unexplained lights in the sky, but that wasn't good enough for anyone.

My phone rang constantly. Liberal friends condemned me, moderates were stunned and conservatives cheered. I hate happy conservatives.

The endorsement was on radio and television all day, prompting my sister Emily to telephone from Oakland, demanding to know how I could commit such an act against God.

"I didn't do it," I said, "and it wasn't against God, it was against, well, his friends."

At a party Sunday night I was about as popular as a pimple on the nose. Even the hostess, who is usually unfailingly gracious, kissed my wife on the cheek at the door and greeted me by saying, "Damn you."

My life has been hell ever since, and while I know it will do little good, I will explain again that no one on The Other Floor calls and says, "Whadda ya think, Al?" before deciding on an endorsement . . . or much of anything else.

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