Sunday, December 15, 2013

Too Much Information Killed The Washington Post

I was born in 1954. By this time the Washington Post was well on it's way to dominating the Washington, DC newspaper market. Mainly this was due to some smart business decisions made by the top brass at the Post. What was happening was the rise of television. The Washington Post took advantage of the new media landscape. American family life during the 1950s and 1960s was very structured. The Post understood this while its main competitors, The Washington Star and the Washington Daily News, apparently didn't have a clue. These eventually failed newspapers continued to print and deliver afternoon newspapers while the Washington Post landed on your doorstep at 5 AM or so every morning.

I use to deliver the Washington Daily News. It was more convenient in many ways. It was a tabloid style like The City Paper is now and easy for little hands and arms to read. It was a smaller paper so those three flights of apartment stairs were much easier to deliver than my colleagues at the Washington Post had to deal with especially on Sundays. I believe the Star and Daily News themselves also operated out of convenience and tradition. They had always produced a paper in the afternoon since the beginning.

The history of this era is congruent with my family life. My father, like the vast majority in the middle to late 1950s, came home from work around 5 PM. On the three channels the cartoons that began at 3 PM were done entertaining the after school children. I preferred Captain Tug - a children's variety show playing cartoons intermingled with the host, the good captain. He was plying the waters of the Potomac River with his parrot Fantail sitting atop his shoulder playing the straight character. Incidentally, playing the straight character back then meant taking the role of say a dead pan actor setting up his comedic partner like Bud Abbott did for Lou Costello. It didn't mean you were necessarily heterosexual although we assumed everybody was back then. How times change. It was years before I realized that Captain Tug bugger was sitting in a studio the whole damn time and never got near the Potomac river. It was a good thing too. In the 50s and 60s the river smelled pretty bad. The fish floated on their sides most times and the water was always real foamy. It was something about phosphates I believe and the factories upriver all had discharge pipes that led directly to the Potomac.

While all of this history will surely bring a smile to any 50 something lifelong Washingtonian, the fact remains that my dad got home at 5 PM and took ownership of the TV. In fact, my role was reduced to the television technician. We had giant TVs a yard or two high and wide as well...but the screens were tiny and in black and white. Also TVs came with buttons not now found on today's models. There was the "horizontal" and the "vertical" as well. These allowed you to keep your TV from flipping. Well that's what we called it. You would be watching a show when a fat black line might appear at the top or bottom of your picture. Then it would begin to creep up or down taking that portion of the screen with it. As the top or the picture disappeared, it would ease up from the bottom of the screen under the black line. The technician, me, would need to get up and twist the knob clockwise or counter to force that damn line up and down. Finally, you'd get the picture centered perfectly and start to slip back to your seat. As you got about three feet away from the set the line would appear at the bottom again. I would stop and turn to go back and tune it in again. As I moved back towards the set the line would disappear. So I'd turn to go to my seat and only get a few steps when the damn line pops up again. Back and forth it was the duty of all of us 5 year-old television technicians to mainly control the horizontal. The vertical gave you much less problem but I can't say why. Also, the channel changer was a round dial with about thirteen clicks on it. But our network Washington channels were 4, 7 and 9 - NBC, ABC and CBS respectively. Naturally impatient kids everywhere twisted the dial violently left and right until it would no longer stay on the channel easily. Finally, there was the volume knob which my father used liberally meaning whenever a commercial came on the set. It was the only knob my father was technically qualified to use. There was no such thing as a remote control. Remote control was having to behave because your father would be getting home at 5. My father advised me once that if there were any problems at school they were my fault. So I said but what if.... He said it was always going to be my fault. So from his office he could remotely control my behavior. But I'm sure he might have killed for a real television remote control. Sadly, even though the last ten years of his life he spent with his remote control, by that time the technology was moving so fast that the technical requirements were far beyond his understanding of things electrical. But he learned how to work the mute and that seem to fill his needs.

As I said at 5 PM Dad commandeered the TV. The only time from then until your bedtime that he wasn't watching TV was when we all were eating dinner at the dinner table. In the modern world a little thing like dinner has little effect on one's ability to access video and all children now can work a joy stick in one hand and a sandwich with fries in the other. But dad would immediately watch the news - local then the national broadcast. We'd eat that real dinner table dinner then return to the living room to watch dad's TV shows. Mostly these consisted of the cowboy show. He had a fondness for these cowboy dramas. Every Sunday Bonanza would be playing and Raw Hide or Bat Masterson or the Rifleman during the weeknights. The point is there wasn't much on the three networks but it was relatively entertaining for those simple times. The last thing you'd catch dad doing was reading the paper...not when Chuck Conners was shooting outlaws anyways.

In the morning it was an entirely different matter. It wasn't until 6 or 7 AM that the networks would even have programming to watch. Before that it was a round looking test pattern with their network logos as well as a constant ringing tone that was certainly annoying. Then they'd start up with the Star Spangled Banner followed often by some religious show. Soon we kids got those morning cartoon fixes just before being rushed off to school. But it was a programming desert for the adults. Ah...but there laid the Washington Post on your doorstep. You could grab it while still wearing your pajamas and bring it inside to read. You could read it on the toilet. You could read it while eating breakfast at that same table where television viewing was verboten.  Drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette or two and reading the paper were as natural as they were pleasing in their combined use. In the morning the only paper was the Washington Post. Those evening papers would be telling you the same things that the TV news would be broadcasting at the same time. The Post's subscriptions grew into the millions while their competitors shriveled and died.

After watching dad I followed suit with the morning trio of coffee, cigarettes and the Washington Post. Today I only still use coffee in the form of strong espresso. The other two I have sworn off. The cigarettes for obvious reasons. The Washington Post on the other hand was a process...one that went from love to disgust and mistrust. In the beginning it was the four of us every morning. I sipped my coffee, smoked my cigarette and read the Post. The paper had something in it for everybody. It had comic strips to hook the kids young on reading the paper. Of course I've found that many go through their entire adult lives and never progress past the funny pages and naturally the horoscope. If you wanted to buy or sell anything you called the Washington Post. On the retail level if you wanted to buy a second hand car you'd go to the classified section where you'd find pages of used cars being sold by owners and car dealers alike. The same for Real Estate, boats and you name it. If you can't there was a miscellaneous section. The point is there were literally dozens of pages just for cars. And don't forget about the employment section. If you needed a job or had a job to offer you went to the Washington Post. It was that simple. When I took the buyout at the end of 2009 the automobile classified section was the car classified column inch or two of perhaps eight or ten cars. They still had some classified display ads from the auto dealers but the dealerships were losing their asses off. So they figured out ways to engineer ad problems to get free or cheaper ads. DARCARS was especially good at getting free ads from the Post. My hat's off to them. They got me once for a write off.

Before moving forward I must stress how respected the Washington Post was. They broke the Watergate story that brought down a presidency for tapping one phone - the Democrat party office. Today's presidents tap everybody's phones but nobody blinks an eye or grins at the irony. However, the Post was a big part of our lives. It did have something for everybody organized in sections that you could go right to. It could be the Sports section talking up the Redskins especially during the 70's and 80's when they were competitive on the field and not just on Danny Snyder's bottom line. There was the main section for the dads complete with left/right commentary at the very back of the section. It showed them how they should think and feel about everything from God to politics depending if they identified themselves as liberal or conservative. For example, my dad read William F. Buckley. If Buckley was for it so was dad.

The Style section was there waiting for the mommies. Oh the average conditioned modern person will think "how sexist!" Perhaps so but it was the way it was. As I warned earlier, life was very structured. The roles for men and women were as well including in the papers and with television programming. That's why the soap opera dramas were on in the early afternoon for the many housewives of the day. My mom was one of the rare moms who worked. But grandma never missed one of her "shows."

My need for the Post even stretched into the late 1980s when in London for the first time I couldn't get a Washington Post or a decent cup of coffee. It made a guy want to take up smoking again just to get even with the universe for this barbaric outrage. But I didn't.  By the 1990s I was much more politically active and began noticing omissions by the Post on some big stories. It was a process of several years to be finished with the paper. Once I began working at the paper again in 1999 the paper was already leaving a sour taste in my mouth. In 2006 after watching Richard Gage of Architects and Engineers of 9/11 Truth I realized two things. The 9/11 attack was done by rogue insiders within the very government now claiming to protect us and the top people at the Washington Post knew all about it. I sent them an email from my desk at work in Ad Operations explaining the cogent details of the plot. There I sat typing thinking myself the next Bob Woodward bringing another scoop to the Washington Post. I sat down with my manager and also told him what I'd learned and gave the Architects and Engineer's website. I was ignored by my manager and the editors at the Washington Post. How could each ignore something as simple as those three towers falling as fast as a rock free falls yet the government claims the buildings crashed through themselves floor by floor all the way to the lobby? That meant, in effect, that Newton's apple could drop freely to the ground while another apple hit tree branches yet both miraculously hit the ground at the same time. That notion would be patently stupid and the need for rocket scientists to sort it out completely unnecessary. I learned about the speed of free falling objects in eight grade, I remembered the lesson and I didn't even pay keen attention to my studies.

That's when it became obvious the Post was in on the job or at least helping the cover up after the crime. After 2006, though I worked there for three more years, I never felt the need to read the Washington Post except perhaps to see what they were trying to get me to believe. I've found you can get at the truth very often by seeing what liars wish to get you to believe.

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