Dear Aunt Sophie,
I never, ever read your column because it is beneath my dignity as the editor of a real newspaper. But I have an acute problem and am in dire need of advice from outside my organization.
The paper I work for (I won't name it here, but you probably know it - its motto is "All Our Views Are Fit to Print") hired an attractive young person of color who was caught embellishing some of his stories and faking personal interviews. You are probably not aware of it, but this is a no-no in Olympian journalism.
Once these lapses became public knowledge some people started blaming me. It's true that I knew he had a tendency to lie in print, but lying by our reporters is nothing new, although they usually manage to do it by innuendo and half-truth. But blaming me? How could anyone think I didn't do everything in my power to assure the integrity of his writing? In fact I distinctly recall telling him once to stop passing off fiction as fact. Of course I didn't put it quite that way, because that would have sounded rather crass and accusatory, and he might have thought I was disparaging his race, but I did ask him if he had ever considered writing a novel. He should have understood what I was trying to tell him. That he didn't grasp the seriousness of the question is not my fault.
This whole affair is particularly distressing because this young person was a jewel in our diversity crown. Diversity has been paramount to me ever since I experienced racism firsthand as a four-year-old on a trip to Hawaii. The people there kept referring to me as "Howly". I happen to be white and even at the age of four I found it very off-putting to have that fact constantly brought to my attention, so I decided that when I grew up I would devote myself to diversity.
How can I convince people that our paper has integrity? I am a firm believer in personal responsibility (except where tobacco is concerned), but other people are not, alas, as clear-thinking as I.
What a shame you didn't realize that the people you met in Hawaii were just trying to make an affectionate diminutive out of your name - they weren't calling you "haole", they were calling you "Howellie". They were trying to be friendly. If only someone had explained it to you, you might have devoted your life to something worthwhile. How sad, ruining a perfectly good newspaper because of a boyhood misunderstanding. It's a good thing your name wasn't something like "Pinch."
It is indeed distressing to see pandemonium at the venerable institution that prints all the news that fits. The acuity of its reporting has always been awe-inspiring. For example, the recent front-page piece contrasting life on Park Avenue above and below 96th Street was a stunning piece of revelation. Same avenue, rich, poor, two different worlds. Brilliant!
I'm pleased as Punch to see that you believe in personal responsibility, although it does come as a surprise. I, like many people slurping latte over your headlines, was under the impression you thought gun manufacturers were responsible for school massacres, and fast-food outlets chloroformed parents so they could force-feed their skinny kids until they look like sumo wrestlers.
But to get to the crux of your letter - so people don't believe your paper any more. Why worry? No one believed Bill Clinton either, but he still won a second term. You should concentrate on convincing the public that your paper has only the best intentions - hires not wisely but too well, so to speak. You've performed such yeoman's service in the name of diversity that I'm sure your devoted readers will just shrug off this tempest as they check out the latest corrections.
You'll probably be told your resignation will not be accepted under any circumstances, and then, in a few months, you will leave quietly for "family reasons." You won't really have to fall on your sword or drink hemlock. There are worse fates. You'll be able find work. I have the feeling CNN will be looking for a new chief news executive around that time and if Baghdad Bob isn't available the job will be yours.
Good luck and God bless.