SEATTLE ON STRIKE: ALWAYS APOLOGIZE, ALWAYS EXPLAIN
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
t SEATTLE, Wash. -- I am not a journalist. You knew that, right? Y= et I have been all my life a sort of camp follower. Editor of my high scho= ol paper, I wrote and drew cartoons for my college paper, published comic s= trips in London and New York newspapers. I was even a realeditor -- Cartoo= n Editor of the Saturday Review.
But, with no right to the title, I am still touched by what happens= to my brothers and sisters in the trade. The agony of some real journalis= tshere in Seattle, where the two papers were struck on November 21 by thePa= cific Northwest Newspaper Guild, might touch you as well.
The Seattle Times belongs to the Blethen family, except for = 49.5 percent, which belongs to Knight-Ridder. The Post-Intelligencer, known as the Pig Eye, is a Hearst paper. By some weird arrangement that= only a lawyer could love, the papers are editorially separate but have the= samebusiness office and are printed on the same presses. The strikers put = outtheir own paper, the Union Record.
Nicole Brodeur, a columnist for the Seattle Times, went out= with her co-workers but decided a month later to cross the picket line and= go back to her desk inside.
Naturally, she wrote a column about this. "Something died when Ipa= ssed colleagues to return to a newsroom that now holds considerablyfewer of= them. ... And I am well aware of the hypocrisy of being acolumnist who spe= aks for the Man On the Street -- then leaves him outthere." Finally, she w= rites, she took a friend's advice to do "what isright for you."
After an anguished column of explanation and apology, she ends, odd= ly enough, with the formula of hauteur: "Never explain, never apologize." = What the something was that died, or how the Man on the Street feelsa= bout the hypocrisy of his spokesperson, will remain to be seen, butBrodeur'= s muddled mea culpa naturally elicited an answer in the UnionRecord. It came from Steve Johnston, also a Seattle Times columnist. He g= etsabout in a wheelchair and has five children. This does not prevent hisc= arrying a sign on the picket line through which Ms. Brodeur, neverapologizi= ng and never explaining, walks every day.
Without naming his former colleague, he writes: "She said she agoni= zedover the decision before deciding to cross. Apparently this columnistth= ought her high salary was paid to her because she was individuallytalented,= not because generations of equally talented writers came beforeher and dem= anded to be paid fairly for their work. ... I may be known asa humor writer= , but even humor writers have to look in the mirror in themorning." (You ca= n find both columns archived on a Webpage for journalists:http://www.poynte= r.org.)
Workers at the P-I broke ranks and went back to work a few weeks ag= o. A settlement with the Seattle Times, when finally reached, left t= heGuild with a few bitterly small gains.
One of the stories in Camus' "L'Exil et le Royaume" (Exile and theK= ingdom) which, at the time of the strike, I happened to be reading atthe gy= m on my stationary bike, is about a strike. The title "Les muets"("The Mu= tes") refers not only to the strikers' refusing to speak to thevictorious b= oss who tries to ingratiate himself, but also to theiressential voicelessne= ss.
Columnists may be many things, but mute is not one of them. Yet Iw= ill finally stand mute on this conflict, with its bitter splintering ofold = friendships. I would, however, replace the slogan Never Apologize,Never Exp= lain with one more likely to promote healing. It is: Withmalice toward non= e, with charity for all.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofCompara= tive Literature at Princeton University.