by RIP RENSE
(Oct 11, 2006)
NOTE: READ AL MARTINEZ'S RESPONSE,
AND RENSE'S REPLY, AT END OF COLUMN.
I read a column
by a smug little fellow in L.A. CityBeat a while back in which he referred
to bloggers as “has-beens” hawking “vanity projects.”
“That’s me!” I said to
myself, although I’m not technically a blogger. The Rip Post is a
full-service website with poetry, daily news updates, weekly column,
animals, hot towels----all sanitized for your protection. Why, The
Huffington Post stole our name!
Then I read Al Martinez’s
Oct. 9 column in the remains of the Los Angeles Times, in which he
“. . .blogs are largely
the habitat of unemployed writers, enraged misanthropes, retired teachers,
aging journalists, and people who normally pass their time doodling or
making obscene phone calls.”
I suddenly realized---Al
must read The Rip Post! I mean, bing, bing, bing, bing,
bing, and well,
five outta six ain’t bad. I write more than I have ever written in my life,
yet I am definitely unemployed. It’s quite an achievement, in a way. As for
enraged misanthrope, my old man used to tell me that when he first
saw me in the nursery of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, “you did not look
too pleased with what you saw.” Things have not improved.
Al’s insights were
almost spooky. Retired teacher? True, I was never certified to teach,
but I did work for several years as an ESL tutor. Aging journalist? I should
put it on my business card. And I have doodled a very wonderful
Christmas tree that is soon to be offered as a card on this-here website, if
I can find a good printer. (Another vanity project!)
Al baby, how did you
was passing, though, a prelude to writing about his ex-Times colleague, Ken
Reich, now a blogger. Seems Reich had written what he termed a “satire”
about the the columnist’s positions on the so-called “war on
terror.” Al didn’t think much of Ken’s skills at parody, and I must say they
were every bit as impressive as Bush’s ability to extemporize in public.
But while I agree with Al
that Reich’s blogging was a ham-handed effort to excoriate Martinez for
so-called “liberal” views---and while I am living proof of Al’s assertions
about bloggers---I must insist that there is more to this blogger situation
than he might suspect.
For instance, there are a
great many aging bloggers who are young and have nose rings, and who have
never had a job in journalism, but would really like one. There are many
more who have some minimal, peripheral, or oddball claims to a minor
journalism career, and are legends in their own hinds.
| In fact, I thought of calling this very
column, “Mr. Anthropia.” (Steal it, ya bastards, and I’ll sue.)
There are others
who are gainfully employed in journalism, and maintain blogs as a
diversion, labor of love, an exercising of the ego, a cyber-calling card. A
guy named Matt Welch, who I believe emigrated here from Antarctica, parlayed
a blog into a job as an editorial page editor at Al’s very newspaper. Neat
trick! Okay, he was an editor at Reason Magazine, but I can’t imagine that
this prepares one for the L.A. Times editorial pages.
And a lot of bloggers
spend a lot of time blogging about a lot of other bloggers. Imagine writing
about what other people are writing about you, then reading what other
people write about what you wrote about them, then writing about what other
people are writing about what you've written about them. I blog, therefore I
am. As long as somebody else is blogging about me. The blog eats itself!
Well, blog apetit.
The more I think about
it, though, the more I think that Al’s stereotype about bloggers bogs down.
He’s guilty of blogal profiling. And I say this as an acquaintance of the
man, and one who has appreciates his writing and thinking, if not his monogrammed
shirts. But really, sir, enraged misanthropes? I mean, I give you two
words: Mike Royko.
Still, Al has a point
about the “enraged” part---the black bile generated by the Internet
could coat Texas, and I hope it does. (Note to Bush: can you use black bile
for fuel?) It’s a disgrace to humanity, or at least Reseda. But I have no
problem whatsoever with “misanthropes.” Anyone who takes pride in being a
part of the human race is nuts. In fact, I thought of calling this very
column, “Mr. Anthropia.” (Steal it, ya bastards, and I’ll sue.) Which brings
me again to. . .
Me. The favorite topic of
any self-respecting blogger, if that is not an oxymoron.
See, Al, let me explain
how I came to be an “unemployed writer/doodler.” Maybe you will be less
inclined to lump us web writers together, if not more disposed to kindliness
toward our unemployed, aging ranks. It all started. . .
Back when I was
freelancing, something I did for various rags over fifteen years. As I am
fond of saying, freelance writing is a lot like writing for free. A column---a
newspaper column in my home town---had always been my overriding goal, right
from the beginning of the ten years I spent actually employed(!) by L.A.
Enter the Times’s Life
and Style section, the title of which argues heavily against
demographics in journalism. Known more familiarly as Strife and Bile, this
early ‘90’s section had the virtue (some would argue failing) of printing
freelance columnal essays, of which I contributed about a hundred over a
three-year-period, thanks largely to S&B assistant editor Alice Short.
Darn my ego, but I began
to suspect that this might lead to an official column in the Times,
especially after Short invited me to write weekly---"I'm going to run your
column on Thursdays" were her magic words---and
when my last name began appearing on the jump-hed---just like a real
columnist! Your column? Every Thursday? So at that point, I stopped all other freelance writing in order
to generate a backlog of columns. Could a contract be far off?
No farther than humility
is from Oprah Winfrey. No farther than the Constitution is from Bush and
My column never appeared
regularly on Thursdays, and I was left with a whole lot of essays and a
whole lot of no checks. Short was promoted to L&S editor, and I could prompt
no explanation of my situation for three months. At last I wrote a
rather pointed letter, something about rolling pennies and eating spaghetti,
and in response was told that her editor,
Narda Zacchino---whom I had never even met---had overruled
Short's effort to hire me as a Times columnist. Why? Here are the reasons I was given, Al.
* “You’ve been known
to disagree with editors.” (Yes! Especially when they edit inaccuracies
and inanities into my copy. Please notify the Department of Wordland
* “You might have to
write about things you don’t want to write about.” (My response was: “What
do you think I’ve been doing for my entire career?”)
Finally, I was sworn to
secrecy and told the actual, deciding reason:
* “Narda says we have too
many white male columnists.”
(Whoops. Guess I spilled the beans.)
So you see, Al, I was
thwarted in a lifelong career goal of writing a regular column for my local
newspaper because of my gender and race. I believe this is called race and
sex discrimination, but because I was not on staff at the L.A. Times,
attorney Gloria Allred advised me that I really had no basis for suing. Boy,
was I all red.
And that pretty much was
that. Short hired a black woman to write a perfectly awful column, mostly
about how unhappy she was, and it didn’t last long. Strife and Bile
eventually became Calendar, the essays disappeared, and I did, too.
So I turned to the
Internet. Here, you see, I can fool people into thinking I’m a weekly
columnist, and by Blog, a couple of dozen readers buy the act. Yeah, I know,
I often spout off in ways I would never do in a newspaper, but then, that’s
part of the fun of the ‘net, see? A black bile a day keeps the doctor away.
But believe me, Al, I’d
much prefer to be writing for more people, and to be able to afford
monogrammed shirts, although I wouldn't be caught dead in one. The
problem is, guys with names like oh, Martinez and Lopez just seem to have
the inside track at your newspaper.
Martinez, Al [mailto:Al.Martinez@latimes.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 5:32 PM
To: 'Rip Rense '
Subject: RE: FYI
up until the end, rip, you had me nodding
and going uh-huh, and yup and right on and similar gestures and mutters of
agreement, and then you got to the tearful part and the ethnic part and you
lost me. if you truly think that steve and i have columns because we're,
well, latinos, i feel terribly sorry for you, and i better understand why
you have neither a job nor monogrammed shirts.
distortion. I never said you and Lopez (whose columns I like) have your jobs
because of ethnicity, now, did I, Al? I said that I was denied a column
because of my race and gender. This is fact. Your paper did this to me. And I don’t see any marquee columnists named Smith
there anymore, by the way. Hey, I didn’t make this up. Political correctness became a
sort of tyranny at the Times, and in society. I recall writing to you years
ago about a column in which you made an amazingly racist remark about Ojai,
“a little town for white people.” Tch tch, Al. If I’d written about, oh,
Pacoima being “a little town for brown people,” I’d have been fired. If the
facts of my situation don’t set well with you, I can’t help you. As for your
final comment, coming from a man of your wealth and success, it reveals an
astonishing lack of empathy and compassion for a fellow writer. In fact, it
is nothing short of snide and condescending. Just what I would expect from a
Times columnist in a monogrammed shirt.
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