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The Paper Waste



Age Doth Not Wither

The decline of the New York press continues apace. Last year saw the invasion of sensation-mongoring marsupial Rupert Murdoch; it has taken the money-mad Presslord Erom Down Under less than a year to transform the New York Post fro a blue-collar version of the New York Times into a frighteningly creditable imitation of the New York Daily News.

But if the rep of the once-respected Post leaves us misty-eyed, the decline of her rich cousin in Times Square can inspire only sniggers of contempt. Like an aging East Side beauty striving desperately to recapture her high-flown days on the deb circuit, the Grey Lady has transformed herself into a journalistic shoehorning maxi-bopper, forcing herself into modern dress and trying to persuade potential suitors that she really is the object of their dreams.

It's not that the new features introduced in the New York Times campaign to attract the affluent young New York suburbanite crown are inherently worthless or revolting--although most of them are only marginally more interesting than John Denver lyrics. What really rankles is the utterly shameless way in which the empress is selling herself.

Consider, for example, the full-page "New New York Times" ad that ran in last Sunday's Week in Review section. Over a picture of a middle-aged suburban woman, the copy reads, "I drive a school bus. I've seen "Star Wars" three times. And found out in the Times how to build a log cabin."

Now that's just what New York needs these days--star wars and log cabins, a combination of Han Solo and Abe Lincoln. Oh well, maybe if we're lucky they'll dump James Reston for the Wookie.

Support Our Dictators

We can remember a time when The New Republic considered itself a liberal publication. Those days seem long gone. This month, it published two embarrassing articles by TNR Executive Editor Morton Kondracke, one on South Korea and the other on Taiwan.

In the first, Kondracke whines that Korea has gotten a raw deal in the U.S. press. Just because Park Chung Hee is supported by U.S. troops and aid doesn't mean we should scrutinize him more carefully than we do other dictators. Really, Kondracke writes, "it all seems no way to treat an ally." But if you don't scrutinize allies, who do you scrutinize?

Then there's Taiwan, which Kondracke describes in glowing encomiums as possessing a rapidly expanding, booming economy. The U.S. may have to "normalize" relations with China, but, Kondracke writes, it should keep in mind that if China is the force with which we have to deal, "perhaps Taiwan ought to be." Kondracke seems to ignore blithely the Kuomintang's firm grip on the Taiwanese; had he bothered to speak to any of the workers on the island--as he clearly didn't --Kondracke might have seen another side of the Taiwanese economic "miracles." Such as, for instance, low wages and an exploited people, a repressive government that represents a small elite, and U.S. domination.

We can't quite figure out what The New Republic thought it was doing in publishing these pieces--they don't even have anything to do with Israel.

Between the Reality and the Idea

The Real Paper is coming more and more to resemble the magazines it once touted itself as an alternative to, and the process is painful. Shortly after Newsweek ran its cover story on "Living Together," Cambridge's alternative weekly ran a similar piece on relationships that offered such profound insights as "It hurts as much to break up as it does to get a divorce." The only difference between the two was that the Real Paper included comments from gays.

She Doth Protest Too Much

Long-time Commentary contributor Midge Decter has done it again. We didn't think she could still surprise us, but in a surprisingly silly article in this month's issue (kindly reprinted for non-subscribers by The Boston Globe), Decter argues that the liberal reaction to the blackout looting in New York was essentially racist.

While she agrees that the unemployment rate is high in the ghettos, she believes there are jobs available--not pleasant ones, true, or those offering much chance for promotion, but jobs are there, and it's the fault of the unemployed that they turn to easier, faster, illegal ways of making money.

The looters, she writes, "were doing no such thing as expressing rage... They were having the time of their lives." The looters' behavior arose, she argues, out of the moral chaos that has resulted from liberals' misguided efforts to ameliorate ghetto conditions. All the liberal reformers have really managed to do is persuade the youth of the ghetto they are somehow disadvantaged and therefore cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Decter's evidence for her thesis seems to be a car ride through Harlem and Bedford-Styvesant. Certainly she doesn't seem to have talked to any of the people to whom she so glibly ascribes motives.

One is tempted to ask whether ghetto blacks and hispanics--who live in a world of burnt-out buildings, dismal employment prospects, and a welfare system that breaks up families and degrades recipients--really owe much allegiance to the moral system espoused by white intellectuals like Decter who live on the West Side by the river. How can she argue the looters are not angry at, not frustrated by the society that keeps them in the ghetto--particularly when she's never talked to them?

Black and White in Color

We always said Newsweek didn't need an editorial page because its opinions are so richly blended into its news stories. That bias now seems to have reached the magazine's extremities. Newsweek's cover for the story on the Bakke case: a black and a white male playing tug of war with a diploma. Not precisely the way supporters--or opponents--of affirmative action policies view the issue.

Of Rice and Men

Fox Butterfield, The New York Times' East Asia correspondent, is well known for his penetrating analysis of events in China on the basis of such salient symbols as Chairman Hua's hair style. He outdid himself this week, though, with a story on Vietnam apparently culled from a month-old speech by that country's prime minister.

Vietnam faces a serious rice shortage this fall, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong reported. Butterfield expands on that point, but in discussing the reasons for the shortage he points to "a combination of factors--a prolonged drought this year, government mismanagement and resistance to collectivization." In addition, Butterfield says, "with the end of the war in 1975, Vietnam lost large amounts of food aid to the South from the United States, and to the North from China."

While all of these factors are probably involved in the food shortage, Butterfield only hints at a significant one: the country is undergoing a transition to peace after three decades of war, and such transitions are rarely smooth. No one blamed the postwar food shortages in Germany on "government mismanagement"--certainly the Allies rushed in with aid. Blaming Hanoi for the problems it now faces seems, at best, somewhat narrow-minded, coming as it does from a citizen of the country that destroyed vast areas of South Vietnam's once-fertile fields.

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