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Fidel Castro is most certainly dead, but The New York Times is clearly lucky that Anthony DePalma is alive and well at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University.
It might knock on wood, too, that another Times reporter is long gone, especially since his ghost lingers when assessing Castro.
For starters, there was alumnus DePalma’s byline atop a superb 7,900-word obituary this weekend.
De Palma is a former Times foreign correspondent who actually left the paper in 2008 but not before preparing an early, “advance” obituary on Castro (as well as other Latin American figures).
Such advanced obits were once a pride of newspapers (and some TV newsrooms). That’s not the case given personnel declines. Indeed, I remember being obsessed with them long ago; tinkering and reshaping some for years — until the subject kicked the bucket and I added a few lines of reaction and a cause of death.
After completing Times assignments in Mexico and Canada in 2000, DePalma started an Americas beat for the business section. Chuck Strum, then the obituaries editor, asked him to take a look at a previously started Castro obit. DePalma would start anew and complete a first draft that year.
“I have been updating it ever since,” he told me Sunday, which happened to be the day before the first commercial flights to Cuba from the U.S began.
Castro took ill in 2006 and rumors persisted often about his death. Once, the paper actually grabbed DePalma’s handiwork and set it for publication. But that proved a false alarm; all the better since the original layout was prepared for a larger broadsheet page by then no longer in use.
DePalma tinkered, even agonized a bit over the years, including after a trip he took to Cuba in April. And, along the way, his research led him write a book about the late Times reporter, Herbert Matthews, “The Man Who Invented Fidel.”
Matthews is the ghost of the story. He was a Times editorial writer when he took a reporting trip to Cuba in 1957 and extolled Castro, then a very young rebel leader. He was spun like a top by Castro and romanticized the Cuban. Matthews’ portrait of a supposed freedom-seeking non-communist became big news.
Matthews’ puffery evolved into professional notoriety for him and the paper. Still, DePalma left the final words of his many-years-in-the-making obituary to Matthews, who died in 1977. They read:
“’We are going to live with Fidel Castro and all he stands for while he is alive,’ wrote Mr. Matthews of The Times, whose own fortunes were dimmed considerably by his connection to Mr. Castro, ‘and with his ghost when he is dead.'”
After a tough double-overtime loss to Ohio State on Saturday, brilliant and animated University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh asked Grand Rapids Press columnist David Mayo what he saw on a key, disputed play. “Short,” Mayo said, meaning he thought that Ohio State got a lucky first-down call. “Short,” the coach bellowed back.
But, Mayo later wrote, “that’s as far as it goes in agreeing with the Michigan coach.” Mayo hammered a whining post-game harangue. You don’t “dump all over the game, and spend virtually the entirety of your post-game press conference besmirching the integrity of the officiating performance, and generally coming off as consumer of the sourest grapes.”
“Harbaugh has been around Michigan long enough to know that victory is expected but a certain grace in defeat is demanded. He is arguably the most interesting figure in college football and seems to get just about everything he wants at Michigan. Along with that comes some obligation of decorum.” (Grand Rapids Press) “Officiating is always a loser’s lament.”
An important, somber look at ISIS’ legacy
Donald Trump, his national security team and journalists opining about ISIS, Syria and Iraq had best read this incisive, woefully melancholy take by Liz Sly, Beirut bureau chief of The Washington Post:
“The Islamic State is being crushed, its fighters are in retreat and the caliphate it sought to build in the image of a bygone glory is crumbling.”
“The biggest losers, however, are not the militants, who will fulfill their dreams of death or slink into the desert to regroup, but the millions of ordinary Sunnis whose lives have been ravaged by their murderous rampage.” (The Washington Post) Yes, those are the adherents to the same Islam branch the terrorists claim to follow and the very people it claims to champion.
She quotes one Iraqi tribal leader thus: “ISIS was a tsunami that swept away the Sunnis.” Of the 4.2 million Iraqis displaced by ISIS, the vast majority are Sunnis.
The morning babble
“Fox & Friends” groused about Hillary Clinton backing the Jill Stein recount, calling it a money-grabbing “pipe dream,” with the chyron “Hillary’s hypocrisy — Oct: She attacked Mr. Trump’s results refusal.”
Ditto CNN’s “New Day,” which focused on Trump demurring during the campaign about whether he’d accept a losing result. As for Kellyanne Conway bashing Mitt Romney as a possible Secretary of State, Alex Burns argued that what you see is what you get with the Trump camp — that is, there are often very public divisions. Meanwhile, the estimable London-based Nic Robertson reported from Havana about the important symbolism of this morning’s first American Airlines flight, especially for younger Cubans.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mark Halperin maintained that some hard-core folks on Team Trump want Romney to apologize for campaign criticism before a job is offered. Joe Scarborough cited multiple unnamed sources in claiming Conway went “completely rogue” by attacking Romney and that Trump was furious as he still mulls the big foreign relations post.
A Cuban-American journalist’s impassioned post-Castro take
Achy Obejas is a wonderfully talented writer and former longtime Chicago Tribune reporter who directs the M.F.A. in Translation program at Mills College in Oakland, California. She was born on Cuba, was taken out at age 6, returned later for a few years, then went back to Chicago. She feels strange, relieved, sad. She’d been waiting so long for Castro’s death, now it’s come to pass.
“Fidel didn’t merely contain multitudes: He took all of our destinies and redesigned them. Who would I be if Fidel’s revolution hadn’t happened and my parents hadn’t left? Who would those who remained on the island be if those of us who left had stayed by their side? Who would any of us be if Fidel hadn’t caused this rupture in our lives?”
“After all the headlines and the shouting, after all the calls from all the places we Cubans have been scattered, this is what haunts us.” (The New York Times)
A special holiday sale in L.A
Yes, the Los Angeles Times was offering this super-duper deal: 75 percent off a digital subscription! “Limited time only, deal ends 11/30/16.” You ready?! “It doesn’t get any better than this — only 99 cents a week for 24/7 top-quality journalism and all the stories you care about.”
Yes, only 99 cents a week for 24/7 top-quality journalism. It’s a tidy example of the newspaper industry’s self-inflicted wounds: short-selling itself by giving away quality content. The only thing missing from this deal is a 1970s’ magazine-like offer of a free toaster.
A thumbs-down score at ComScore
ComScore, the big media measurement and analytics firm, “gave its investors a pre-Thanksgiving turkey Wednesday evening in the form of another disclosure about improperly recorded revenue.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“In a filing buried after the market closed ahead of the holiday, the media-measurement company said it would need to adjust the accounting treatment for some past monetary transactions, primarily because of errors related to timing of revenue recognition. ComScore told investors Sept. 16 that an investigation by its audit committee had found it improperly recorded so-called nonmonetary transactions and that it would have to restate three years of results. Shares were down 5.1 percent Friday.”
Rock ‘n roll journalism at its best
Or most interesting. Or just provocative. “Joe Corre, son of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, burns $6M worth of punk memorabilia.” (Billboard)
Let’s leave it to Pitchfork, Rolling Stone or the syndicated radio show “Sound Opinions” to conclude whether this is the dictionary definition of “punk rock” — or the dictionary definition of “utter stupidity.”
Rahm Emanuel finds national solace
Sometimes it’s a bit easier for an elected official to spin the national press than the local folks who cover him routinely. Case in point: The Wall Street Journal’s “Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel makes strides after shooting protests.”
“A year ago, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was facing one of the toughest stretches in his long political career. Now, even as the city is experiencing a homicide rate not seen in over a decade and trust remains low among African-Americans, there are emerging signs of progress.” (Wall Street Journal) That take had some rolling their eyes.
Seeking open-source legitimacy
If you’re a big-time or budding scientist, you crave a professional paper to run in one of several publications, notably Cell, Science and Nature. But they spurn the vast majority of submissions, perhaps opening a market niche.
“ScienceMatters, a Swiss startup that launched in February, is trying to pave the way to a more democratized system by offering an open-source publishing platform to every scientist who wants to share his or her observations.” (TechCrunch)
A unequivocally equivocal Hillary thesis
“Will Hillary Clinton’s defeat set back women in politics? Her high-profile loss could discourage women from running for office — but it might also motivate them to become more politically engaged.” (The Atlantic)
It could. It might. Perhaps. Maybe.
“First Reads” on a Sunday morning
Hand it to The Washington Post, which is adroitly twinning high-end journalism with clickbait some days. As I awoke Sunday, it got my “First Reads” newsletter, with the subject line, “Can dogs help us cure cancer?”
Well, when I opened it, there was a solid opus on Castro’s “long shadow in Latin America” and Clinton supporting a Wisconsin recount. And, then, we got to the dog story.
A contrarian take on an autocrat
Most American media profiles of Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, have been thoroughly negative and focused on his over-the-top crackdown on drugs. Now comes a differing take.
“Ever since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in May, Ces, a 32-year-old Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, said she feels ‘very happy to go home.'” (Quartz)
“That’s because Duterte has done something to stamp out one of her biggest fears about flying back to Manila: ‘bullet planting.’ Airport officials would extort huge bribes from travelers, after surreptitiously inserting bullets in their luggage and then detaining them for illegally carrying live ammunition.'”
Yes, improbably, there apparently is a worse experience than LaGuardia Airport.