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January 29, 1958, Vol. III, No. 14
The New York Post: Sudsy Liberalism?
By Nat Hentoff
Shortly after I came to New York, a few years ago, a solicitous drunk in a bar fingered the New York Post in my hand and warned me with as much solemnity as he could collect: “Don’t you know that’s a Red paper, son? Throw it away and get a Journal.”
The missionary didn’t surprise me, since the Post at the time was putting mccarthy down in lower case. What did gradually perplex me was the attitude of most intellectuals I met in New York. The Post, the consensus seemed to be, was a container for shallow soap-opera liberalism aimed at the great overwashed middle and upper-middle class. “If one must read a newspaper,” I was told, “the Times is at least a paper of record.”
Admittedly, there is much in the Post that is as easy to parody as Time: Mrs. Schiff’s lumbering accounts of the daisies she has bestridden; Max Lerner’s constant ability to make trivia of nearly anything he tries to think about; and the variegated special series like: Lonely Girls in Arthur Murray Rest Rooms Who Became Kim Novak After Being Presented to Walter Reuther.
But there is also such a series as the first-rate “Drug Addicts, USA,” by Fern Marja and Bill Dufty that was recently concluded and that provided, I expect, the most oriented discussion of the situation ever printed in a daily paper. The Post has also several times uncovered the kind of terrifying goofs made possible by police arrogance and has in the process helped release a few people from jail. In fact, the Post is far more skeptical of ex cathedra police statements than any other paper in town. What other paper called attention to License Commissioner McElroy’s magisterial decision last December that “Billy Daniels will neve work in a cabaret in New York again.” Who made McElroy Tom Dewey?
There is, above all, on the Post, Murray Kempton. Kempton is also a target for the intellectuals because of the occasional excesses of his style and particularly, I feel, because he’s one of the few newspapermen left who shows emotion. Yet Kempton is the only labor reporter in the city. I know about Mr. Raskin’s balanced essays in the Times, but I never get the feeling from any Raskin piece that he’s talked with a worker below the rank of organizer in years. Or if he has, that he’s able to communicate to him or be communicated to. Kempton and the Post were the only places in town, for example, where a reader could find out that the striking MBA motormen a few weeks ago weren’t the child-devouring Jacobins the Times and Herald Tribune clamored they were. And no writing I have seen in any paper, including the Negro press, has come close to Kempton’s reporting from the South in recent years.
Sure, the Times prints all the speeches, but has anyone ever really analyzed its massively/vacuous editorials over a period of a year? The editorial I can’t forget was in opposition to the recently passed bill banning discrimination in the city’s private housing. The Times rang the hollow changes on the theme that you can’t legislate understanding, that this sort of thing must wait until enough people have been infused by the spirit of brotherhood, and all that jazz. And does that make one or four more generations of Negroes and Puerto Ricans that meanwhile become bruised and sometimes twisted by knowing that there are places they can’t live for no other reason than that most landlords haven’t been touched yet by the grey grace the Times possesses?
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]