Our nominal new masters, the Chinese, have a saying: “The nail that sticks out must be hammered back into place.” Typically, such phrasings have multiple meanings, and that one is about more than carpentry. It’s really a reference to the brutal suppression of dissent that occurred during a Cultural Revolution that led to the deaths of millions, and from which that nation has still not completely recovered.
That eminently useful phrase has bounced around my mind for years, but never more so than in recent weeks, leading up to the 10th anniversary of the “Money Jungle” column. Few mental exercises can be as tiresome as trying to assess one’s own legacy, but that process has been surprisingly fun. For one thing, the legacy is not mine alone: this most influential alt-weekly column in America could not have flourished without the tens of thousands of tips, leads and off-hand suggestions from readers that have so often helped my cross-hairs find their target. Thanks, y’all.
In this business, compartmentalization works to the writer’s advantage. That is, one must be able to isolate personal interests from those of the publication and/or the audience being served, even as such interests often run parallel to each other. For years, I’ve willingly (more or less) sublimated personal goals for the sake of continuing to work a territory whose media institutions persistently view me, at best, as a joke and, at worst, as a direct threat to their own interests. That’s OK; you can’t run around openly exposing the business, telling everyone how fundamentally corrupt the media is, and then expect to be embraced with open arms. I take some pride in knowing that my boss, Ms. Schindler, is probably the best pure reporter this city has ever had, so my presence on her masthead reflects positively on my own abilities, however muted.
But then again, the personal interest does get served. This is more than just a job, and the sense of purpose more than mitigates the copious bullshit I must endure to get things done. My family goes back in this area at least six generations. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to counter the standard perception of Jacksonville as a third-rate town with no serious culture and no potential for improvement. In fact, if one gleans nothing else from the work I’ve done, it should be that our city boasts some of the finest talents anywhere in the world, spanning all artistic disciplines—even writers!
I will admit, though, that it’s not fun when columns are rejected, then replaced by syndicated hacks. Watching my franchise spot over handed to a jabbering, semi-literate jabroni from Portland, especially with “Money Jungle” cut back to every-other-week, is a recurring insult. (At least back then I alternated with the great Marvin Edwards, from whom I learned a lot about the depths of local political depravity.) It’s frustrating, having to go backwards when one should be miles ahead by now.
It was easy to take such treatment personally, but recent events provided glorious context. My network of sources includes over 100 working reporters all over the country, and hundreds more are separated by that single degree. What we’ve seen in the past few years has been the most aggressive purging of print media since the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. Publications have used budget cuts as an excuse to wage ideological war on those elements of the newsroom unwilling to toe the editorial line—a line drawn increasingly often by advertisers. Some of these colleagues seek me out for guidance, because they know I’ve stood down a media blackball since about 2002.
After years of having to constantly make excuses for the failings of my city and my paper, people who used to laugh at me are crying instead. The people being fired, downsized and marginalized are, in fact, some of the leading voices of dissent in print media, led by Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice, who was fired due to “budget cuts”, but also for refusing to stop talking about how the Obama administration has continued its predecessor’s most controversial policies—an inconvenient truth for the liberal elite.
Of course, that’s not what happened to the “Money Jungle”. Despite predicting the collapse of the global economy, the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the almost-exact body count of the Iraq War and countless localized debacles like child-snatchings and the Ft. Hood massacre, someone decided that I’m the weak link, and the readers—as usual—kept their mouths shut and their pens still, thereby retroactively justifying the move. Surprising, but sadly typical: the people are pathologically incapable of defending their own interests. Instead of being the hub of a revitalized southeast, Northeast Florida is the seedy core of a thoroughly rotten region, with far worse yet to come. God willing, I’ll still be here to warn you, well in advance.
firstname.lastname@example.org; November 10, 2009