Monday, September 29, 2008

Requiem for a Tabloid Newsman

Steve Dunleavy's gradual retirement from the Post was noted kindly in today's Times. Pardon me, but I think Dunleavy and his boss, Rupert Murdoch, drove New York's newspaper scene over a cliff.

As Tim Arango's piece notes, Dunleavy's politics could sometimes "lead him astray." I think it was much worse than that.

Murdoch and Dunleavy rose at the Post in 1977, a pivotal year in the history of New York when the city's old New Deal liberalism was on its last legs. Murdoch and Dunleavy helped finish it off, replacing it with a nasty conservatism. The old politics of New Deal New York, best exemplified by the pre-Murdoch Post, supported an inclusive democracy that aimed to provide a decent standard of living for everyone.

Since 1977, the Post's populism has mostly been about exploiting anger and resentment, with little to say about the rising economic inequality in the city that undermines the homes of working people.

With its emphasis on right-wing populism, Arango's story might leave you thinking that there were no conservative columnists before Dunleavy. But what about Westbrook Pegler, William F. Buckley, and Dick Young? There have been plenty of conservatives in the New York City press since World War II, but only since the Seventies have they become the voices of conventional wisdom.

Dunleavy, the piece argues, "tweaked the political landscape of the city, proving that populism in New York City could come from the right and not just from the cadre of well-known left-leaning columnists of the time, men like Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, Murray Kempton and Jack Newfield."

But Dunleavy's career wasn't entirely about bringing balance to a city of liberal journalism--as if balance in and of itself is always a good thing.

Dunleavy's ascent was about lowering standards. Compared to his peers of 1977, he lacks Hamill's knowledge of the city, Newfield's talent for muckraking, Kempton's humane intelligence, and Breslin's ability to write.

I hate to kick a guy when he's down, but since Dunleavy and the Post have been doing for it a long time, I will. Together, Steve Dunleavy and Rupert Murdoch debased New York City and its journalism.


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