The stereotype persists of the journalist as curmudgeon. You know, the grumpy old man endlessly ranting about all the things that annoy him — mostly changes ruining what were in comparison good old days, but also misspellings and subject-verb disagreement.
Until his death in 2011, Andy Rooney personified the journalist as curmudgeon with his popular television segments, usually a few minutes spent elaborating on something he didn’t like. Viewers loved it. Rooney once wrote: “I’ve had quite a few complaints lately from people who like it when I complain about things. They say I haven’t complained about anything lately. So tonight, for you complaint fans, I have a complaint.”
I’m neither as skilled nor clever as Andy Rooney. But after working as a journalist for more than 40 years, it’s fair to count me among those from the old school. If I ever bounce grandchildren on my knee, I can spin yarns about how I used a typewriter to pound out stories on deadline and a pencil to edit copy. The only thing missing would be the fedora with a press card tucked into the band.
I don’t, however, consider myself a curmudgeon. I might be old, but not grumpy. I still prefer to view the glass as half full rather than half empty and count my blessings rather than enumerate problems that are more likely nuisances anyway. Plus, what my grandparents told me when I was young was if I couldn’t say something nice, it was probably better to say nothing at all. The likely alternative, I was warned, was a fat lip.
It’s sorely tempting nonetheless to maybe mention just a few complaints. Constructive criticisms. Pet peeves. Things that fester like a splinter lodged in the back of my mind. At the risk of contradicting myself — maybe a fat lip, too — here are three things great, middling and small I don’t like:
All politics all the time. I wish I were naive enough to believe politics don’t matter. I remain unconvinced, though, that all that matters is politics. If anything, life goes on despite politics, not because of it. My problem with politics isn’t the disagreement inherent in the process. On the contrary, the marketplace should remain every bit as competitive for ideas as products and services. That drives innovation. My problem is the disagreeableness that’s made discourse anything but civil. It’s no longer about whose ideas are best, but whose party is perceived as best. The goal isn’t so much to win the debate, but demonize the other side as if that somehow constitutes victory, however Pyrrhic. Neither party holds the patent on good ideas nor the franchise on abhorrent behavior. But an us-versus-them mentality has permeated and poisoned the culture. Politics emphasizes above all else winners and losers. Spoiler alert: Most often politicians win and constituents lose. Tragically, so does our country.
The perception business owners care only about profits. I’ve written about businesses and business owners for more than 20 years, and I’ve yet to interview a single robber baron. Business owners care about profits because that’s what sustains their operations. It’s been my experience, though, successful business owners care just as much about their employees and communities. There’s a profit motive in that, too, in improving recruiting and branding. But most business owners not only want to do the right thing, they’re also committed to do so. As a corollary, consider another fallacious claim: The rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes. I’m hardly rich, so I don’t take offense personally. I just think it’s important to consider the facts. According to one analysis of IRS data, people with an adjusted gross income above $250,000 accounted for less than 3 percent of individual income tax returns, but paid more than 50 percent of income taxes under our progressive system. By another estimate, so-called 1 percenters pay their share of taxes and the shares of 23 others.
Imprecise news writing. At the risk of throwing stones in my glass house — not to mention mixing metaphors — let me get this off my chest. Every time I read or hear something’s “totally destroyed,” I wince. Then I want to throttle the offending writer. Something’s either destroyed or it’s not. It’s certainly not destroyed to any greater degree with the addition of an adverb.The same thing holds true for other binary conditions. She’s not completely blind any more than she’s partially pregnant. Don’t even get me started on sentence construction that combines auxiliary verbs and -ing words as if to show some ongoing action. I fully expect you will be enjoying this column, perhaps for eternity. It’s enough, though, to hope you will enjoy this column.
Good grief. That’s a whole lot of complaining. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon after all.