I was an astrologer for a day.
When I was city editor of The Brownsville Herald in Texas, I asked the publisher one day why we published a horoscope.
It’s not news, I said. It’s not true. It’s not on the comics page. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, information.What’s a horoscope doing in the newspaper?
If we don’t print it, readers will complain, the publisher said.
That’s ridiculous, I said. I’m going to write the horoscope for tomorrow and see if anybody complains.
And I did.
I filled the horoscope with utter and absolute bullshit.
“Today will be your unlucky day if a large object falls from the sky and crushes you,” I wrote, “for example, a locomotive of dying soap.”
“If you leave your astral body today, be sure to bring along your astral driver’s license,” I wrote, “the astral police are out, writing tickets.”
And so on. The main difference between my horoscope and the usual horoscope was not that mine was moronic, it was that mine was not perky and reassuring – mine implied, more or less, that anyone reading it was a moron.
The circulation of the Herald in those days was about 19,000. Know how many complaints we received?
It wasn’t really a complaint. It was a phone call from a troubled-sounding woman who asked, “Is there something wrong with the horoscope today?”
“What do you mean, ma’am?” I said, bright-eyed and chirpy.
“It’s usually so positive and optimistic,” she said, “and today it isn’t.”
“What’s your sign, ma’am?” I asked.
She told me her sign, and I checked what I had predicted for her. I had said she was a loser and would be better off just lying in bed today.
At the top of the horoscope, I had warned that the regular astrologer was taking the day off and that Herald city editor Robert Kahn was taking her place today.
“Our regular astrologer will be back tomorrow, ma’am,” I said. “I bet your luck will change tomorrow.”
“OK,” she said. And that was that.
The reason I dredge this up is that I realized, upon reading this week’s Sunday New York Times, that the entire U.S. newspaper industry has become a branch of astrology.
The stuff they print – even on page one of The New York Times – is not news. It’s not true. It’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, real information. So long as it’s optimistic, the editors ladle it into the newspaper and call it news, and readers happily spoon it up.
The latest “news” pushed by Times astrologers and their craven imitators around the nation is the “progress” and “security gains” in Iraq. By this the astrologers mean that fewer American soldiers were killed and maimed last week than were killed and maimed a few months ago.
But we haven’t got to the news yet. The news, according to the Times’ page-one story on Sunday, Nov. 25, is that this is bad news for the Democratic Party.
(Pause here for reflection, for those who are capable of – and would still dare to do -such a thing.)
The fact that Americans are still being blinded, maimed and killed every day by Iraqis, when they can spare the time from killing each other, is not news.
Dead Iraqis, as usual, don’t count at all.
Neither do the civilians killed by suicide bombers in Pakistan and India, or the U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
If the astrologers can find a cheerful statistic, by Allah, they’ll report it. Not only will they report it, they will put it on the front page. And they will call it news.
What’s more, the 300 million people in the United States – the richest people in the history of the world, with more colleges and universities, and with access to more information, more easily obtained, than anyone else in history – not only will accept this bilgewater as news, they will suck it up with big spoons and beg for more. And they will cry and holler how unfair it all is if, instead of these heaping, steaming spoonfuls of crap, The New York Times tries to feed them what newspapers used to feed people – I believe it was called news.
The New York Times does not publish a horoscope. Nor does it have an editorial cartoonist. Do you know why the Times does not have an editorial cartoonist? This is the truth. It’s because, the Times publisher said, it is impossible to edit an editorial cartoon.
First things first at U.S. newspapers. And the first things are, as at the U.S. TV networks, giving the public what the editors think the public thinks it wants.
What’s your sign?
Do you come here often?
What are you drinking?
I was an astrologer for a day.