The Hopes of the Insane

     “It’s not the job of a newspaper to decide what you can’t see.”
     So said the late, great Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, at the University of California-Riverside many years ago.
     I was peripherally involved in that story, and the same things are happening today, in the race for the presidency of the United States.
     I was a night editor at the North County Times when two police officers were shot to death on a Sunday afternoon, responding to a bogus call.
     It was an assassination of two police officers.
     We got the story, and photos, busting deadline. The question was: Which photo to run?
     I’ll tell you now, after the fact, that our competitor, the Press-Enterprise, ran a four-column close-up of one of the dead cops on Page 1: glassy eyes open.
     I would not have printed that photo. It was too intrusive.
     We ran a shot of the dead cops lying in the street, but not that poor officer’s open eyes.
     On Monday, 50 people canceled their subscriptions to the Press-Enterprise and signed up with the Times.
     In my 20 years in newspapers, I had never seen such a hostile reaction from readers.
     By coincidence, Bradlee spoke five days later at UC-Riverside. He was 75 years old, or thereabouts. He looked like he could kick me and my two brothers senseless with his hands tied, and like he’d enjoy it. I loved the guy.
     Bradlee took questions. The second one, I recall, was whether he knew of the controversy about the photo, and whether he would have published it.
     “Yes, I would,” he said, at which 900 Southern Californians took vociferous umbrage.
     “It’s not the job of a newspaper to decide what you can’t see,” Bradlee said.
     He mentioned a recent photo from The Associated Press, published around the world, of the charred corpses of U.S. Marines hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq.
     Bradlee asked if the audience thought that photo should have been suppressed. They indicated, by grunts and moans, that they thought it should have been suppressed. But they didn’t seem to think it was as bad as the cop photo.
     Sorry, Bradlee said. That’s what happens in war. A newspaper’s job is not to protect you from what happens. It’s to tell you what happened.
     So. On Tuesday, a judge in Tulsa sentenced a 74-year-old man to 4 years in prison for shooting to death Eric Harris, a black man, while Harris was restrained and on the ground. Robert Bates, a white volunteer deputy for the Tulsa County sheriff, mistook his gun for his Taser.
     Any way that trial ended was bound to be horrible.
     After sentencing, Bates’s wife told reporters outside the courtroom that her husband would die in prison, “and I want all of you to know you’re part of the responsibility for that.”
     Bates’ daughter added: “I hope you all feel good about yourselves.”
     Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t see what news reporters had to do with it.
     It’s not just the Bates family that does this. The Republican candidate for president blames news reporters for everything he can’t blame on the Mexicans. And so, apparently, do millions of his supporters.
     The best explanation I see for this was offered by Anthony Trollope, in his 1869 novel, “He Knew He Was Right,” in which he explains the difference between the hopes of sane people, and the hopes of the insane.
     The sane man, Trollope said, “desires that which he tells himself to be for his advantage,” but the insane man “loves to feed his grievance,” even if feeding it will lead him to more pain, even to death.
     That’s what I see at Trump rallies: people feeding upon their grievances, real or imagined, and, it seems to me, hoping for more grievances, to feed themselves some more.
     I guess that feels good to some folks. For a while.

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