Back when I was a kid, my grandmother had a succession of tiny dogs — ugly, ill-tempered things given to wheezing and shivering — more rat than canine. They were all, as a rule, named “Diddibiteya” (as in: “What’s his name?” “Why, ‘Diddibiteya?’), which my grandfather thought was the funniest joke in the world, no matter how many times he got to spring it on visitors.
Along with the name, several Diddibiteyas over the years shared another thing: They loved to nip. Even worse, they loved the sneaky nip — unprovoked and stealthy. I’d be in my grandmother’s kitchen, fixing myself a peanut-butter sandwich and an orange Fanta, and the next thing I knew, a little cluster of needles had buried themselves in my Achilles tendon. By the time I turned, all I saw was a nub of tail squirting around the doorframe, its owner halfway back to the tiny-dog citadel underneath my grandma’s platform rocker. From there, Diddibiteya would glare out at me from safety, black button eyes glimmering with triumph.
Forgive my trip down memory lane, but I was reminded of the great troop of Diddibiteyas — long since shivered off to doggy heaven — on Monday, while reading Linda Caillouet’s “Paper Trails” column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The lead item, under the title “Taking Lives,” concerned a Los Angeles Times article about long-time Fayetteville abortion provider Dr. William F. Harrison, who has fended off all manner of nutjobness over the years to continue providing his services to the women of Northwest Arkansas. Quoting Harrison from the L.A. Times, Caillouet wrote:
“’We try to make sure [the patient] doesn’t ever feel guilty,’ Harrison told the Times, ‘for what she feels she has to do.’ ”
With that, Caillouet tosses on: “He can try all he wants; some things are impossible.”
Now granted, Caillouet is more of a commentator than a reporter. She can say pretty much whatever the hell she wants. But I can’t help but think that the spirit behind that last sentence, in a nutshell, IS the Democrat-Gazette. Not anything as solid as a manual or a stylebook, but the down-deep way they work, nose to tail: Always ready to slip in for a worthless little nip and then gloat about it from safety. Always satisfied with drawing a few drops of blood. Never prepared to latch on and take the beating that inevitably comes with tenacity. Always keeping the ol’ “Who, me?” face handy so they can slap it on whenever someone calls them on their maybe-it-is-maybe-it-ain’t news side editorializing.
While there’s a certain self-preservative sense to that kind of hit-and-run thinking — you have to be bulldog stupid to expose yourself to a pummeling, no matter how worthy you believe the cause — there’s also no honor in it, especially for a newspaper that’s supposed to be the instrument of record for a state of 2 million people.
What I’m saying is: Either believe in what I believe in, or say I’m full of crap. Just don’t nip. It makes everybody involved look bad.
As you well know if you watch this space, Dem-Gaz editors routinely step in to protect you from nasty language, most often by way of editing or pulling comic strips that contain naughty words. (Not to mention, as pointed out by the Arkansas Blog at www.staging.arktimes.com, the Dem-Gaz’s ongoing “Dick”-lessness in sports headlines, as in U of A quarterback Casey Dick. The paper denies it has a policy to keep Dick’s name out of the headlines, even though recent circumventions of the use of the name have been about as tortured as you can get.) For example, a couple months back, there was a big brouhaha at the Dem-Gaz over the phrase “turd blossom” (President Bush’s real-life nickname for evil mastermind Karl Rove) appearing in the comic strip Doonesbury.
Then, just when we thought we’d never have to burn our innocent eyes again on a “turd,” “fart” or “hell” in the Dem-Gaz, we opened the paper last Monday to find one character in the Doonesbury strip saying to another: “I thought you guys were pussies.”
Dem-Gaz deputy editor Frank Fellone said the paper “regrettably missed” the use of the offending word, and that he would be talking to the person responsible. “We will continue to try and improve until we reach perfection,” Fellone said. “Some people don’t catch the futility of that statement.”
Okay, now I’m cold …