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Whitewash at the laundry

February 6, 2013 - Harry Eagar
America seems not to be paying much attention to the exposure of the Magdalene scandal in Ireland.

Tom Wolfe, in "The Right Stuff," wrote about the press as the Genteel Beast. It is the most trenchant criticism of American journalism anyone has ever made, including Mencken and Liebling. Yet I have never heard any journalist, myself excluded, refer to it.

I think that Genteel Bestiality is part of what keeps the Irish Magdalene story out of American journalism.

My friend Mark Adams has written a sort of prayer or eulogy for reporters:

"And one day God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a chronicle of all that this is.'

"So, God made a reporter.

"God said, 'I need somebody to get up before dawn and read the overnight news feeds and milk their sources and work all day in the trenches, milk sources again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board and tell people what it really means.' So, God made a reporter.

"God said, 'I need somebody with strong hands writing strong words. Strong enough to bring light to a crowd, gentle enough to deliver love to our grandchildren. Somebody to call out society's hogs by name, tame cantankerous political machinery by writing of its wrongs, come home hungry and have to wait for lunch until his wife is done feeding and visiting with the ladies and telling them to be sure to come back real soon . . . and mean it.' So, God made a reporter.

"God said, 'I need somebody that can shape a debate, shoehorn hoarse truth into reports on car tires, build a career out of ignoring false wires and fake PR smoke stacks, building real news out of press conference scraps. And who, during tragic times and election seasons, will finish a 40-hour week by Tuesday noon. Then, pain'n from that bone-deep drive to "always go back," put in another 72 hours.' So, God made a reporter.

"God had to have somebody willing to ride life's rows at double speed to get the truth in ahead of the rain clouds and yet still stop at mid-field and race to help at the first hint of danger to a colleague or a cause or a neighbor's place. So, God made a reporter.

"God said, 'I need somebody strong enough to expose the lies, highlight fraud, eliminate doubt, yet gentle enough to celebrate the pureness of young lambs and pigs and tell stories of pink combed pullets . . . and who will in an instant stop writing for an hour to mend the broken leg of an innocent meadow lark.' So, God made a reporter.

"It had to be somebody who'd seek the truth by plowing deep and straight . . . and not cut corners. Somebody to seed and weed, feed and breed all that's right and rake and disc and plow and plant fairness and goodness, tie the gold fleece and strain the white milk of untainted knowledge shared with all.

"Somebody to replenish the self feeder of a day's wins and losses by tallying rights and wrongs -- and then finish a hard days work with a five mile drive to church. Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who'd laugh and then sigh at attempts to keep the world awash in light and truth and justice for everyone, and then respond with smiling eyes when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'

"Smiling eyes like those of all women and men who do the same work and hear the same words, because it's all we know and what we love. To make a difference, highlight injustice, celebrate victory, share loss, review the planned rows of paradise and chronicle it all -- because we simply must.

"And so, God made us reporters . . ."

Not how I see it or saw myself. I admire reporters, but there were always vast areas where we were sadly deficient. The religious blight that poisons American (and not only American) life was the place were we failed the worst. Still do.


Article Comments



Feb-08-13 9:59 PM

As I say, it hasn't gotten attention here, but Joni Mitchell wrote a plaintive song, "The Magdalene Laundries." I have put in a link to a Youtube performance.

Feb-07-13 9:59 PM

First I had heard of the Magdalene scandal, Harry. Thanks. Raised under the influence of Irish priests and French Canadian nuns, It wasn't until my 21st birthday that I decided it was all bunkum. More I hear of the evils associated with Irish Catholicism and of course the American Church, the more it reinforces my decision. If as you suggest here, God created reporters, they are certainly subject to the same foibles. Lord Acton's words resound: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Reporters have great power today.


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