Whenever I lecture about journalism, whether to senior-citizens groups or college students, I always tell them that the mission of the OC Weekly is an old journalism adage attributed to Finley Peter Dunne, author of ¡Ask a Mexican! godfather Mr. Dooley: We comfort the afflicted, and we afflict the comfortable. In other words, we celebrate the good and righteous of Orange County, those folks who don't nearly get enough love (the afflicted) and attack the assholes and pendejos of Orange County that give us a reputation as a hellhole (the comfortable). Everyone always laughs nervously at my comment, since they've been brought up in a media atmosphere where watchdog journalism and muckraking has been relegated to rags with ads for "alternative medicine" and "massage therapists."
And then there's newish Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner, a member of the comfortable class that doesn't like it when people say bad things about the comfortable.
Jim Romenesko broke the story yesterday about how, during a March 6 staff meeting, Kushner told his reporters how he doesn't believe a newspaper should "afflict the comfortable." The Boston transplant confirmed his statement to Romenesko, adding "We should be careful and respectful. It's not an issue of us avoiding stories that may be negative, it's about the tone. In this day and age, once we say something negative about something, not only does it carry a lot of weight but it lives forever in the digital archives."
Wow. Simply wow. Maybe Kushner should apply those standards to his paper's retrograde readers, who trash Mexicans, gays, Muslims, and liberals at every possible opportunity--the ultimate example of the comfortable afflicting the afflicted? Ah, but he won't do that, because they're his subscribers, and that would just be mean.
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With every public statement Kushner makes about his idea of journalism, every breathless positive update posted on the paper's Inside the OC Register blog (one of the few blogs the paper allows to continue to publish), it's increasingly becoming clear that Kushner is the Stuart Smalley of print journalism. You kids might not remember the Saturday Night Live character played by Al Franken (hell, you might not even know that the Minnesota senator was on Saturday Night Live...hell, you might not even know about Saturday Night Live), but he was a send-up of self-affirmation gurus and hosted an imaginary show called--yep--Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley. Smalley ended every show by looking at himself in a mirror and uttering the immortal lines, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"
Kushner wants everyone to think of him as the White Knight who'll simultaneously save journalism AND make Orange County--to borrow Fountain Valley's city motto--a nice place to live. Last month, he made national headlines when forcing his paper to change its advertising policy after Anaheim council-pendejas Kris Murray and Gail Eastman complained about ads targeting them because, as he told the Voice of OC, "We don't like negative political advertisements." Statements like that, and wanting the Register to be "respectful" for the sake of being respectful should send chills down the spine of any good reporter (Romenesko quoted a source that said of Kushner's comments "People in the newsroom didn't like that at all").
I'll give Kushner credit: he has expanded the newsroom greatly in his time, and continues to add new pages on a seemingly weekly basis. But if you don't have a newspaper willing to call a spade a spade, then what the hell is the purpose of a newspaper? Meanwhile, we here at the Weekly will continue to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable as long as there's dirty cops in Orange County, as long as pedophile protectors roam our parishes, as long as there's pho that needs discovering or alcohol to be drunk--which means we'll be in business long after the Rapture and straight through Armageddon, tossing shit at Satan and poking our thumbs at Jeebus, for good measure. Come, ye afflicted masses, to the best damn fish wrap in town!