When I take my seat on the barstool next to McCluskey, he has the newspaper spread out on top of the bar in front of him. He gives it a tap with his fingertips and says, “This used to be an actual full-size paper, the kind you wrapped your dishes in when you moved. Now, at tabloid size, it’s not much more than an advertiser with staples. You might be able to wrap a saucer with it, but not a dinner plate, and totally worthless in the can if you run out of tp, unless you want a bunch of colored newsprint on your bum.”
The bartender sets down my usual in front of me. “But there you sit, reading it,” I say.
“I’m looking to see what lies they’re shilling to the masses today, that and checking the comics. There used to be two full pages of comics and celebrity pinhead gossip, now there’s not even enough amusement to last a cigarette. It used to take me three beers to read the paper, now I’m done before I’ve finished even one.”
“Maybe you just drink faster now with all the practice you’ve had.”
“So what have you discovered in it today?” I ask.
“Looks like people are pretty upset about this Brian Williams character telling tall tales about his helicopter rides in Iraq, seems he’s told it quite a few times and a few other boppers.”
“His credibility sure has taken a hit. I wonder if he’ll recover.”
McCluskey shakes his head. “What gets me is the number of people he worked with who help him spread and maintain his tails. I mean he had his film crew and editors and support flunkies. The media wants you to think the story is about Williams and whether his career will survive the hit, but that’s just a diversion. The real story is that tall tales are so commonplace in the news industry that it took more than a decade for the ones Williams was telling to accumulate to the point of being out of the norm enough for them to be noticed.” He swigs his beer. “So they drop in another anchor to take his place, but nothing will change, the news culture remains the same. The others will sacrifice Williams to cover their own asses so they can continue to tweak the news here and there to fit what they want people to think.”
I sip my beer. “That’s awful cynical.”
He shrugs. “They should lure Dan Rather out of retirement and he and Williams can be co-anchors. Now that would be a news team worth watching.”