By 1969 — fifty years ago now — every baby boomer had been born. Some were older than others, but all lived through a year that changed the course of the country and the world. Just think about the list: The first man on the moon. The first 747. The first Concorde. The counter-culture of Woodstock. The debut of Monte Python’s Flying Circus. The end of the Beatles’ public performances. The inauguration of the Nixon presidency. And always, Vietnam. BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs was asked by boomer expert Brent Green to contribute to a book about that tumultuous year, and the lessons we should have learned. It’s written by an eclectic group of eight eminent authors, and called, “Are You Still Listening?: 1969 Stories & Essays.” Here is a short excerpt from Greg’s chapter, about an important personal experience as he was starting his professional career in 1969 and how different it was from what he sees today.
It was in late ’69 that I got a job producing the newscasts of the already legendary biggest voice on radio, Paul Harvey. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Paul’s signature lead-ins to commercials in his unparalleled oral blend of baritone and bass: “Page TWO!” And his signature sign-off: “Paul Harvey. Good DAY.”
It was his concise use of the language, and the stylistically dramatic breaks in his delivery, that helped make Paul so popular. I used to joke that I wrote all Paul’s pauses (there was a good three or four second gap in that sign-off, between “Paul Harvey” and “Good DAY”). But besides imparting news items both essential and eclectic, Paul Harvey was a commentator. That’s why the show was actually titled, “Paul Harvey News and Comment.”
And that’s why looking back on 1969 is instructive today. Because Paul Harvey was a gentleman. His politics weren’t my politics — he was a solid conservative (although the label back then carried different meaning than it does these days). But never uncivil, never strident, never insulting, never harsh.
Could you say that about commentators on the air today? The Rush Limbaughs, the Ann Coulters, the Sean Hannitys? And they don’t just come from the Right. Bill Maher, Joy Behar, Chris Matthews on the Left … maybe even Stephen Colbert deserves a place on the list.
1969 is instructive, because it taught me to believe you can coat your comments with sugar and still make your point.
Paul did. He was never bitter. And, in contrast to the voices out there today, never myopic. I remember one day when he delivered his script to my desk; since his newscasts were broadcast by ABC Radio News, I was the company’s filter and he was obliged to run everything past me. Well, Paul that morning had been leafing through the wire services we had in the office — AP, UPI, Reuters — and had seen some unrelated statistics in two separate stories. One was about miniskirts; they were getting shorter. The other was about crime; the rate of rapes was going up. Paul put two and two together and came up with five, writing in that day’s commentary that shorter skirts were spurring on more American men to commit rape.
Having perhaps a more modern impression than he did about what actually motivates rapists, I told Paul that I thought he had cooked up a careless conclusion. And that’s all it took. He killed the piece.
With the ideologically rigid commentators out there today, can you even imagine that happening? Either they wall themselves off and, like too many Americans today in all walks of life, only read and listen to information that fits their narrative… or even worse, they know something’s fictitious but it fits their fan base, so they put it out there anyway.
I learned about integrity in journalism from Paul Harvey way back in 1969. But today? Mindful of how Brent Green ends this book’s introduction, “Let the past remind us of what we are not now,” I am still listening and don’t like what I hear.