I recently checked out "For the Love of Mike", a collection of Mike Royko columns. The best way to pay tribute to this literary genius is to discuss a few of his more thought-provoking columns.
1. Washington Post fake story, (4/26/81). This column deals with a story in the Washington Post about an eight-year-old boy who was being turned into a heroin addict by his mother's boyfriend. The reporter and her newspaper refused to reveal the name of the boy and his mother, because the mother had been promised anonymity. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for the story, and later it was discovered that the story was a complete fabrication on the reporter's part.
Royko's take on this fiasco was unique and refreshing. He said that the editor who passed on the story was grossly derelict. Royko said that if he were the editor, he would have demanded that the reporter tell him the names. He would have said "We're going to call the cops right now, and we're going to have that sonofabitch put in jail, and we're going to save that kid's life. After we do that, then we'll have a story." And if the reporter refused, he would have fired her.
How ironic that the Post, which made its reputation exposing the Watergate coverup, was guilty of a cover-up itself in protecting a guy who was thought to be slowly murdering an eight-year-old boy.
2. The supposed "disgrace" of low voter turnout, (11/7/96). On election night of the Dole-Clinton 1996 election, Dan Rather called the low voter turnout "a national disgrace". Royko begged to differ.
Royko wrote that "My belief is that someone who must be nagged into voting hasn't been paying attention and doesn't have any idea what the issues are or what the candidates will or won't be trusted to do."
But Royko goes on to make a larger point. He says the media has to shoulder a large part of the blame for the low turnout. Almost every day during the campaign somebody in the media was talking about how the polls showed the election was already over--Dole had no chance. So how then can the media complain that people didn't go to the polls?
Royko calls polling "the laziest, dumbest, cheapest form of journalism." And it has only gotten worse since 1996. With all the news outlets today, one can hardly turn around without being bombarded with the latest poll results. Let's talk about the issues, and not treat an election as some kind of sporting event.
3. On how words matter, 2/9/94. The Minister for the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, said that "You can't be a racist by talking--only by acting". He was defending himself and his senior aide for their vicious verbal attacks on Jews.
In response, a cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee came up with the idea for an inspired cartoon; two Ku Klux Klan members are looking at Farrakhan's statement and one said, "That nigger makes a lot of sense".
Royko says that if he had been the editor, he would have said : "Fine cartoon. It makes the point".
Despite the fact that the cartoonist was trying to take the side of blacks in this issue, there was a huge outcry against the use of the dreaded N word. So much so that the publisher wrote a profuse page one apology!
Royko is aghast, and ends by saying that "there is a need for people to look in their dictionaries for an understanding of the meaning of 'satire'." The point the cartoonist was making is that words do matter, and the outcry from some quarters was simply misplaced and moronic in the failure to understand this basic point.
4. One the Pete Rose suspension, 8/25/89. An idiot on the radio used the words "American tragedy" to describe the Pete Rose suspension, and this prompted a response from Royko. He noted that many millions of American boys would have given anything to have played in the major leagues, himself (and this writer) included.
Rose knew the rules but chose to ignore them, and he got what is supposed to be the penalty for betting on your own team--a lifetime ban from baseball. But this occurred after his playing days were already over.
Royko says: "What matters is that he had those 24 wonderful summers and those 3,562 games. And whatever kind of jerk he may have been in his private life, it was obvious that when he stepped out onto the field he loved every moment of it. How many people can say that about 24 years in the same job?"
Royko ends with "It's not a tragedy. It isn't even sad...Tragedy is a kid getting hit by a car. Sad is being old, alone, and lonely."