It’s late June, 1990, and I’m minutes away from one of those magic moments in life you never see coming, until they’ve hit you right between the eyes.
It’s hotter than hell in the dirty-white press tent propped up just outside Chicago. If there is any air conditioning it isn’t working, but then again what do you want from a tent?
Inside, a bunch of sweaty eager beavers in plaid shorts and soggy golf shirts are pouring through chewed-up notebooks trying to cobble together a story or two summarizing Round 2 of the U.S. Open golf tournament at the tony Medinah Country Club. Some guy named Tim Simpson is winning the thing, but that’s not the story. The toothy blonde standing outside the tent giving TV interviews to the other toothies is.
The guy’s name is Greg Norman — a dashing Australian with a Bobby Jones swing, Rick Hudson wink, and killer nickname to match all that: The Great White Shark. If the Shark ever won as many major tournaments as he was favored to back then, you would have had to count ’em using all the fingers on both your hands, as well as the four hands of the two people on your left and right.
Norman was pretty as a yellow flower. But like so many pretty flowers could only handle so much heat before the wilt set in. He’d go on to win only two fingers worth of majors in his over-hyped career, which would have surprised very few inside the press tent looking out that day.
We weren’t so much interested in the flower, as we were the wilt — and why the other flowers with the mics never seemed to get enough of him. On this day he’d wilted again and all his poor play left him in danger of missing the weekend. So rather than deal with more heat inside the tent, he did what he always did and poured some tragic version of himself into the cameras outside the tent … the fawning toothies taking it all in. What a guy!
Anyway, with deadline descending and little chance the flower would talk to us print folk about his latest wilt, a young buck (who also had the gall to look good in his plaid shorts), asked aloud, “I don’t get it. How can he keep avoiding the media like THIS?!”
It was about one second later when the meaty fist slammed on a table, and I blinked hard.
Pound for pound Dan Jenkins was a top-3 sportswriter at the time — and he fought in the heavyweight division. Lately, Jenkins was the dean of the golf-writing contingent, which I am certain sounds rather weak to you right now. Fair enough, but I’m telling you that if you got on the other side of a Dan Jenkins’ insult, you’d be picking pointed adjectives out of your sore ear for a week. The man could flat bring it.
So with the tent dead quiet, and Jenkins hulking over his Volkswagen-sized gray typewriter, he looked at the lad with the shorts, and shot at him with his Texas twang: “Son? Out thar? That would be the media. Got it? In here? Well … this would be the working press. Best you don’t forget that, and get on yar damn deadline.”
And just like that all the hot air went out of the place. I’d been in the business for about a decade and could never quite figure out what bothered me so damn much about the mic-carrying toothies. Jenkins’ shot between the eyes cleared all that up.
I was reminded of this, when earlier this week I came across a story in Politico, reporting the Washington Post was hiring dozens of journalists.
That one hit me between the eyes, too.
During the past couple of decades or so, TV and then the Internet has killed off tens of thousands of the working press. They have been replaced by all manner of toothies, fawners and partisans. None of ’em are interested in any facts really, just ratings, access and adulation from all the new flowers popping up seemingly everywhere. Where else would something called a Kardashian come from?
So do we really have to wonder how that strange Orange flower got to be so big and ugly? Do we really think the Orange flower could spread like the weed it has without being drizzled and primped by the media?
Too many people have decided that facts don’t matter, and could care less if the freedom they think they’re buying is dirt cheap. Maybe the tide has changed, though. Maybe getting it right is worth the paper all that fact is printed on. Maybe there’s currency to once again making sure it’s right.
Because there is something that will eradicate that Orange flower and its awful spread. Same thing that the Yellow flower avoided — all that heat.
Here’s hoping a revitalized working press brings plenty of it.