Friday, August 21, 2009

Last-Honky-Hired Disease and the News Business

copyright David A. Kearns

This article is dedicated to the male sufferer of LHH disorder who still finds himself working in print news. Congrats! When the newspaper fires you - and they will - you’ll want to collect unemployment. As a writer, it is the best you can hope for in this market, let's face it.
Picture yourself as you look at your home computer reading these questions:
“Have you been able to work, and did you look for work as instructed by this office?”
“Yes,” (munches marsh-mellow coco puffs, scratches his backside. Hits the button.)
“Did you receive an offer of work? Did you earn wages during the week in question?”
“Fuck no!” (Picks nose. Looks absently for the surfboard wax on his desk, spills coffee, hits the button.)
Let’s take the example of a buddy of mine we’ll call “Steve.” “Steve” was not blessed with the requisite vagina-breasts combo nor an overabundance of melanin. He is neither a descendant of any native American tribe, nor a Pacific Islander. Sadly for Steve, his ancestors were western European, who migrated here post slavery, yet pre-Holocaust. Innocent but for pigment, Steve was lumped in with “the man,” the “oppressor,” or “Babylon” in the Rastafarian parlance.
Now, “Steve,” who worked recently for a small newspaper on Florida east coast, was hired the previous October, making him the LHH in residence: more specifically, the Last Honky Hired.

In addition to his ethno-sexual challenges, what put the target on his back was Steve’s dogged insistence on covering the news hard. A mistake in the modern era, but one that he found actually worked to his advantage in the end.
Steve wrote a column about a group of city council members, five out of seven of them, which is more than a quorum, who insisted on drinking together one night at a downtown bar, after spending more than $1.5 million on city, road and drainage projects. Steven happened to witness the event of these five, along with their city manager and city attorney, getting together and yucking it up.
He thought it “looked wrong” and definitely didn’t pass the smell test in close proximity such action had in skirting Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Laws. These state that unless the council members, totally refrain from discussing any business covering anything they plan on voting on in the future ( and how precisely they know what the future may bring, is a big roadblock), they have to advertise the meeting and so on, otherwise it is a violation. It stretches credulity that five of seven drinking and eating at the very bar where the contractors also like to hang, doesn’t look bad. This the case, and from Steve’s media-vigilant point of view, the event seemed newsworthy. He thought, a small article perhaps and pitched it in his newsroom.
But Steve’s bosses were the worst sort of cowards when it came to running this story. The most heinous coward among these managers was Steve’s immediate supervisor, a Ms. TSC.
‘T’= the, S may be an adjective, but C certainly does not =Christina. Are we clear?
Through weeks of negotiating over a table, with TSC pretending not to understand much of what the topic was about, and feigning ignorance of basic precepts of journalism, managers did relent, finally, and ran the story as a tame, shucks, gee-wiz, column doing discredit to both themselves and the public they purport to serve. A gigantic, overwritten nod to journalistic cowardice. End of story.
Steve never breathed a word of displeasure afterwards about this ungainly process, but the target on his back, he felt, had grown about six inches in diameter. Shortly before Steve’s firing, an upper- management type admitted to Steve that avoiding lawsuits at all costs in this market, even winnable ones, even ones a paranoid coward could merely imagine in the throes of a bedwetting nightmare, makes it more preferable for a wise little reporter to follow the softer news - that is to say “nice” news; such as walkathons, human-interest features, and restyled, reprocessed press releases. In short, the very sort of drivel that will drive a true news guy, deep down into the goddamned whiskey bottle quicker than shit through the goose.
By itself LHH disease in this market, in media, is the kiss of death. Your days are numbered in the news business. This is a fact you must come to accept. You are one, off-off-off-color joke, one hairy eyeball; one ribald recount of past sexual escapades, from the pavement, the bricks, the walk of shame.
Apologists to politically-correct demagoguery will, of course, lambaste this take on LHH disease, calling it the “new racism” but deep down inside, even within the most secret place they hide, they know LHH disease exists and it isn’t particularly fair in the immediate sense. Of course, it may be fair to some, by some historical, extrapolation, and as we know, such massive, huge extrapolations are in no way covered under the U.S. Constitution, but that’s neither here nor there.
The working environment makes LHH a backwards time-clock and microscope you labor under, which are both harsher than those felt by your protected coworkers.
The immediate reasons for LHH are perhaps more narrow in the news business than in other industry because the public face of the newspaper or news station, immediately affects ad sales. The result is instant, quicker than a Tweet on Twitter. Thus, the fatback managers don’t want to think about an EEOC lawsuit and the reverse publicity such would result in. This is combined with the stink of being perceived as non-progressive in a predominantly liberal, yet shrinking industry. It simply looks bad to give a minority or female the boot, first; especially if there is a LHH available.
HINT: Just check around the office, managers. Did you hire a spare one for a rainy day?
(Begin the music to “The Wheels on the Bus” here)
When the overwhelming majority of the remaining news staff is female, the sufferer of LHH disease has two choices: feign homosexuality, and thereby gain the back door into “afflicted/protected status”, or bafangoole someone in power, fast. If the management of the news staff is hideous, the former alternative is indicated.
In his particular case, Steve did neither. He merely kept doing his job to the best of his ability. This works for the minority class. Such industry, persistence, perseverance, all the wonderful words describing the decent American worker in the past, does not work for the LHH in news unless you find your Pulitzer and get it on the page! Very rare.
But it does slow down the backwards counting time-clock toward your eventual discharge. The microscope however, in a reverse proportion increases in intensity. Because if they can fire you for “cause” they avoid paying you unemployment.

This is the very crux of the lesson; it is your time-buying ace card.
Forget suing this company for the numerous wrenches tossed into your works at this point, which could be evidence of hostile work environment. When in doubt, kindly enter the men’s and check yourself. Still white? Check. Still male? Yes. Well, then the lawyer’s office has a swiftly moving revolving door for you. Have a nice day. Make other arrangements. Namely, get your unemployment out of them.
Steve was and remains married. Not that Steve is particularly priggish about bumping uglies with someone if the experience would have helped his case, and particularly if such coporate copulation would have been safe and even remotely pleasurable.
But he found the prospect of bedding TSC seriously distasteful, possibly even dangerous from a health perspective, and certainly something that would have given him nightmares. He was concerned for the overall safety of his prick, not to mention the state of his family.
The overtures for Steve to engage in submissive job-keeping sex, were administered by TSC with expert timing, and subtlety. An experienced cougar in residence, and possibly, in her better days, having suffered similar ensnarements from bosses, past and present, she knew precisely how to deliver the warnings that a job-fuck was in the offing, or else.
Steve saw through this of course, a wet slap might well have occurred, but, he knew his eventual termination from the paper was inevitable. Several of the council members who had been written about had begun pressuring management even as Steve was interviewing them.
Now, Steve had one thing going in his favor… (stay tuned, kids, for the next installment in 24 hours!)
End part 1

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