All kinds of people have, during the past decade or two, voiced all kinds of complaints about the state of journalism as practiced in our mainstream media. Many of these complaints are even accurate. One of the most interesting, to me, is the complaint that the writing in American newspapers and wire services has become too plain and ordinary. This criticism is often made by people in journalism, especially advocates of "literary" or the new old New Journalism (or whatever that movement is called these days). This is an interesting criticism, since another school of critics will note that we are living in an age in which opinion and advocacy writing is threatening to swamp hard-news journalism, in large part because opinion is cheaper than actual research and reporting.
The basic question: At what point does colorful, creative writing cross a line and become editorializing? In other words, one scribe's colorful metaphor may be another's linguistic slap.
Consider, for example, the following passage in the New York Times report about the rites that moved Pope John Paul II "one step closer to sainthood."
Benedict beatified John Paul II, declaring him “blessed,” meaning that he is able to be publicly venerated. He also greeted Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, a French nun who said that she recovered from Parkinson’s disease after praying to John Paul, a cure that Benedict had declared miraculous. An additional miracle is required for canonization, the next step after beatification.
An estimated 1.5 million people turned out for Sunday’s celebration, Italian authorities said. Many camped out overnight and crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder for blocks to be near the festivities.
During the Mass, a tapestry of John Paul based on a 1989 photograph was unveiled from the balcony of Saint Peter’s. It showed him with a twinkle in his eye and a slightly wry smile, the John Wayne of the modern papacy, both tough and tender.
OK, let's save for another day an in-depth discussion of the reference to Sister Marie Simone-Pierre -- that she simply "said that she recovered from Parkinson's disease." The process of investigating such a claim is way more complicated than that, as I am sure Times editors are aware.
Also, this story says John Paul II's papacy was 26 years long. Wasn't that 27 years?
No, I am fascinated by the out-of-the-blue John Wayne reference.
I, too, was struck by the image of John Paul II that was prominently featured in this Vativan rite, since was a striking reminder of what the vitally young, robust pontiff looked like before the waves of illness he faced as an elderly man. In the end, the ravages of Parkinson's disease claimed him.
I am also aware that, as such, the John Wayne metaphor cannot be "wrong" or "inaccurate." It is what it is, a metaphor offered by the writers to create an image in the mind of the reader.
So what do you, as readers, think of this one? Was John Paul II more of a Duke Wayne or, oh, a Cary Grant? A Polish Jimmy Stewart? Does there need to be more of an intellectual component in the DNA of this metaphor? I mean, at least the Times didn't call him the Ronald Reagan of modern Catholicism. I wonder if that was considered.
So, does the image work for you? Does the mitre fit?
But here is the most important question: What do you think that this image actually says?
PHOTO: The only image I could find of John Wayne wearing interesting headgear, in an event linked to a Catholic sanctuary.