Just Above Sunset
July 17, 2005 - A Birthday Party Spawns a Column About Freedom of the Press

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Book Wrangler

July 17, 2005

By Bob Patterson


When we learned that the Dark Delicacies Book Store out in the San Fernando Valley was going to hold an event that combined a book signing with a birthday party for George Clayton Johnson, we snapped up the chance to take one of Just Above Sunset (JAS) Photo Department's digital cameras and get some material for this weekly column.

George Clayton Johnson
Click on image for full-size version -

After music, cake, and signing various items, Johnson reminisced about the earlier stage of the growth of the science fiction and horror genres when the fans first started to churn out mimeographed newsletters that eventually became known as fanzines. 


Johnson noted that the established writers back then were quick to come to the defense of the fanzine editors and writers when their right to refer to themselves as "journalists" was questioned.  He said many of the top writers were quick to maintain that it was crucial to establish that the fanzine opinions and critical evaluations were protected by the principles of free speech and freedom of the press.


Johnson, who wrote the first episode (not the pilot) of Star Trek to be broadcast, has said he still uses a typewriter for writing.


One of the current topics on the Internet is the search for a precise definition of what and/or who is a journalist and the impact that the freedom of speech principle has on the expression of opinions and critical reviews in blogs and online magazines.


Conservative radio talk show hosts have been decrying the lack of objectivity in the liberal media and on many anti-Bush publications on the web. 


As this column was being written, Al Franken on his radio show heard in Los Angeles on Thursday July 14, 2005, noted (with astonishment) that the conservatives quite often act contrary to the values that they insist liberals should practice in their lives.


The liberals are trying to impose their point of view on the conservatives: you should follow the precepts you preach.  That's a typical liberal assumption.  They assume that folks should follow the values they espouse as a "given."  If they would hang with opposition and listen to folks in the posse of Rush clones, they'd know that conservatives only have to impose those rules on the liberals and not be living examples of the philosophy they believe. 


The conservatives don't say that all media should be objective; they just say that the liberal media is biased and should not be.  The hidden agenda is that the conservatives have the infallible point of view and need not be objective (hallelujah!). 


If blogs and online magazines are going to be protected by freedom of speech and freedom of the press, then they have to decide which of the two points of view about objectivity they will adopt.  The liberal idea of how everybody should act, or the conservative one that only prescribes conduct (and content) for the liberals.  


It seems that the liberal media has forgotten that bias has always played a traditional role in news coverage and are being cowed into not proudly advocating that tradition.  Yes, one or two Yankee reporters did slip behind enemy lines to cover the Civil War, but mostly Yankee news personnel covered the North, and employees of newspapers in the Southern States covered the Confederate forces.  If they wanted objectivity why didn't the New York Times hire writers from Australia to cover the US Civil War? 


We didn't get the chance to ask Johnson about how the fanzine struggle applies to the present conflict, because he was busy with enjoying the party festivities, but perhaps we will contact him in the near future and get some quotes about how freedom of the press should be applied to the Internet writers.


We could also expand the subject and ask: What about confidential sources for writers?


Suppose Karl Rove had talked to a blogger about who is a CIA agent?  Would a blogger be willing to go to jail to protect a source? 


L'affaire Rove isn't a modern Dreyfuss affair because it will all blow over and be forgotten.  It takes two witnesses to convict a person of perjury.  The Time guy has testified and now it all comes down to Judith Miller wanting to choose between protecting confidential sources, or (Rove must be assumed innocent until proven guilty) making an airtight case against Rove.  If she remains silent, Rove will get a pass.  If she testifies and says she was told by Rove and he lied about it; then the era of confidential sources will be over and Dubya will have to warm up his power to pardon pen and save Rove.  Either way Rove is a free man and Miller has to make a historic choice that will impact American culture for years to come.


Only a columnist can turn a writer's birthday party memories into a serious consideration of the future of the country, but that's the way it is.


We'll insert a quote by Anton Chekhov here: "When I write, I reckon entirely upon the reader to add for himself the subjective elements that are lacking in the story." 


Now, if the disk jockey will play the Beatle's "They Say It's Your Birthday" we'll celebrate the completion of another column.  Until the next time, have a week in which you take advantage of freedom of speech, express yourself, and blow out all the candles.




The band at the birthday party…

The band at the birthday party ...

Del: He puts the "Del" in the Dark Delicacies Bookstore -

He puts the "Del" in the Dark Delicacies Bookstore

George Clayton Johnson with his son Paul...

George Clayton Johnson with his son Paul...



Text and Photos Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson

Email the author at worldslaziestjournalist@yahoo.com



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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