“Busy as Bees” (E66)

  • Originally printed:  The New Yorker, July 12, 1930  
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Guy Fawkes

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Comments:

Guy Fawkes gives no quarter (no Sunday edition nickel either) to his nemeses on the New York Times editorial staff, who found themselves hoist by their Boys’ Own Adventure headline policy during the summer of 1930. After years of flogging takeoffs, landings, ascents, and polar perambulations, a perfect storm of derring-do caught the “paper of record” short of frontpage real estate, allowing The Herald Tribune, The World, The Telegraph, and The American to latch their lousy linotypes onto the gravy plane. Roger Williams’ non-stop Bermuda journey and the Hunter Brothers’ 553-hour endurance flight were among the exclusive “scoops” that slipped through the Times’ clutches while they were busy chasing that aeronautic will-o’-the-wisp Charles Kingsford-Smith.

In other non-news, Benchley raps knuckles on both sides of the political aisle for the epidemic of bad faith arguments propounded by the Democans in support of and in opposition to the latest tariff law. Apparently, Hoover’s supporters contended that the new act had no connection whatsoever to an unfortunately timed dip in the already anemic 1930 Stock Market, while the Democratic organs naturally averred that Hoover’s policy would merely compound his economic felonies. Then, everyone turned on a dime (Benchley wouldn’t pay that either), adopting the opposite positions when trading ticked upward the next week. Through it all, much was made about the impact (or irrelevance) of “dominant bear” activity on Wall Street.

The author also takes the Treasury Department to task for pretending there’s no such thing as a “deficit” until the American people (in this case, the soon-to-be-famous Great War bonus veterans) actually need financial assistance. Then, suddenly, all of those Chamber of Commerce prosperity tales about bountiful national surpluses evaporate into hysterical mists of austerity. Some things never change.

Guy Fawkes isn’t all gunpowder this time out, though. He finds space for a paragraph in praise of the New York Times’ “French Correspondent”, who delivered an unaccustomedly graceful appraisal of the Allied evacuation of the Rhineland in the July 1st edition of the paper. And he ends on a note of mock-exhilaration in anticipation of keeping cool with ex-president Coolidge’s daily column for the remainder of the summer!

Favorite Moment:

Just as we were beginning to worry about light paragraphs for this department and to wonder if it might not be well to discontinue for the summer, the Herald Tribune starts in on daily sermonettes by Calvin Coolidge. So far, we have seen only followups to his old “Have Faith in Massachusetts” routine, evidently extending the series into “Have Faith in the Republican Party,” “Have Faith on the Lower Mississippi,” and “Have Faith in the Rockies,” but they are sufficient to make us cancel our passage to Europe. We can’t miss those.

“The Boys Go Literary” (E54)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 5, 1927
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Guy Fawkes

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Comments:

In this early installment of The Wayward Press (so early it’s called “The Press in Review” instead), Guy Fawkes expresses grudging admiration for a fit of aberrantly elevated expression which gripped the city’s newspapers in October 1927. Writing in an appreciative mood more reminiscent of Robert Benchley, Broadway’s most doggedly delighted dramatic critic, than of Guy Fawkes, celebrated foe of the Fourth-Rate Estate, the author heaps promiscuous acclaim upon the various outlets’ moving memoranda on the deaths of Mexican General Alfredo Quijano and NYC underworld figure James “Little Augie” Orgen.

Fawkes does recover some of his wonted facetiousness in time to question the World’s step too far into sonorousness in its October 22nd issue, which he describes as a series of short story prize entries laid end to epiphanic end. Benchley stays with that much-abused organ as he coasts toward the close on a tongue-in-cheek treasure hunt for the faltering World’s late 1920s signature dog, cat, and pony show puff pieces on companionate creatures. He locates only one in this unusually highfalutin month of issues, although he briefly considers lumping a press release on the Rockefellers at play in with the rest of the animal antics.

Favourite Moment:

Once again, we must complain of the World’s household-pet news. After a frantic search of the files for the past three weeks, the only really exclusive story in this field appears to be the one on October 19 in which it is told (with two photographs) how Ethelbert, the cat in the County Clerk’s office, sits by the mail chute watching the letters drop past and tries unsuccessfully to stop them. A very pretty story, and told in that sharp, incisive manner which characterizes all the World’s animal news, but hardly sufficient for three weeks’ reading.

“A Big Edition” (E45)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 21, 1931
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes

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Comments:
A big edition indeed! Guy Fawkes covers a lot of ground in this 5-page installment of The Wayward Press. He begins with an expression of pity for American journalists forced to pretend that they understand or care about “international news”. Given a line on a good murder spree or their semi-annual Trial of the Century, those press boys could really kick up some copy, but with nothing much cooking on the domestic front in early November 1931, Fawkes finds them serving up second-hand statecraft scraps. The papers were abuzz that autumn with hearsay concerning French Prime Minister Pierre Laval’s fruitless confab with Herbert Hoover. Fawkes chides the media for churning out placeholder headlines and stories, all claiming to be on the cusp of big balance-of-power altering revelations, when, in fact, not even Laval knew what he was doing on this side of the Atlantic.

The author does a little digging in the London papers and finds them even more at sea in their reportage, with the Daily Express going furthest astray in their accounts of a “shocking” shipboard slip and fall by U.S. dignitary Henry Prince, which was supposed to have upset Monsieur et Madame Laval greatly and augured ill for discussions of a Franco-American Pact. In reality, RB asserts, Prince had the stomach flu and the Lavals weren’t anywhere near him when he took a tumble. This was no mistake on DE’s part – the paper simply understood that beleaguered Britons were eager for a little comedy relief in their foreign correspondence.

Fawkes makes short work of the New York City Aldermanic elections, described by various organs as indicative of a victory for Tammany or for the anti-corruption Seabury commission (definitely seems like the latter, in retrospect, given the imminent fate of Mayor James J. Walker) and the death of Thomas Alva Edison (he’s just happy the sportswriters weren’t asked to pile their purple clichés onto his pyre – if they had any words left in their artless arsenals after emptying them for their encomia to Knute Rockne). In between these segments, RB goes in for some multiple regression data analysis (comparing October 1930 circulation figures to the October 1931 numbers) in order to demonstrate that a sizable portion of the now-defunct World and Evening World readerships wound up falling to the Hearst papers, while a hefty percentage of the populace (188,196 to be exact) appears to have stopped reading entirely.

Things really heat up during the final two pages, as Fawkes holds up his end of two feuds initiated by The Wayward Press – one with The Sun, which has a rather distorted view of the meaning of the term “reading matter”; the other with Times Business Manager Louis Wiley, who pleads innocent to the charge of accepting press coverage payola from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Along the way, we also get an amusing play-by-play of a fall flare-up of nonsense numbering in the New York papers, several of which appeared to be trying to one-up each other by going far beyond the traditional “Three/Four/Five Star Final” formula for identifying their last gasps of the day. Fawkes tracks The Sun, The Post and The World-Telegram through their paces, observing nigh-exponential progress from the usual 5, to 14, to 16, to 118, to a truly preposterous edition number 219 shamelessly put forth by The Post.

Favourite Moment:
Now that we know The Times wasn’t paid for anything [re: stories about the Waldorf-Astoria], the thing is even less understandable than ever. The Herald Tribune at least got a great big advertisement for its pains.

“The Beginning of the Slump” (E39)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, September 3, 1927
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes

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Comments:
Guy Fawkes takes stock of the calm that descended upon the New York papers in the days following the flashpoint execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The author expresses admiration for the purity and elegance of the “pre-war” layout (8 discrete one-column heads) which graces the front page of The Times, whenever that paper finds itself with nothing to say.

There had certainly been plenty to say earlier in August, and Benchley had read every word of it with ever-deepening disenchantment. The humorist had played an unusually active role in the public furor surrounding the fate of the railroaded Italian immigrants. Abandoning his customary observer’s stance, RB had returned to Massachusetts in order to offer testimony against Judge Webster Thayer’s conduct while presiding over this celebrated miscarriage of justice. All to no effect, of course, and The Times edition for August 23rd, 1927 had carried the following headline across the entire width of the front page: “Sacco and Vanzetti Put To Death Early This Morning: Governor Fuller Rejects Last-Minute Please For Delay After A Day of Legal Moves and Demonstration.”

Taking a last look back at this defining defeat for roaring twenties liberals and radicals alike, Fawkes applauds the Times’ unusually fair-minded coverage of the affair’s dire denouement. Meanwhile, in The World, Benchley’s fellow Vicious Circler Heywood Broun found his column contradicted at every turn by the copy that surrounded it, due to the paper’s cowardly capitulation to the supposedly neutral Lowell Report, which rubber stamped the preordained exoneration of Judge Thayer. Broun and The World would soon part ways. But Benchley singles out The Sun’s piece of Thayer theatre for particular censure, citing comments praising the judge’s gentlemanly conduct and refusal to engage in controversy with the “persons [i.e. Robert Benchley] who have most maliciously assailed him.” Satire of the first order, RB asserts.

In the article’s second page, Fawkes examines the kinds of stories that were apt to find their way into 1927 newspapers whenever the state found itself temporarily deprived of opportunities to engage in red-baiting show trials and judicial murder – notably, picture laden spreads on young female competitors at the Caledonian Games and other rural contests involving farm implements. Oh yes, and the Herald Tribune saw fit to sound an utterly unnecessary front page alarm when President Coolidge spent a little bit longer than usual on a fishing trip and found himself without an overcoat as the evening cool fell upon Lake Yellowstone.

Favourite Moment:
As if this were not enough news for one day, The World, in the same issue and even on the very next page, gives us a two-column photograph of Miss Helen Barnaby, of North Danville, NH, who is the champion woman scythe-swinger and, “until a day or so ago” [that would make it about August 23 – ED.] “the champion mower of New Hampshire.”