It’s the “no matter what” part that’s the problem.
Once a newspaper or a magazine enters my possession, I am constitutionally incapable
of throwing it away until I read it. Days, weeks, months later.
Doesn’t matter. Old
newspapers will pile up until I can take the time to look
through them. Carefully. Just to make sure I haven’t
missed anything. People who know this have made fun of me
for years, but I always find something instructive, even
if it’s a feature you are glad you finally got to.
An obit you didn’t see.
Lately, however, I came across a stash of U.S. News and World
Reports I’d totally lost track of --- a pile with dates
from September 1999 to January 2001. (Not to mention the one
from March 1986 that somehow slipped in there.) And from such
a faraway perspective, they are instructive in a totally different – and
revealing --- way.
Here’s a cover story “The Struggle of John Paul II,” an
except from his book on the struggle of faith. Though we all know
by now the final
struggle he had was with illness and death. The Pope is no longer John
Paul II, but the new Pope Benedict.
Here’s another cover headline — before hanging chads and Supreme
Court decisions and an “An Inconvenient Truth” --- a banner splashed
across the top reading “Al Gore: On What It Will Take to Win.” We
know how that turned out.
An article called “Putting a Face on Terrorism” — a word
we live with daily --- points to a dastardly attack. You would think, scanning
it today, that this was our terrorism. Only this was before 9/11. The terrorism
is not ours. We were still innocents. This terrorism is Russia’s. “Russia’s
mystery bomber” and the “fatal apartment house bombing in Moscow.” As
much a part of our life as it would become, as familiar a headline as “Putting
a Face on Terrorism” is to us now, our terror had not arrived yet. Little
did we know.
Joe Torre is the hero of the Yankees. Hillary Clinton is still the First
Lady. We know the twist those stories have taken. Look. Here’s a name. Linda
Tripp. Remember her? How things have changed.
Yet along with the headlines you would never see today, flip a page and you
find one that could have been written as we speak. A photo spread peek inside
a presidential campaign titled “Here’s John McCain! On the Road.
Running for President!” (Exclamation marks theirs.) Fall 1999.
Hurrricane Floyd had just slammed the Carolinas, and, years before Katrina,
the cutline tells us the trouble was “not the hurricane, but the flood,” warning,
presciently, it could give a “taste of big storms to come.” The
copy in a following issue reads, “The legacy of Floyd is that complacency
could lead to thousands of deaths next time.” And we know now how that
turned out, too.
The kicker, I would have to admit, however --- at a time when the stock market
has plunged, oil has skyrocketed, the bottom keeps falling out of the economy,
and everyone’s dreading recession — is the most out of date of
all. Screaming across the front cover in a red and white banner, it reads “BoomTimes:
Why There’s No End in Sight.” Wouldn’t we love to see that
again! (Exclamation point mine.)
We journalists work at the edge of time. As with everything in life, we face
a world where we never know what will happen next. The stories we gather
exist at the border of the world we can see and what lies ahead. In the uncertain
Often there is a tension attached to what we write. Suspense. We wonder as
we deal with this drama or that, “How will this story end?”
Looking back from what was once the future we know how the story ends. We
can see this story was wise. This one of no great importance. One shows us
much the world has changed. We’ve moved on. Another how little. Viewed
from this point, they become commentaries. Fresh insights on today. An opportunity
for new conclusions.
In this same pile of reading put aside to “get to someday” is a
Herald Tribune from July 2004. On the front cover, upper left corner, is a
photograph of Yasir Arafat and a headline “Diplomatic furor over Arafat.” Now
we know I can skip that one. On the front cover, upper right corner, is a headline
about the upcoming Olympics, “Athens is scrambling to be ready on time.” We
know they made it. Not to worry. And under that is the front page news, “Poll
puts Bush at ominously low level.” So even back then he was in trouble,
you could write that headline!
Need I say more.
Make fun of me all you want. Saving the pile of yesterday’s news may
go beyond making sure I’ve kept on top of things. Wait long enough and
you see how smart you got. It’s one way to guarantee that, finally, you
know what Paul Harvey used to call, “the rest of the story.”
Eileen Douglas is a
broadcast journalist-turned-independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010
WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for
ABC TV's "Lifetime
Magazine," she is the author of "Rachel and the Upside Down Heart," and
co-producer of the films "My Grandfather's House" and "Luboml:
My Heart Remembers." She can be reached at http://www.douglas-steinman.com.