Cogito Ergo Non Serviam
Jimmy Breslin -30-
American greatness and the American media took a blow over the week-end with the passing of Jimmy Breslin. He was among the titans of journalism anywhere. Every reporter in the movies or on TV with uncombed hair, a stogie in the corner of the mouth, and holes in the soles of the shoes from pounding the pavement pays homage to the man. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning guy from Queens, New York who knew just how damned good he was and didn't mind letting everyone know it. He did more to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable than entire newsrooms. It is a privilege to be in the same profession.
What made JB Number One (his own term for himself) was his creativity. Many journalists and virtually all of their readers labor under the misapprehension that journalism, the reporting of the news, requires "just the facts." Mr. Breslin understood that deciding what facts to include, which to omit, which to emphasize and which to abjure was an act of creation. To be a great journalist requires as much creativity as to be a great painter, actor or novelist. Jimmy Breslin was a creative guy.
The murder of JFK was the most covered story of the day, rightly so. Only Jimmy Breslin thought to write this, "[Clifford] Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave."
In 1986, AIDS was a death sentence and among the alleged godly grounds for homophobic policies and callousness. He transformed the infected from statistics and monsters into human beings as frail as the rest of us. He wrote about David Camacho, who "had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn't count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning."
Jimmy Breslin also shook the foundations of City Hall. His expose on the Parking Violations Bureau. Donald Manes was President of the Borough of Queens (a Beep in local parlance, a job in those days that was considered a plum and came with no small patronage) and was found near Shea Stadium with self-inflicted knife wounds on January 10, 1986. Two days later, Mr. Breslin blew to top off the Parking Violations Bureau scandal which involved Mr. Manes and others who engaged in bribery, extortion, and city contracts to collect $1.1 billion in traffic fines at as much as 60% commission. Mayor Koch survived the affair, while many careers ended.
I had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Breslin once. I was working as New York state coordinator during Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign. Offices had yet to be arranged, and phones were not in place. My home phone rang early one morning. "Is this Jeff MY-HER, Brown for President.?" Yes. "This is Jimmy Breslin of the Daily News. I tried to find out what your guy is doing today, and he isn't in the AP [Associated Press] day book. You gotta get him in the day book. Gotta pen? I'm gonna give you the number." I wrote it down and said thanks. "Good luck, kid."
Other reporters would have seen nothing in the day book and given up or moved onto another story. Mr. Breslin didn't. He took the time to find me (my name and address were on the ballot access petitions at the Board of Elections, and my phone number was in the book). Then, he gave the little guy a break by calling and offering some information in exchange for absolutely nothing.
Jimmy Breslin 1930-2017. He'd want to end it the way reporters used to finish pieces: -30-
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