WASHINGTON — The gravedigger doesn’t have any reason to lie to you.
If the grave is deep enough and wide enough, that’s all that matters. The lies can be told by the shiny casket going into the dirt, by the funeral parlor salesman who talked the grieving relatives up the gold-patina model, and by those mourners who didn’t really want to be there.
But the man who shovels out the deep hole in the ground with a back hoe has no reason to embellish. He’ll just tell you what he thinks, if you ask.
Jimmy Breslin, the columnist who died Sunday, knew that in 1963 when he framed the funeral of John F. Kennedy through the experience of Clifton Pollard.
Pollard, an African-American man who dug graves at Arlington National Cemetery for $3.01 an hour, dug the slain president’s final resting place. He couldn’t watch the burial ceremony because he was digging more graves.
Still, he called it “an honor.”
Breslin’s story about the day is the one that’s remembered most out of the hundreds written, and it offers a lesson both about him, and for the reporters in Washington more than 50 years later covering a White House occupied by man who doesn’t need to be talked up to the gold model, and who has a strained relationship with the truth.
The lesson is, if you want truth, you have to leave your desk, step away from your computer, and must certainly ignore your Twitter feed.
“Breslin hardly ever came to the office. He just sent his stuff in,” said Anthony Mancini, a journalism professor at Brooklyn College who worked at the New York Post in the late 1960s when Breslin wrote for the then-liberal paper.
“Jimmy got up in the morning, and put on his shoes. He never learned to drive, so he walked, took the subway, a cab, whatever,” said Denis Hamill, a former New York Daily News columnist and friend of Breslin’s.
“He wouldn’t sit at a desk and think up what to write. He would form his opinion based on the legwork that he did,” Hamill said. “He went out and really did the work.”
The results were stories that helped expose the corruption immortalized in the book “City For Sale,” revealed NYPD cops who tortured suspects with a stun gun, and infuriated the powerful, including Breslin’s friends like former New York Gov. Hugh Carey. Breslin dubbed him “Society Carey,” and Carey lost the next election.
Breslin ran into some trouble in the era of “new journalism” when some of his regulars in his columns were deemed to be composite characters. “They were playing fast and loose in those days,” said Mancini, noting that in the era of “fake news,” reporters need to avoid some old-school liberties. “That was a little Trumpian.”
Hamill said much of the concern was overblown, though, by people who didn’t like Jimmy Breslin, and just couldn’t believe that the truth was true.
“Most of the columns that looked fictional were real, and some of the people in them …read more
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