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Friday, December 29, 2006

Dana Carvey Movie Comes to Life 

It's a wonder that no one has attached the suffix "gate" to this little issue.

Careful readers of the Washington Post obituary for Gerald Ford will notice that said obituary was written by J. Y. Smith and Lou Cannon.

However, I kinda sorta suspect that it was Cannon, not Smith, who made the final revisions to the obituary copy.

Why do I suspect this? Because J. Y. Smith himself died almost a year ago.

Wonkette provides details:

As Drudge so cruelly notes, Washington Post obituary writer J.Y. Smith died nearly a year before he reported on Gerald Ford’s tragic death in today’s paper. How did Joe Smith do it? Did he return from Beyond the Grave, possibly to help the ghost of James Brown in killing the 93-year-old ex-prez?

Probably, but this is also another reminder that obits are waiting on pretty much every public figure — especially anyone older than 50.

So why does Smith still get credit for something that he drafted some time ago? Because it turns out that Smith was Mr. Obituary:

J.Y. Smith, 74, a former foreign correspondent who transformed the backwater reputation of The Washington Post obituaries desk as its first official editor, died Jan. 17 at his home in Annandale. He had lung cancer....

Mr. Smith helped cover the trial of the Hanafi Muslims who in 1977 armed themselves heavily, took hostages and shot up a city government building, the Islamic Center and B'nai B'rith International. One person was killed.

Until that time, Metro editors routinely tapped young, inexperienced or bored-looking staffers to write the major obits that flashed across the wire. The "anybody free?" method had persisted even as The Post emerged as a national newspaper in the early 1970s by publishing the Pentagon Papers and breaking the Watergate scandal.

The Post's obit tactics at the time contrasted embarrassingly with policies in force at other leading papers, from the Times of London to the New York Times, which had dedicated staff members to craft prominent obituaries....

In 1977, [Leonard] Downie [Jr.] had a large part in Mr. Smith being named the obituaries editor.

The beginning was not particularly easy, with Mr. Smith writing on deadline about figures as diverse as silent-film genius Charlie Chaplin and Hitler associate Albert Speer. He managed many gems despite the immediacy of deadlines....

The job was often filled with pressures, but he was attuned to the necessity of compassion and appreciation of a life. "The occasion for obituaries is death, which is sad. But the subject of obituaries is life itself, which is wonderful," he once wrote....

His tenure as The Post's obituaries editor from 1977 to 1988 coincided with the first deaths from AIDS. Mr. Smith retained a staunch belief that "the newspaper has a duty to reflect the world as it really is," he wrote in The Post in 1987. "That is the whole point of journalism, and it is the single best reason for citing AIDS as a cause of death."

He suggested that those wishing to conceal information or have entire control over content could buy a paid death notice.

"People try to deny painful memories," he wrote. "In this way death is the enemy of common sense and, unless one is very careful, death always wins. Denying painful memories is to deny part of the life itself."

Witness the following in Smith's own obituary:

Mr. Smith had a complex history at The Post. He was admired for the crispness of his storytelling and the breadth of his capabilities, but he also was an alcoholic and his addiction made him erratic for years until he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and quit drinking in 1983....

In 1989, when Redskins player Dexter Manley was disciplined by the National Football League after he tested positive for substance abuse, Mr. Smith discussed publicly his own addiction to alcohol and his recovery.

"I first hit bottom when I was arrested for driving while intoxicated," he wrote. "Some years later, after another period of drinking and recovery, I found myself living in a dark little room in a blighted neighborhood where not even the best days found much of happiness and where the police were always in the local convenience store and fast-food outlet to keep peace among the inhabitants.

"My anchor at that time was the people who could help me with alcoholism. The truth is that because I asked every day for help I wasn't even tempted to pick up a drink."

Smith's obituary, incidentally, was written by Adam Bernstein.

I think.

Incidentally, there is no evidence that either Smith or Ford died from being eaten by wolves.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Information on the greatest 20th century U.S. president here)

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