Thursday, December 20, 2007

Journalistic elbow-rubbing.

The second-most-enjoyable* aspect of writing freelance commentary for The Wall Street Journal is opening the paper on the morning of publication to see with whom you share the page. Bear in mind, it's not that I believe in status-by-association. In fact, I'm not even sure I believe in status. (Who's to say that any one person is any more worthwhile than any other person, regardless of his or her standing in life? A lot of life, if not all of it, is just a cosmic accident.) But it's always fun, often in a strange-bedfellows way, to learn who your page-mates are. Today, for example, it's me and Karl Rove, the man people love to hate—just a coupla white guys sittin' around talkin'. Previously I've shared column-inches with irascible-but-beloved theater critic John Simon and supply-side-economist-to-the-stars Arthur Laffer. December 18, 1996 was quite a day: It was me, publisher and presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and CBS legend Mike Wallace, plus a sidebar from Wallace's long-time producer at 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt. What made that especially odd was that earlier that year, I had gotten Messrs. Wallace and Hewitt very, very angry by writing a long Journal critique of some of the reportorial tactics pioneered at 60 Minutes. (And by the way, though it may not sound like it here, yes, the Journal does run stuff written by females.)

One glorious time—January 18, 1994—I had almost the entire page to myself. That was for a piece on HMOs, "The High Price of Managed Care," that became something of a touchstone in the emerging debate over the business side of health care.

Anyway, my piece, today, is sure to certify my standing as the antichrist among folks who've always attacked me as a gloom-and-doomer. Be sure to let me know what you think, if you care to read the piece and can open the page without registering for the site (which requires payment). That's easier if you try to reach it through Google news, which is where the above URL takes you.

Also today, I'm told, NPR will be uploading a story on life coaching to which I contributed. Just FYI.

* The first-most-enjoyable is the pay: Among newspapers, the Journal pays the highest rates in the known world for opinion writing.


Anonymous said...

Steve, I just read your piece, and I'd like to thank you in the most heartfelt way for "the malignant narcissism epitomized in 'Seinfeld'." Every time I have been subjected to an episode of that revolting sitcom, I have felt depressed and nauseated by the apparent elevation of self-serving behavior and self-centeredness. Call me a wacko, but I found and find that series nothing more or less than mean-spirited. Yuck!!!

But to your theme. I once read that the true secret of happiness was feeling that whatever you had is "just enough." True, it's not the lottery, but it works for me. And sometimes it's the dream of the lottery that is "just enough."

I'd also like to comment on your notation of the soaring teen suicide rates. I think the pressures put on teens by ambitious parents to achieve more and before they're ready plays a part in that--be the soccer star, get a scholarship to Harvard, look like the Olsen twins--but I also think it has a lot to do with what's supposed to be entertaining to teens. Sitting for hours--often all night--in front of the computer, as teens I know do, playing video games and monitoring YouTube, just frankly isn't that interesting. In fact, without breaks to actually DO something, it's damned boring. A steady diet of that would, in my opinion, make anyone depressed and suicidal!

Anonymous said...

For someone who "doesn't believe in status" you sure seem hung up on your own status. All you talk about in this comment is what you've written, who you've shared a page with, etc. Think about it, Steve.

Steve Salerno said...

Normally I wouldn't put something like this last anonymous comment on the blog--certainly I'd be unlikely to do it if it were one community member calling out another community member. It's your basic ad hominem attack. But I guess in this instance I have to say I invited it, and it does seem relevant. So there it is.

Debbie said...

I love the last quote from your Dad in your WSJ article. It really spoke to me as I watch someone I love constantly chasing that which she thinks will make her happy, often forgetting that she's a wife and mother.

I enjoyed the piece. I think it speaks volumes about not only the never-ending pursuit of something that is truly unattainable, but the increasing greed we're seeing in today's society. Not just monetary, but emotional as well.

Lana said...

I'm happy that you're enjoying some decent dough for writing this nice piece :-)

As one who has a blog with an underlying theme of getting and staying happy, I'm very interested in this subject. I agree with many of your points.

I think the American economy relies on its consumers believing that happiness depends on acquiring material goods and high status.

We're starting to see lots of good research on happiness. I hope it's just a matter of (short) time before we all understand what happiness is and how to promote it in our lives.

acd said...

I think the piece was very well written, and I agree that people should be happy with the simpler things in life. But consider that some of those suicides (or attempts) occurred because even the simplest joys in life seemed so hopelessly out of reach--a happy marriage, close friends, a rewarding career, a supportive family. What do young people have to look forward to when so many of their older role models are bitter and fed up with life? It's not the self-esteem based blather that is depressing our children. It's the things they see and experience in reality that show them that life is not worth living. And maybe people years ago were more capable of coping with that, but it doesn't mean they were any more happy with the way things are.

Akhetnu said...

I have been lately reading Alan Watts on the philosophy of Zen and the "wisdom of insecurity", which forms an interesting compliment to the ideas I am reading here. I wonder if you have read any of his work.

Steve Salerno said...

Though I have a passing familiarity with his work, I must confess to not having read it, Akhetnu. I'll have to add it to my list of "must-reads," which I expect to be fully caught up on by 2018, or the year the East Coast is vaporized via suitcase-bomb, whichever comes first.

Steve Salerno said...

And in the category of "I'm tellin' ya, you just can beat the Wall Street Journal": I just happened to check sales figures, and the book is moving as briskly today as it has at any time since, well, the last time the Journal gave the book a mention. Actually, I overstate; we've had some good days between 2005 and now. But it was the Journal's formal review of SHAM back in summer 2005 that almost succeeded at rocketing my book into the coveted Amazon 100. I think we topped out at No. 114 or something.

And now, I suppose, my anonymous poster above can remind me again of how self-absorbed I am.... ;)

The Crack Emcee said...


Anon's full of it.

I found the piece to be pedestrian but, then, we agree on the theme and, by now, I know the terrain enough to be looking for something *different* Still, I'm always happy to hear about your dad, and what he thought a "man" was. Obviously, it meant as much to him as it does to me, and he seemed to have it down. Glad to see you salute him.

Also, to see anyone I know (even if it's just online) in the WSJ is cool. It's a great paper and I hope the pay was good. There's an article coming out soon, in New Angeles Monthly, about me and TMR:

I'll keep you posted.

Mary Anne said...

A very insightful and thoughtful piece Steve. I find "O.K" to be just right. I equate happiness with contentment and acceptance.

Anon's comment about "Seinfield" reminded me of Jerry Seinfield's juvenile behavior in regards to promoting the "Bee Movie." He tore into poor Larry King for accidentally stating "Seinfield" was canceled and he belittled the Big O (Oprah) about needing a calendor, because he "never looks back. He then expected NBC to act like it was 1998 and bow down to him on the "TODAY" show. He was really irking me last November with his media antics and rudeness.