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Additional Information for Readers of What’s Past is Prologue - Part 2: the Newspapers - Mo's Journal
August 8th, 2005
10:25 am

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Additional Information for Readers of What’s Past is Prologue - Part 2: the Newspapers
My usual practice is to provide an "Additional Information" file that gives expanded information on literary references within the stories, along with urls for the works they're taken from. Sometimes I've also provided information on public health issues or other issues raised in the stories. With What's Past is Prologue I've broken the file into three different posts. The first was on gay and lesbian parenting. This second one is on the publications that appear in the series. The third will be the literary references.



My fiction usually features one real life newspaper, on the margins of the story. Adam Greenfield works for The Miami Herald (http://www.herald.com) and his assignments as an investigative journalist sometimes drive the plot. This series opens with Charles’s obituaries as seen in several other publications, and one of the newspapers plays a strong role in the plot of the series. Other than the Xavier Academy school newspaper, the publications are all genuine. To prepare to write the initial story for this series, I read obituaries in many publications pretty much non-stop for a couple of weeks. I used that research to settle on which publications to use and then read them intensively for another few days. I did my level best to write the obituary as each would have written it.

The resulting obituaries are different in a number of ways – in tone, in focus, and sometimes even in facts. One of the things I was trying to do with this piece was to recreate what happens to me when someone whose life I’m interested in dies. I try to read a variety of obituaries and find myself mulling over the differences among them. Some are obvious – like those due to the political leanings of the publication – but others are not so clear. I’m always bemused, for example, to find some small discrepancy among them about something that is fact rather than opinion, and that I’d think would be easy to determine definitively. I recreate that circumstance in the story by having the publications disagree on exactly how old Charles was when he had his accident.

The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com) is my local paper and the one I read every day. It is also the closest thing the United States has to a national newspaper and is often referred to as “the paper of record.” Generally thought to be left of center in its editorial policies, it is also most often viewed as scrupulously accurate in its reporting. Its slogan “All the News that’s Fit to Print” is displayed prominently on its masthead. The paper is conservative stylistically and eschews cartoons and other frivolity common to newspapers in this country. It also has a policy of providing all information necessary to understand a story within the story itself, not relying on the reader having read previous news stories on the subject. I generally like that policy, since it makes it easy to jump into a news topic mid-way. It sometimes does seem a little over the top, though, as during a year of at least one – and often two or more – stories on the OJ Simpson trial appearing every day in the New York Times. Every last one of those stories contained the line “Mr. Simpson is the former football player who is accused of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.”

New York Times obituaries are rarely on the front page, but they do that once in a while for particularly prominent individuals, as I show them doing for Charles. The length of the obituary is also reflective of his prominence and the format reflects the paper’s custom. Note that positive or neutral terms are used, that they ask the President for a comment, and that they accept the X-Men press release’s descriptions of both Scott and Jean, identifying him as Charles’s son and her as “Dr. Jean Grey of the Xavier Institute.”

Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com) is a weekly newsmagazine. Its “Milestones” column long provided brief obituaries along with notices of celebrity marriages and births. It seems to be on hiatus now, but I’m guessing it comes back well before 2012, when this story takes place. The obituaries are short and kind of breezily written and tend to include some sort of gossipy inside information, in this case the nickname of Xavier’s Academy. There’s also the mention of Xavier’s illness not having been widely known. They seem to have resolved the question of Scott being named as Charles’s son by just referring to him as an adopted son.

The Toronto Globe and Mail (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/) is often considered the paper of record in Canada much as The New York Times is in this country. They print conventional obituaries when someone dies, but sometimes do something else as well. A week or a month or more after the death the Globe and Mail occasionally does a more detailed profile of the individual, and that’s what I’m reproducing here. It’s in a set format and is more of an appreciation than a conventional obituary, including one or more stories about the deceased and focusing on accomplishments of particular interest to a Canadian readership. These articles have a byline (unusual in obituaries) and follow a set format. Note that they’ve interviewed Mac Hudson for the article, and also make mention of the Xavier Foundation’s support of Ryerson University in Toronto. It’s the only one of the publications that identifies Jean as a daughter, rather than just a doctor, based presumably on information gleaned from Mac.

The Washington Times (http://www.washingtontimes.com) is a very conservative daily newspaper founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 1982. Its influence is often greater than its small circulation would suggest, because of its location in the nation’s capital and because it is viewed as the conservative alternative to the liberal – and considerably better written – Washington Post. In my reading of The Washington Times I’ve found that they do a very poor job of separating editorial policy from straight news. Their position on mutants is unknown, but I show them behaving towards mutants and writing about them in much the way the real life Washington Times writes about gay people.

They do not seem to even attempt objectivity and include a lot of innuendo in what purports to be a news story. Note that the only public official they ask for comment on Charles’s death is the virulently anti-mutant Senator Marley. They are the only publication that questions the legitimacy of the X-Men discovery that led to the end of the war, and in contrast with other publications that refer to the X-Men as a paramilitary group, they use more inflammatory language: “vigilante organization” and “private army.” Note also that they refer to the struggle for mutant rights as “special rights” rather than equal rights, which is exactly how they talk in the real world about civil rights for gay men and lesbians.

The Washington Times, however, does seem to be digging deeper than the other papers, which do not really view the obituary as occasion for investigative journalism. Their reporter, Rick Kapell, finds out more than the others because he does not take the X-Men press release at face value. The obituary is the only one that questions the statement that Scott is Charles’s son, and the paper also seems to be the only one to have found out that the X-Men were involved in Callahan’s capture, something they had wished to keep secret. Much of the plot of this series is driven by the continuing investigation of the X-Men that is sparked by what is found out in writing this obituary.

Mutant High Times is, of course, my own invention and has no website. The student-written obituary is very personal and doesn’t cover any of the facts of Charles’s life. It’s both heartfelt and clichéd in the way that kids’ writing can be, as Joe doesn’t realize he’s writing in clichés when he says things like “Gone but not forgotten.” It’s the only obituary that gives a glimpse into the mourning process in the school.

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