Saturday, February 19, 2022

One Exception Was John Vinocur, Who Was a Breed Apart: “Journalists used to act like cynics but at heart we were idealists; Now we’re often cynics masquerading as idealists”

The title of When Did ‘Me,’ ‘We’ and ‘Us’ Become the Media’s Preferred Pronouns?

But on the front page of its global edition (the International New York Times is the successor paper of John Vinocur's beloved International Herald Tribune), the title is a more sober Honoring old-school journalism.

In Honoring old-school journalism, discusses the present state of the craft, and mentions his friend, the late John Vinocur, as the antidote.

The IHT pundit, almost all of whose final decade of weekly opinion pieces were linked to by No Pasarán, died at 81 on February 13.

I feel exactly like , when he says that Vinocur's 

column in The I.H.T. was the one thing I would never miss 

when he (Stephens) was a graduate student in England and later when he worked as a journalist.

Over drinks not long ago, a friend summed up the way journalism had changed over the course of his career. “Journalists used to act like cynics but at heart we were idealists,” he said. “Now we’re often cynics masquerading as idealists.”

I thought of that line twice last week. The first time was on Wednesday, while reading, against my better judgment, about the abrupt resignation of Jeff Zucker as president of CNN. The second was on Sunday, after learning that my friend John Vinocur, the former executive editor of The International Herald Tribune, had died in Amsterdam at 81.

In these two stories lies the difference between the kind of journalism Americans used to venerate and the kind we have today.

 … When did “me,” “we” and “us” become the news media’s preferred pronouns?

One journalist who was not much for navel gazing was Vinocur, whose column in The I.H.T. was the one thing I would never miss when I was a graduate student in England and later when I worked as a journalist in Brussels and as an editor in Jerusalem.

From reading him over the years, I gleaned that Vinocur had covered, so it seemed, everything. The Biafran war. The Munich massacre. The Rumble in the Jungle. The Stroessner regime in Paraguay. Spy games in Germany. The Mitterrand monarchy in France. He was almost absurdly well sourced, thanks to years spent as The Times’s bureau chief in Paris and Bonn. And his prose — confident and confiding, energetic and endearing, intimate in detail and Olympian in scope — was, by far, the best in the paper.

 … [His lines from a vintage Vinocur lede] … made the morning paper a joy to read. And they gave a young journalist a sense of what his vocation might be like when practiced at its best: adventurous, literary, significant. As I read John in my 20s, I figured out what I wanted for my own career: to see the world without illusions — but without losing the ballast of personal ideals.

About 10 years ago, I got an unexpected visit from John in my office at The Wall Street Journal. Would I, he asked, give him a job? He was retired from The Times. But he still knew everyone, he had plenty to say, his skills were intact. In this way I became his editor, he became my mentor, and we became friends.

For the next several years he delivered a string of columns that look only better with the passage of time. From a 2015 column on the Minsk agreement, which helped set the stage for the present crisis in Ukraine: Its holes, he wrote, were “so gaping as to allow Russia to drive tanks unhampered through an open Ukrainian border for next to forever.” From a 2017 column raising alarms about Berlin’s increasingly neutralist foreign policy: “Is there a kind of German complicity or reflexive softness involving Russia that permits Moscow’s blatant (and strategic) lying without anything resembling serious retaliation?”

For many readers, these topics may have seemed distant. They didn’t trend on Twitter. They didn’t have the gossipy salaciousness of a newsroom scandale.

But they mattered. They looked outward. They dwelt heavily on the inner mechanics of politics and diplomacy. But they did so not for the sake of the game itself, but for the large things at stake.

I last saw John in Florida, shortly before the pandemic began. We had a gloomy conversation about the state of journalism. But when we parted, he said, “It’s a noble profession.”

It is. We should do more to live up to his example.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Good-Bye, Friend: RIP, IHT's John Vinocur

If there ever was a pundit worth quoting from the International Herald Tribune (which used to be jointly owned by The New York Times and The Washington Post), it was John Vinocur

The lone conservative pundit who rose to become the executive editor of the IHT (amazing, as he was a conservative) was always worth reading, as I discovered through the years that it became more and more evident that the plethora of liberals there (half from the Times and half from the Post) were often boring and oftenpredictable (not to mention flat-out wrong). 

And No Pasarán linked to John's pieces in the IHT many a time over the years, — not least when he seemed to be the only man in the MSM not to feel "a thrill go up the leg" about Barack Obama — and he was the true red-blooded conservative (not the David Brooks type) in a liberal newspaper.

I communicated with him once or twice — precisely because our blog would be quoting large swathes of his pieces. When I started blogging, indeed, I decided that I would not only link to pieces on the internet but regularly quote extensive excerpts on our blog (which turns 18 this month), because you never knew when a website would disappear.

I communicated this to him at the time, and he seemed happy about it as well as intrigued.

But I admit that I never believed that the website of a major newspaper like the IHT (the descendant of an American-language newspaper founded in Paris in 1887) would suffer that fate. But because the Times did nothing to save it, the IHT's online presence is gone from the web (probably for all time) — that is, with the exception of Vinocur from the early 21st century, if you are a reader of No Pasáran.

I'll be honest: I cannot deny that I'm damn proud that I started copy/pasting long quotes, or the IHT's Vinocur would be lost on the internet (perhaps for all time?).

God bless you, John Vinocur. And godspeed.

Related: Not John Vinocur, Who Was a Breed Apart: “Journalists used to act like cynics but at heart we were idealists; Now we’re often cynics masquerading as idealists”
PS: Here is a piece mentioning Joe Biden that dates from the election of 2004 (on this occasion, Instapundit is — again — involved):

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Europe in for a letdown if it's counting on Kerry, says Vinocur

Via Instapundit and Just One Minute: the IHT's John Vinocur, who went to Oberlin, had an article to-day on a U. Michigan seminar (thanks, Mr. Minuteman, for the link) attended by ranking Dems and European diplomats. Vinocur has Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Joe Biden making the following remarks:
Recalling that he had talked to six European government chiefs about the war, Biden caricatured how they would have done things better. "Blah blah blah, international cooperation," the senator mimicked. He added, in his own voice, "Give me a break, huh."

When Biden offered the possibility, beyond more civility, of a future in contrast to the Bush administration, it was in a plague-on-your-houses context. He said of the two, Europe and Bush, "You have fallen in love with international institutions to the extent that this administration has fallen in love with unilateral action."

For good measure, Biden threw in the view that the European Union will not have a unified foreign policy, and with it, the phrase, "I hope you do, I wish you well, but I see no evidence you're going to spend the money needed" to create a serious European military force either.