Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Reply to a Fool (If You Must)

This afternoon, after posting the first half of my critique of Julia O'Malley, I checked my inbox and found that I'd been BCC'd on an e-mail (about Barack Obama's smoking habit) from George Archibald.

George was an investigative reporter at The Washington Times who somehow, for reasons I don't entirely understand even now, ran off the rails and destroyed his career. He and his wife divorced, he took up with some young girl from Australia he'd met via the Internet, and finally he resigned from the newspaper.

George took a P.R. job for a Republican congressman, but that didn't work out, so he came back and requested to be reinstated in his old job. However, that position had been filled, and George took this rejection quite personally, launching an insane, spiteful campaign of vengeance against his former employers.

Along the way, rather notoriously, George claimed that I was some kind of evil David Duke-type hatemonger, seemingly giving credence to various left-wingers who had made such malignant accusations via their usual cut-and-past "Ransom Note" method of defamation. Because I'd always been friendly with George, and had thought well of him, I was quite hurt by this reckless and dishonest treatment, but eventually learned to forget it all, except as a lesson learned the hard way.

Then came George's e-mail today, which seemed to require that I dash off a brief and courteous response:

Thank you, George, for keeping me on your mailing list. During all that uproar at The Washington Times, etc., I never desired to be your enemy, and was personally hurt that you seemed to regard me as such. Your various misfortunes, subsequent to your resignation from TWT, have been a source of pain to me, even though you seemed in some way to blame me – and Fran and Wes – for your plight.

You should know that your seeming animosity has been an unexpected blessing to me, a reminder of Christ’s admonishment that we should pray for our enemies and do good to them who do us wrong. I always liked you, George, because you remind me so much of myself: Energetic, full of jocular good cheer, transparently excited about the latest scoop you were chasing – a man after my own heart.

My natural empathy toward you, however, caused me to be deeply troubled by your actions after leaving TWT, especially when you began peddling tales that I was some sort of raving bigot, an advocate of hatred, even an anti-Semite – this last a lie so directly contrary to fact as to have inspired laughter from those who know me well, including my Jewish cousins.

This was profoundly troubling to me, but not for the reason you might suspect. A bad reputation can be a most valuable resource for a journalist, and I learned to laugh off the “racist” smear as an example of how falsehood and distortion can make their rounds while, as the saying goes, truth is still putting on its shoes.

No, a concern for my own reputation was not what troubled me as I watched your descent into spite and self-pity. Rather, my thought was, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

If you were so much like me, and this was how you reacted after departing the employment of TWT, what would happen to me if I ever quit?

You perhaps were unaware of my own deep discontent at TWT. I'd hired on as an assistant national editor after having won national recognition for my work in Georgia, including an award-winning series of columns. When I started at TWT in November 1997, I expected that I might swiftly work my way into a regular spot as an op-ed columnist.

However, circumstances (mostly) beyond my control prevented this and – after the excitement of the Lewinsky scandal, 2000 election, etc., had faded – I began to brood over my lack of advancement at the newspaper. This brooding became even more intense after Tony Blankley took over the editorial page and, reversing the policy of his predecessors, banished newsroom personnel from offering op-ed columns. Thus I lost even the occasional chances to display my aptitude for commentary which I had been permitted when Todd Lindberg and Helle Dale ran the opinion shop.

Meanwhile, much against my own wishes, I was assigned to be editor of the “Culture, Etc.” page, after it was decided to shift the previous editor, Julia Duin, to assignment on the religion beat – which, of course, is what Julia had wanted to do all along. Anyone may ask Fran Coombs or Victor Morton how bitterly I protested my “promotion” to the Culture editor position. I’d spent five years watching Julia do that job, and it was a job I was sure I didn’t want, for which I knew myself to be temperamentally unsuitable.

Let’s face it, George: In Washington, the features beat is a journalistic ghetto, a dumping ground for “literary” types with no aptitude for doing real news. Thus, I felt this “promotion” to be an insult to my abilities, a brutal stigma of failure, a banishment from the mainstream of the political news operation that is the bread-and-butter of D.C. journalism. My wife, seeing my growing unhappiness, often reminded me of my promise to her that we would stay only five years in Washington.

“C’mon, Stacy, my mother just sent me this ad, where [some newspaper in Ohio] is looking for an editor,” my wife would say. “We could live in Ohio and the kids could play with their cousins and see their grandma and grandpa every day.”

Alas, stubborn pride forbade such a course of action. I had come to D.C. expecting to achieve success, and I would not leave town a failure. Besides, I felt a sense of mission that I could not abandon. Being hired at The Washington Times had been an answer to earnest prayer. God had not brought me this far to discard me, and so I hung on doggedly, fighting to keep faith in that promise of Proverbs 22:29: “See thou a man diligent in his work? He shall stand before kings . . .”

Perversely, the assignment I never wanted proved a blessing. Over and over, I begged Fran to take me off the Culture page and reassign me to some other duty. Heck, I would have gladly accepted a pay cut to become a reporter in the Capitol Hill bureau, just to escape the insulting burden of that Page 2 gig. And yet the job I hated kept giving me opportunities to interview the most amazing people: Robert Duvall, Peter Jennings, Michelle Malkin, David Horowitz, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Tammy Bruce, Tom Wolfe, et cetera. For all that I hated this indignity – I know quite well how real newsmen scorn mere feature writing – the job itself was actually pretty cool. Being assigned to write the obituary tribute to Ronald Reagan? Also pretty cool.

Yet still I brooded, privately feeling the hurt of a perceived slight which my superiors insisted was actually intended as an honor. I wanted either to be on the front page or on the op-ed page, and yet here I was permanently assigned to Page 2. I took an ironic pride in the fact, as was subsequently learned by our editors in an Oval Office interview, that Page 2 was a daily favorite of the President of the United States. (“Oh, that thing at the top of the page . . . You know, with the pictures.”)

What bothered me the most about all this was that I had always disdained the “disgruntled” employee. Every newsroom has its share of disappointed failures, second-raters who sink into resentful self-pity because they’ve been passed over for promotions they (wrongly) felt they deserved.

My inspirational advice to the disgruntled has always been this: If you think you’re so damned special, why don’t you go find another job where your specialness will be properly appreciated? The fact that you’re just sitting around bitching and moaning all the time is the best evidence that you’re not nearly so special as you think you are. The boss has a stack of resumes in his desk drawer from people who’d love to have your job, some of whom may actually have talent and an appetite for hard work. If it were up to me, you never would have been hired in the first place. So instead of doing everything in your power to spread discontent and destroy organizational morale, how about you grab yourself a nice hot cup of STFU and continue ineptly doing the unimportant task you’ve been assigned?

Well, here I was struggling with every fiber of my being to heed my own advice. “If you don’t move up, move out,” as I’d always said, but it’s damned hard for a conservative journalist to find employment more prestigious than The Washington Times. I had a wife and six kids and bills to pay, and so I felt trapped, with no honorable exit in sight.

And it was just about then, George, that you began your campaign of defamation against me. Oh, it wasn’t me you were targeting. I was just collateral damage in your personal war of petty spite against Fran Coombs and Wes Pruden. You were out there spewing bile to anyone who might care to listen – and, if mere rumors are to be credited, sinking into a slough of alcoholic despair – while I was forbidden to respond. Under strict orders to say nothing about your slanders, prohibited even to deny them in my own defense, under penalty of firing should I speak out, I was forced to learn some very hard lessons about the meaning of loyalty.

Well, God chastises those whom he loves, and I learned not to question these unsuspected blessings. If I have been wrongly accused and falsely maligned, it is not as if I am a moral paragon, entirely without fault and incapable of error. To have survived that Mesopotamian inferno, a fiery ordeal for which you were at least partly responsible, I count as a tremendous badge of honor. Before Max Blumenthal went to press with his laughable “investigative” piece about TWT, I requested and was at last granted permission to return Max’s phone call, giving him what proved to be the best quote in the entire story: “I’m too lazy to be evil.”

Doing evil is ultimately a much more demanding job than doing good, George, and the reward of doing evil is not such as anyone should covet. Whatever your fate or mine, I assure you that I personally bear no grievance against you. Rather, I have the pleasure of knowing how Joseph felt when, after he had become right-hand man to Pharoah, he made himself known to his brothers who had sold him into slavery: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”

While considering therefore that you have unwittingly done me good, so that you have committed no wrong toward me that requires any forgiveness on my part, I suspect that Fran Coombs, Wes Pruden and some other honorable men may not be quite so philosophical about your despicable course of conduct. In fact, George, such are the honorable dispositions of these men that I suspect they would take no notice of an apology from you if you cared to offer one. And these men whom I esteem may consider it dishonorable that I, who have matters far more important requiring my urgent attention, have condescended to reply to you at such length.

Having resigned from The Washington Times in January 2008, departing on my own terms and for my own reasons, and in such a way as to enable the newspaper to continue under new management as if I had never existed, I am content that I did exactly the right thing. With a blog that now gets upwards of 5,000 visits daily, and a promising new career as a freelance journalist, my only thoughts toward my decade at TWT are about how much I learned and grew, and the wonderful people I met along the way. I never got my gold watch – I quit four months before the annual ceremony where 10-year employees are so rewarded – but that is a minor consideration.

When your e-mail showed up in my inbox today, I intended at first to ignore it. I had planned to do something else with the time I’ve devoted to writing this, but for some reason, I felt obligated to respond. For I wanted you to know – and when I post this reply on my blog, I hope everyone else will marvel – how utterly you failed in your purpose to destroy me. Now, happily far beyond the power of your perverse malice, I wish you a happy future, as it is ever my pleasure to remain sincerely

Your most humble and obedient servant,

Robert Stacy McCain

Somebody really ought to hit my tip jar for that. But doing good is its own reward. Oh, and I accidentally understated my blog traffic. I'm currently averaging more than 9,000 visits daily.


  1. Stacy,

    Just thought you might like to know that one of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder is scorched earth campaigns against the reputations of people the person with BPS believes has thwarted or embarrassed them in any way. I refer your readers to the wonderful book, "Stop Walking on Eggshells."

    You are one of the most inclusive persons I know. I think the conservative movement should be using your genius for inclusion and connection much better than it currently is -- as I stated in my post "Because that is the kind of vindictive bitch that I am."

    Hugs and kisses,


  2. I think that was for the benefit of your soul and edification of george.

    However I have recently given value for value (for your work with dan Riehl exposing the "kindergarten caper" participants, their assorted sponsors and their peanut gallery as being the factually challenged douchebags that we suspected they were) and hope(nay expect) to see more.
    Having a large vocabulary, I delight in having to look up a word in the dictionary, so that merits some special attention as and when it occurs.
    Thanks for the infotainment (and I mean that in a good way) and snark.

    Note to other commenters: if you like his posts then do what you know to be right and send some do-re-mi to Mr. Other McCain. (good web-hosting don't come cheap). Unlike many other bloggers, Mr. Other McCain is a REAL journalist and has grown accustomed to a more lavish lifestyle than pbj sandwiches and living in his mom's basement.
    (p.s. a reminder about what I mentioned before: The tip jar link might be better at the top of the home page where it would be easier to find.)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Mr. McCain,
    As much as I enjoy your bravado, blatant tip-jar shaking, and scathing rebukes of the stupid and ignorant, it is writing like this - honest, open, humble and strong - that makes me admire you and your work so much. Thank you for sharing this. You are an example in many respects. In short: screw Cronkite, McCain is my journalistic hero. Oyster out.

  5. Hey Stacy!
    Thanks for writing what you couldn't say back then.
    All I can add is that you (and I) and others may not have landed on the FRONT of A1 that often, but we were all over the BACK of it.
    Cheers to you and your family!
    P.S. I stopped by today just to see if you blogged about the Hagerstown town hall. ; - )

  6. " hope everyone else will marvel – how utterly you failed in your purpose to destroy me. Now, happily far beyond the power of your perverse malice, I wish you a happy future..."

    Holy shit brother...that was quite an ending. He must be feeling miserable.

  7. I second Miss Yockey's sentiments, including the 'hugs and kisses' [NIAGW, you understand].

    Linked to at:

  8. The insight and temperament of this post builds trust and loyalty among us 9,000 daily's. Bravo.

  9. Amazing. Never knew Newsrooms were such a snake pit. And I would have just ignored the Bastard.

  10. Stacy, that must have been a difficult period in your life -- being slandered and unable to respond.

    You have earned those 9,000 hits a day. Your writing skill is topnotch; you are an experienced, professional journalist and it shows. You are also just a good guy, and this kind of soul baring makes that clear. I'd love to have a mint julep and fine cigar with you sometime and hear your war stories from the horse's mouth.