It has appalled me over the years to see a hack like Joe Klein get a column in Time magazine and become a national pundit instead of the man who used to clean his clock every Sunday morning on WCBS-TV's weekly talking heads program in New York, Les Payne. You could count on Klein to provide centrist and conservative nostrums that perfectly suited the time of Reagan and Bush Sr., blaming the victim, the working class and, most of all, people of color for the troubles in their lives and society at large. And every week, Payne would poke holes in Klein's arguments, counter conventional wisdom with facts, and use his experience as a black man in America and his skills as a journalist to reveal reality as lived on the ground.
Even on Klein's last show, Payne stood up for his principals and refused to accept Klein's description of their weekly disagreements as nevertheless reflecting mutual respect and admiration. Everything in Payne's words and manner showed that he in fact had no respect for Klein's ideas, ethics or journalistic standards. Instead of seeking to be a mouthpiece for the powerful, someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear and try to sell that to the middle classes, Payne stood for the old idea of speaking truth to power (and to the powerless, too).
Les Payne and Sydney Schanberg are probably the best "name" mainstream American print journalists of the last thirty years. I wish Payne a long and productive post-Newsday career and would love to see him get some regular appearances on TV (Bill Moyers and Rachel Maddow, are you listening?).
Charles K. Alexander II
Jan 7 2009 - 10:27am