I remember back a long time, about four decades before I first hosted an episode of Fox News Watch.
Dr. Zhivago was a best-selling book and "Twilight Time" by the Platters was a best-selling record. Gunsmoke was the top-rated television show in the country and Gigi the Oscar-winning movie.
Ted Williams won the American League batting championship and Jim Brown set the National Football League single season rushing record and Arnold Palmer raked in $42,607, which was more than any other golfer of the year.
And most important, one day every week from September to June, my elementary school teacher handed out copies of My Weekly Reader, the first newspaper that ever mattered to me, and in some ways still the best.
My Weekly Reader. Just hearing the name again makes me smile, and just thinking of the sense of power I felt as I pored over its few pages makes me wistful. Yes, a sense of power — because My Weekly Reader was my weekly introduction to the world outside the schoolyard, outside the immediate neighborhood, outside my hometown near the steel mills of Pittsburgh. It was written in such a way that I could understand that world, could appreciate the gravity of that world, was encouraged to take part in that world. It was one of the few ways that a kid could imagine himself a grownup in those days.
Come to think of it, maybe my teacher did not hand me a copy. Maybe I grabbed it out of her hands before she could pass it along.
The man who started the paper, one Charles Palmer Davis, did so because he visited a school in his hometown of Agawam, Mass., one morning, and the students, says the current editor, "put on a show for him, recitations of Greek myths, things like that." But when Davis asked them for the name of the president of the United States, only two children in a class of thirty raised their hands. Davis was appalled. At that moment, and for that reason, he decided boys and girls should have a paper of their own, and that teachers should discuss it with them in class. He started publishing the paper soon afterward, and "[i]t took off like wildfire."
First it was called Current Events, then My Weekly Reader, and now just Weekly Reader. Today, the paper has a subscription of 7,000,000, including schools, individuals and various children’s groups.
But it is no longer the publication it used to be, not the one I remember from the time when the Platters were young and Ted Williams was fearsome and Arnie was still a golfer, not a conglomerate. It has become, unfortunately, as fixated on celebrities as Time and Newsweek, the Washington Post and USA Today. It covers the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, the Super Bowl, and the behind-the-scenes operations of Entertainment Tonight, whose host, Bob Goen, told a Weekly Reader reporter that his most embarrassing moment was being mistaken for Donny Osmond.
Perhaps for this reason, when the paper conducted its end-of-the-year poll on the most important event of 2001, the winner was the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which amassed 59 percent of the vote. The terrorist attacks of September 11th finished second, with 25 percent.
But if Weekly Reader has a frivolous side, it also has a serious one. I can pick up an issue today and remember the time when the paper wrote stories that were without exception worth reading: about a war being cold, a satellite being sent into space by scientists, and racial injustice being fought and even conquered by people of strong heart. It is possible, in other words, for me to pick up an issue today and remember the sense of wonder and anticipation and even dread that I felt when I was a child, a little boy contemplating through the words in his hands the prospect of permanent adulthood.
By the way, the name of the president of the United States when Charles Palmer Davis asked the question was William McKinley. In 2002, Weekly Readerwill be a hundred years old.
Thanks for the memories.
Who gives a damn about Bob Goen?
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .