The notable silences of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill (and of all those “news” celebrities now praising them)

Having watched HBO's Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists last night, I agree with Ed Curtin that it's a "fascinating" piece of work, which does a great job capturing the days when "our free press" was free enough so that a couple of blue-collar tribunes like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill "were spokesmen for the underdogs, the abused, the confused and the bereft," as Curtin puts it. "They relentlessly attacked the abuses and hypocrisies of the powerful"

And I agree with Ed that those two great populist contrarians would only go so far, since neitherof them ever thought to question the official stories of the most important news in their heyday:the four assassinations that effectively transformed the USA into the Oceanic nightmare that itis today (and then 9/11).

The film conveys the elegiac beauty of their instantaneous prose at those traumatic moments, and makes a lot of Breslin's idiosyncratic populist approach to JFK's assassination. (Whileeverybody else was goggling at the stately funeral procession in the streets of Washington,he went out to interview Clifton Pollard, the man who dug JFK's grave in Arlington Cemetery.)There's also lots of both men's vivid on-the-ground impressions on and shortly after 9/11,capturing the horror at Ground Zero.

"But the view from the street is not that of history," Ed notes rightly. "Deadlines are one thing;analysis and research another. Breslin and Hamill wrote for the moment, but they have livedhalf a century after those moments, decades during which the evidence for those crimes [i.e.the assassinations] has accumulated to indict powerful forces in the U.S. government. 

"No doubt this evidence came to their attention, but they have chosen to ignore it, whatever their reasons. Why these champions of the afflicted have disregarded this evidence is perplexing.As one who greatly admires their work, I am disappointed by this failure."

That makes two of us. And I would add that, while I too am keenly disappointed by that failure on the part of both those towering reporters, I was all but nauseated by the chorus of expensive talking heads who came to praise the two on this (as Curtin writes) "nostalgia trip." There was Jonathan Alter (who co-wrote and co-directed Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists), MikeBarnicle, Dan Barry, Tom Brokaw, Richard Cohen, Gail Collins, Bill Hoffman, Jim Dwyer, Mike Lupica, Sam Roberts, Robert Krulwich, Brooke Gladstone, Shane Smith and Garry Trudeau, among others (including Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Spike Lee, Edward Kosner and the CIA's own Gloria Steinem). 

So where have they all been, throughout the years, as all that evidence has just kept reconfirming that JFK, and Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, were rubbed out by the US government? By now, it's no "conspiracy theory" to make that claim, but a well-documented fact; and yet those well-groomed stalwarts of "our free press" have stayed just as far away from it as all the US press did way back then. And so to watch them maundering in praise of those two great blue-collar print guys is, to put it mildly, hard to take, since they've continued to abet "the abuses and hypocrisies of the powerful," or they would not be where they are today.* 

So, yes, let's raise a glass to Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, and toast their honestyand poetry, as far as they went; but do let's also toast all those who dare go farther thanthose two would go, as real reporters would, and so few do.


*Kudos to Earl Caldwell, who, alone among the praisers in this documentary, has tried totell some truth about King's murder.

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