Among the many stellar reporters who wrote for (MORE), a journalism review founded by J. Anthony Lukas and Richard Pollak, quite a few have passed on to the Great Clippings File in the Sky. One I would not have expected to die before my committee signed the front page of my dissertation on the topic was Peter W. Kaplan, the all-too-young, but already legendary former editor of The New York Observer. He was 59 when he died last weekend.
If I’m doing my math correctly, that means he was only 19 years old when he began writing for (MORE) in 1973. I’ve been going through issues in the last week and found a short piece he wrote for the October 1973 issue. It was not his first, but it was headlined merely “Baptism,” and this week seems like an apt time to type it in for the Internet:
The Cub Reporter tried to brief himself on the subject he would be reporting on that morning. From a book, Aesthetic Realism: We Have Been There, he learned that the people who espouse that philosophy think that beauty and happiness require the union of opposites–freedom and order, logic and emotion, depth and surface–in life as well as art. Prepared to meet the Aesthetic Realists, zealots who have been picketing the New York media, he set out for the 43rd Street headquarters of The New York Times.
There he found the leafleters passing out handsomely-printed sheets to all who entered and left the building. The Timespeople accepted the literature with varying degrees of amusement, weariness and annoyance. “You’ve come here every Wednesday–for how long? asked one. “Aren’t you sick of it?” “If you’d only try to find out something about us…” began an Aesthetic Realist, but by then the Timesman was gone.
Introducing himself to leafleter Roy Harris, the Cub asked him what he had against the Times. “Our way of looking at things is that to like yourself, you must like the world,” explained Harris. “Most people don’t–they’re cold and cynical. They’re above it all; they don’t really understand the opposites or dimensions in people. The press is all ego and coldness. We have converted 51 men from homosexuality, and the press has ignored us. Why? Because they don’t care about what’s really happening, only about themselves. Think how happy John Oakes [editor of the Times editorial page] would be, and how much more sensitive, if he learned about us.”
Two weeks later, the Cub received an urgent message from his editor. He discovered he himself had become the focus of the latest dispatch from the Aesthetic Realists, entitled “An Open Letter to Peter Kaplan.” It began: “You may not know it but on Wednesday, August 22 you were the first sign of a break in the cold and rather killing front of New York journalism.” The leaflet even went so far as to include a paean to his efforts (“Peter Kaplan, you have given us hope/Anyway, we intend to find hope in you./Hope like love can come surprisingly./Who would think it would come from a non-grizzled person of the press…?”)
The Cub felt proud. If the Aesthetic Realists prevailed at the Times–and now he was certain they would–he would be insured a place in history. And maybe even a job.