Columning is a deadly occupation

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First of all, the response to yesterday’s Auschwitz letter was quite overwhelming, and so many of you contacted me privately that I am still catching up with replies—please know that I will eventually reach yours. To hear from so many people personally affected by the Holocaust really brings into focus its magnitude. My heart goes out to you all. Thank you for getting in touch.

On 22 January 1945, in the pages of the New York Post, filmmaker Orson Welles launched Orson Welles’ Almanac, a short-lived, week-daily column in which, more often than not, he offered his opinion on the political stories of the day. On the 27th, the New Yorker responded with a piece which can be read here, as can a column by Welles days later, in reply. On the 31st, the following letter reached Welles, from the editor of The New Yorker, Harold Ross. The second paragraph in particular is a peach.

Taken from the excellent book, Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross, edited by Thomas Kunkel, which is entertaining from start to finish.

January 31, 1945

Dear Orson:

I was astonished at your column in yesterday’s Post, in which you say The New Yorker sneers at you. You were brimful of prunes when you wrote that. Our piece was straightforward and sympathetic, and there wasn’t a sneer in it, and it contained not one unfriendly or unkindly word.

I read it carefully before it was published and I have just read it again. Several other people of sound judgment have read it, too, and they concur in my opinion. Every once in a while such a thing as this comes up: someone misses the point of what we say about him and assumes that he is being spoofed. Almost invariably, this happens to people whose powers of discernment are blunted, either temporarily or permanently, by hypersensitivity or a sense of insecurity, or both. I don’t know which of these states afflicted you the day before yesterday, but one or the other did, and as an old acquaintance and admirer, and one who earnestly has your welfare at heart, I advise you to beware of columning if it is going to continue to throw you off balance to this extent. Columning is a deadly occupation, leading frequently and successively to overzealousness, super-seriousmindedness, monomania, hysteria, and sometimes madness. When a columnist begins to take himself too seriously he is in grave danger. Look around. Look at what happened to Broun, Pegler, Winchell, and several others.

Look at the states they got themselves in. But it took them years, whereas you got the heebee-jeebees in eight or ten days. If this condition continues, or recurs frequently, I urge that you wage your attack upon fascism, in which I sincerely wish you well, with some other weapon than the syndicated column.

Sincerely yours,


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