Errol Louis and Anna Wintour, the honorees at the school’s Awards for Excellence on May 19, already have shared some of their distinctive expertise, answering a query from this newsletter:
If you could bring back a journalist from history to cover the presidential election in 2020 who would it be and why?
Wintour: It would have to be the late, brilliant mischief-maker Richard Neville, who founded the countercultural magazine Oz in Sydney and London in the ’60s. Richard knew better than anyone how to challenge old, outdated thinking and eloquently celebrate the spirit of youth and change. If he were alive today, he would surely revel in the absurdities of our political moment — he’d lampoon our president for all he’s worth — but he’d also understand the sky-high stakes of this election as well.
Louis: The great columnist H.L. Mencken covered every national political convention from 1904 to 1948, mostly for the Baltimore Sun. He was a hanging judge whose acid pen spared nobody—not the candidates, not the party apparatchiks, and ultimately not even the voters. As a young columnist, I read collections of Mencken’s convention writing for their searing wit. Operating in the days before television, he had a sharp eye for detail, describing the sounds, lighting and setting of the conventions with the practiced eye of a former theater reviewer (which he was). But his real gift was for piercing the pageantry to reveal the underlying power dynamics. In 1940, he sized up the Republican nominee, Wendell Wilkie, and declared him “no more of a wizard than Roosevelt, but he has something of the same capacity to convince idiots that he is.” And he pointed a finger of blame at the American public. “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people,” he wrote in 1920. “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” A century later, I would love to read his dispatches from the 2020 conventions.