Keohane on Cullen: Something has Snapped

The Weekly Dig‘s media column had some harsh words for Kevin Cullen this week, after the Globe columnist/BoMag bete noir failed to produce a column of interest to the people of Boston. “It seems that, in the weeks since (John) Gonzalez lambasted the Globe’s metro columnists as soft and unimaginative, Kevin Cullen … has, it appears, been steadily losing his mind. Or at least his ability to see a single thought through a 600-word column.”

The Dig’s broadside came in response to an utterly baffling Cullen piece, in which he wandered the streets of Ireland asking if people knew who won the Celtics game. They didn’t, and therefore he concluded he probably could not find out, Internet and cellphones notwithstanding. What a world! While Cullen columns of late have taken local issues of little relevance to the world readers live in, the Irish column created an altogether imaginary reality, occurring in a different country, which he then critiqued.

I’ve resisted the urge to write about Cullen’s columns over the last month, just because our feud with him kind of ran its course, but I’m sorry, after today’s column on lovable hacks in the British media, something needs to be said.

Something has snapped. My theory is this: After Gonzalez hit Cullen for being too soft, Cullen decided that to be tougher or more relevant would be to acknowledge that Gonzalez was right. So, out of either spite or stubbornness, he became even softer and less relevant. It’s a curious impulse. Someone says you’re bad at something, so to prove them wrong, you deliberately get worse. Take that!

Since his notoriously touchy response to Gonzalez in the Globe, which was roundly mocked in media circles, Cullen has written (metro!) columns on the following topics:

Not reading Scott McClellan’s book, a kid with no hands, why Tip O’Neil (1912-1994) would be opposed to swiftboating, a b-list actress no one’s heard of who likes the Lakers, Celtics forward Leon Powe (though most of the column was about playing baseball in a parking lot as a kid), and the ill-fated Ireland experiment.

All those were bad enough, but today’s is of a level of awfulness that it makes the agoraphobic Adrian Walker look like Jimmy Breslin. Here’s a bit:

“I know what I’m about to say will get me crossed off the invite list at the Poynter Institute and Columbia School of Journalism, but I don’t care: I love British hacks. That’s what British reporters call themselves. And they should not be confused with American hacks, i.e., politicians and their coatholders. British hacks, specifically English ones, are to their craft what great bluesmen are to theirs: real, unadulterated artists. British hacks have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously. Consequently, British newspapers are fun to read. Of course, some of the stories, not to mention some of those who write them, are bought and paid for, and others are complete rubbish.”

“Oh man,” Jack McCormack of Mattapan was heard to say to his buddies in a blue collah coffee shop this morning, “I wouldn’t want to be the guys at the Poyntah Institute right now!”

Unlike Cullen’s other columns, this one has not even a minor local hook, besides that he was reminded of the existence of British journalists at the Entwistle trial (couldn’t he have just done a column on the sheer absurdity of the Entwistle trial?). It was just a springboard to talk about, well, British journalists. Without any of the usual shortcut devices that lend significance with a capital-S to a stock Cullen column (mental illness, deformity, terminal illness, Malden). It ends with a good little anecdote about getting kicked out of Serbia, but it’s so out of place that it’s just confusing.

Also, there’s the larger problem of writing about how the British press—the rascals may not be ethical, but they sure do produce exciting journalism—while at the same time fighting the urge to author a good old-fashioned metro column.

“The world of print is so dull these days,” he seems to be sighing, Irishly. “If only someone was in a position to make it more fun.”

Perhaps a one-armed Irish immigrant whose church was closed down right before his beloved dog, named after both Bertie Ahern and the Boston Red Sox, got inoperable cancer and made him think of his wife, a lowly washerwoman, but proud, God bless ‘er.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t. The world has changed. And that’s the real shame in all of this.”