by Burt Prelutsky | Los Angeles
Recently, I had a very odd experience. No, I didn’t wake up 30 years younger and with a full head of hair. That would have been odd but nice, whereas the experience I actually had was merely bizarre.
Like most bloggers, I write for more than one website. It’s rather like being a syndicated columnist, except that little or no money changes hands. But, as a writer who hopes to influence public opinion, you want to have as many readers as possible.
The strange event took place on a Tuesday. It came in the form of an e-mail from Jonathan Garthwaite, who runs Townhall, a website I’ve contributed to for nearly four years.
The message read: “Dear Burt: As everyone is painfully aware, the economy is forcing companies to make difficult decisions. Townhall.com is no different. We take our commitment to our readers and our bottom line very seriously. Similarly, we are constantly reassessing our editorial lineup. We end up making tough decisions that aren’t always fun.
“I know it won’t please you to know that we’ve decided to discontinue carrying your column. It was not a decision make (sic) carelessly. Picking between colleagues, friends and talented writers is never easy.
“Thank you very much for sharing your insights with Townhall.com readers over the years. Sincerely, Jonathan.”
I must confess I was shocked to receive an electronic pink slip after all this time. I sent Garthwaite an e-mail asking which other writers were being made to walk the plank, but he said he wasn’t free to share that information. I did get him to agree to post a notice on the following Friday, lest readers simply assumed that I had died.
The reason I’m sharing this with you isn’t because I regard this as a case of blatant censorship. This isn’t the federal government silencing me. Townhall has every right to post or not post any writer for any reason. I don’t believe I or anyone else has the inalienable right to have his articles disseminated. There are many more important issues than whether or not a blog decides to cut me loose. Okay, I exaggerate. There aren’t many things more important, but there are, I’m almost certain, several that rival it.
That said, I fear that there are dark forces at play. You see, although there was the reference in Garthwaite’s e-mail to the weak economy and the bottom line, there had been no prior discussion between Townhall and me about money. At least not for quite a while. When I first started writing for them back in 2005, Townhall was paying me $35 for an article. But I was writing faster than they were posting, so they agreed to run two-a-week, and I agreed to lower the price to $20 each. And so it has remained.
But if they were cutting me loose over money, wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to suggest we revert to one-a-week or even ask me if I would write for less, even for free? Isn’t that usually how these things work?
Therefore, I think reasonable people can agree that money makes a very questionable motive in all this. And if I were popular enough with the readers to warrant Townhall’s posting two of my articles each and every week for all this time, lack of popularity wouldn’t appear to be the problem.
Now, understand, I am not the sort of person who readily subscribes to conspiracies. If anything, I tend to pooh-pooh them because I don’t believe two people can keep a secret, and I’m dead certain that three or more can’t. However, something about the timing couldn’t fail to grab my attention in much the same way that a mackerel lying under your pillow will certainly grab yours.
The piece that Townhall had posted on Monday of that week was an attack on our sworn enemies, which I had titled “The Straight Poop on Islam,” but which Townhall, in a fit of political correctness verging on insanity, had re-named “The Straight Talk on Islam.”
Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that the very next day, I was let go. Maybe the one thing had absolutely nothing to do with the other. Perhaps somewhere along the line, Cause and Effect had gone to Reno for a divorce and I just hadn’t heard about it.
But at least now you understand why I can’t help wondering if the folks at Townhall got an offer they couldn’t refuse — perhaps a call from someone threatening to send them a ticking CAIR package. CRO
copyright 2009 Burt Prelutsky
Television scriptwriter, former humor columnist for the L.A. Times and a movie critic for Los Angeles magazine.