Friday, July 04, 2008

Former cityside editor, 86, was Marvell critic

Jesse Helms, the iconoclastic senator from North Carolina who helped build the Republican Party in the South and fuel the conservative movement across the country, died at 1: 15 a.m. this morning, the Jesse Helms Center has reported. He was 86.

If you can't be picky in an obit, when can you be picky? Jesse Helms was certainly an "iconic" figure, but it's hard to think of any circumstances in which he could be considered "iconoclastic."

For a quick turnaround on an obit that's been in the can for a long time (so long that Your Correspondent even polished a version of it one night when Helms was in the hospital), this isn't too bad. It seems a little credulous on the Smith-Graham race, but perhaps that's just me. And it's kind of a shame to see no mention of the great "To His Coy Mistress" scandal, certainly an interesting Animal House-era portent of relations between the modern American right and the public university.*

Here's a brief summary. Freshman misinterprets assignment in comp class, complains to mother. Mother encounters radio editorialist at dinner party. Dan Pollitt picks up the tale in a 1991 interview for the Southern Oral History Project:

The mother told Jesse Helms that her daughter had told her that she had to write on "my first seduction" and the assignment was given by a young male graduate student.

Nothing was said about it being about this poem?

No. So Jesse Helms called the University and asked what was going on. "Are your young male graduate students trying to seduce the freshmen coeds this way?" And they didn't know anything about it, you know, and they said they'd call back. But in any event, Jesse went on the air.

During his editorials?

During his editorial and complained that the University was assigning…. That the freshmen coeds had to write about their love affairs to the young graduate students who naturally were trying to seek out what was doing around.

The TA in question was promptly removed from the classroom, though he was reinstated not long after. (And, I think, ended up a dean of some sort in the Frozen North; living well, and all that.) Interesting hint of things to come, though, isn't it?

While we're at it with the picky stuff? When you pull a file obit, any and all time references need an extra look. As in this cutline:

** FILE ** Jesse Helms leaves the Senate floor on Capitol Hill Oct. 2, 2002. Former Sen. Helms admits he was wrong about the AIDS epidemic, but believes integration was forced before its time by "outside agitators who had their own agendas," according to advance proofs of his upcoming memoir, "Here's Where I Stand," to be published in September 2005 by Random House.

Which, if nothing else, should have raised some suspicions about this sentence: His death comes months after he published a memoir in which he sought to define his legacy and soften his image.

Some days the impact of staff cutbacks is more evident than others.

* No doubt some of you also recall the Great KOMU Flag Pin Affair of September 2001.


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