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American journalism rediscovers itself

“God Isn’t Fixing This” sneered the front page of New York Daily News in large type. And then in response to the slaughter in San Bernardino it elaborated in smaller type, “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

In case we didn’t know, we were shown pictures of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Paul Ryan with quotes from each offering prayers for the dead.

That went online last Thursday. The next day, the online Daily News front page made it clear the previous day wasn’t some accidental paroxysm eliciting widespread “wows” in and around the journalism profession. It showed us a picture of San Bernardino killer Syed Farook with the information “He’s a terrorist.” But, continued the Daily News Page One, “So are these guys” – followed by pictures of other mass killers as well as one of Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association.

To make sure the world knew it was on the march, Monday’s Daily News front page sarcastically snarled, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME” and offered such supposed good cheer “to all those who have been offended hearing the truth about our nation’s gun scourge or the NRA, cowardly pols who think nothing’s wrong.”

In between the OMG front page crusade of the Daily News getting thunderous applause on social media (and the requisite brickbats too), the New York Times weighed in with its first front page editorial since 1920. It registered disgust coast-to-coast that any American private citizen anywhere should be allowed to purchase bullet-riddling weapons of war.

What we’ll never know is whether the Times would have sung its incomparable aria if the Daily News hasn’t first opened for business its Front Page Theater because the San Bernardino horrors followed so closely on the Planned Parenthood attacks and the massacre of Paris across the sea.

I think American journalism turned a corner last week. It was no accident that Mort Zuckerman’s Daily News reacted to its own financial troubles by registering disgust at the knee-jerk fatuousness of pols rather than thunderous declarations of “No more! Enough is enough!”

A good part of America may have been in the same ideological place at least since Sandy Hook – if not decades before – but Zuckerman’s paper decided to remember in the middle of daily print journalism’s digital trauma surgery what a tabloid front page is for. (“Ford to City: Drop Dead” snapped one famous front page on New York street newsstands.) And then, to prove that it can do some things better – or at least at a different temperature – the Times slapped its open disgust at the gun scourge on Page One, with no equivocation.

What happened to journalism 40 years ago with “Woodstein” and Watergate is that the Washington Post established conscientious reporting and investigation as an avenue for seismic change in America. A road to huge power opened up on the everyday streets of information.

Hallelujah, many said. Journalism that forgot the value of reporting would be worthless. No argument there.

But, as the profession remembered last week for real, journalism without expressed outrage isn’t all that hot, either. What’s the point unless opinions can be stated with clarity and eloquence and thoroughness about crucial things?

Punditry may have turned into bloviation AND bullroar decades ago when CNN’s “Capital Gang” participants gave their “outrage of the week.” Any outrage that happens weekly is, by definition, no outrage at all but spitting baboon gibberish. We hear that everywhere now – cable news, talk radio, social media.

But something happened last week: American journalism remembered that outrage could be real. And that opinion writing isn’t only difficult to do well, it is as basic to journalism as telling stories of who, what, where, when and why.

The New York Daily News showed America that a newspaper front page could have the firepower of Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” at its best.

A new day perhaps. A new morning, at the very least. Let’s see how long the sun stays out.