I’ve been reading students papers instead of blogs this week, and so I was stunned just now to learn belatedly of the death of one of my very favorite bloggers. Jon Swift, the best and funniest faux conservative in blogtopia, died of an aortic aneurysm on his way to his father’s funeral. His real name was Al Weisel, he was a journalist, and he was just 46 (my exact contemporary). My thoughts are with his mother, Mimi, and his siblings, who now must mourn doubly, as well as the partner and friends he left behind.
I didn’t know Al, who, by all accounts, was a successful journalist. (Here’s the homepage for his latest book.) I only knew him through his writing as Jon. His pitch was often so perfect that he hoodwinked liberals and conservative readers alike into missing the satire. He’s one of the folks whose work convinced me that blogging was an interesting form I wanted to explore more, as a reader and a writer.
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo – who, with Jon, founded Blogroll Amnesty Day to boost small blogs – has pulled together a long list of tributes. I owe Jon a debt of thanks for including me in B.A.D. when I was first blogging and for graciously including me in his blogroll.
I always thought that Jon’s acerbic humor let him sound a call for integrity without sounding preachy. He was impatient with the wingnuts’ anti-intellectualism and greed. He pilloried their willful stupidity and cultivated lunacy. My favorite Jon Swift post was all of that: his takedown of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, generously illustrated with lolcats. And not just any lolcats. Kitler lolcats. (Or is that lolkitlers?)
The first post of Jon’s that I ever read was his Journalism 101. Of course, I read it a little differently now that I knew he was a professional journalist himself. The dry rot among his colleagues must have infuriated him. But typical for him, he channeled it into bleak, spot-on humor. A sample of his rules for journalists:
12. Journalists should not censor a story unless the government or a big advertiser asks them to.
13. Because space in newspapers and magazines is limited there is no room for ideas that are too far out of the mainstream or that challenge the conventional wisdom unless the ensuing controversy would sell more papers or magazines.
14. Plagiarism is strongly discouraged and anyone caught plagiarizing should be fired immediately and never be allowed to work as a journalist again, unless they are prominent or distinguished or a close personalfriend of the editor and have a really good explanation, in which case they should be given a second chance or even a third.
(Read his whole primer here. The links alone are awesome.)
You could spend days browsing his archives, and I did just that when I first discovered him. He hasn’t been blogging in the past year, but his old posts are as acerbically true as ever in this new Teabagger Nation. The loss to us, his readers and admirers, is nothing next to the loss to his family. And yet, I feel like I need to chime in because his writing didn’t just make me laugh or cringe in recognition; it touched me, too. I shed tears over his death. So I hope he wouldn’t mind a sad kitler in his honor. Even if the mustache is placed a bit too far north, the whiskers are appropriately at half mast.