The Breakfast Table

Joel Achenbach and Marjorie Williams

Dear Marjorie,

I think we’re going to have a great week, there’s so much stuff going down, the fur’s flying, we got the Elián case about to explode, plus all these radicals are in Washington to protest globalization and greed and genetically engineered soybeans and whatnot. Maybe you can explain to me at some point, Marjorie, how I’m supposed to feel about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, because I’ve somehow managed to get through my entire life without having any thoughts about them whatsoever. Does the World Bank have ATMs? I am so clueless.

I do have thoughts on Elián, and this morning I’ll probably write another column about the case, though that may be going to the well once too often. This story gives me the jitters. It makes me really anxious–that kid’s in the line of fire in a terrible civil war. Yesterday on television one of the attorneys for the Miami relatives said this was basically a battle between Good and Evil. Why politicize a custody battle when you can theologize it? (Is that the right word, theologize? All I know is that wherever the kid goes, people perceive miracles and the image of the Virgin Mary.) It sounds as though the Miami relatives aren’t going to lift a finger to return Elián to his father. The attorney says they’ll just unlock the door and leave it up the marshals to get him (memo: Look under the bed), all of which sounds like a prescription for trauma if not disaster. Then they’ll bring him back to Washington, just in time for the riots here. Elián is going to have quite an impression of America if and when he goes back to Cuba. “They have Disney World, and everyone’s always chanting.”

Bulletin: The Pulitzers will be announced today at 3, which I hope will bring great joy to the Post newsroom, which has a number of really deserving entries. Of course, since you and I aren’t finalists, the prizes this year have ZERO CREDIBILITY. (Slap me if I start hitting Caps Lock a lot; it’s a terrible habit I’ve developed, along with using the word “freakish.” I think the impulse to capitalize is due to a deep-seated fear that no one on the Internet can really HEAR me.)

I’m pretty sure, by the way, that they don’t give any kind of Pulitzer for online journalism. It’s as though this material doesn’t quite exist. But maybe that’s a blessing–online journalism benefits from not being taken that seriously. I do think, by the way, that online journalism has to obey the same rules of fairness and accuracy as the journalism in other media–and I hope that’s not a maverick position–but it doesn’t have to stick to the same tone and structure. It has the stylistic freedom that comes from knowing that not only are you not eligible for a Pulitzer Prize, you have hardly any readers at all. I know when I write my column for I really enjoy the journalistic freedom that comes from having relatively few readers and almost no credibility. I can write anything! Total freedom will come when I figure out a way to write a column that only I can access. Sitting alone in a room, dipping my finger in a water glass and writing on a napkin–that’s my dream, Marjorie. That’s the mountaintop.

Did you see the live presentation of Fail Safe? I surfed to it a few times, and maybe that’s a ridiculous way to watch a pulse-pounding drama, and I was struck by all the tiny little flaws in the sound and the lighting, the fact that, if this were going to be on tape, the director would have yelled “cut” repeatedly, because someone was coughing in the background or someone’s voice was a bit too hoarse. Mostly I watched Eco-Challenge on Discovery, this insane race in Patagonia, the executive producer of which is my neighbor, Angus Yates. These crazy people are leaping into icy rivers and climbing jagged peaks and riding horses across the Pampas and basically doing everything they can to get injured, lost, and possibly dead, all at the end of the Earth. How do you fit a trip like that into your schedule? These people have such amazing energy, is what I was thinking as I operated the remote control.

All right, I gotta do my job for a bit. Bye for now.