Yellow (Plus) Journalism

Chatterbox congratulates the Washington Post for finally getting color photographs onto Page One. (Chatterbox won’t bother linking to the Post website because it’s always had color. Evidence of this technologic triumph is accessible only to people who see the “offline” newsprint edition.) The Capitol interior’s hues of gold and blue and red are rendered with particular clarity above the fold in a picture of Sens. Gramm, Campbell, and DeWine arriving to vote on gathering testimony in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. There’s none of that baseball-card-left-out-in-the-rain look that sometimes happens when color reproduction on newsprint goes awry. Who knows? Maybe, like in the movie Pleasantville, the appearance of color will herald a new era of sex and danger and beauty in our Ozzie-and-Harriet capital. (Do you suppose it happened because Lindsey Graham said “oral sex” on the Senate floor?)

Chatterbox has his own, Proustian-sense-memory reason for wanting to see color photographs on the Post’s front page: The first time Chatterbox ever visited Washington, aged eight, the thing that made the deepest impression on him was that the Post had color on its front page! For years when Chatterbox would relate this story to his Washington-lifer friends they would roll their eyes. How could there have been color on the Post’s front page in 1966? However, Alan Kohan, the Post’s assistant plant manager, who was working for the paper back then, assures Chatterbox that yes, the paper did, on five or six occasions prior to today, run color photos on page one for special events–even as far back as the 1960s. (The most recent instance was in the spring of 1990, when the Post ran a color photo from the Hubble telescope.) Even Kohan could not recall what special event might have impelled the Post to run a color photo in the spring of 1966. Neither can Chatterbox, but a dim memory persists of something ceremonial, like maybe a cherry blossom parade. Chatterbox will award a free Slate T-shirt to the first person who can identify the photo spied by a wee Chatterbox during Easter vacation from the second grade. (No speculation, please; Chatterbox wants hard information.)

Timothy Noah