Good Satire or Bad Taste?: The Morning News and a Pulitzer Winner Battle Over a JFK Joke

We were pretty sure that Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Ricks' recent suggestion in the Washington Post that America exile Texas in pursuit of a more perfect union was a joke. Blaming the state for the JFK assassination (without Texas, "John F. Kennedy might still be alive") and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan looked at first glance like a low blow, but otherwise the piece seemed to strive for satire.

Ricks' piece inspired some very serious tut-tutting from the Morning News' editorial board. First, it was Sharon Grigsby:

It's the JFK line I have struggled with since reading this piece Monday. I don't have super "Dallas sensitivities" about the assassination, but I know a lot of the city's residents did and do. Ditto for other places in the state. (I was a very young child in Waco in 1963 and thus missed a lot of the national scorn toward Dallas, "the city of hate," and Texas in general. I dug up this piece from former Dallas journalist Peter Applebome, written for The New York Times on the 25th anniversary of the assassination for those of you who need a reference point.)

So Ricks has a great time demeaning us -- and by virtue of this blog post, I suspect I'm falling into his trap of being typecast as overly sensitive or overly "Texan." But, wow, he really has a chip on his shoulder about this state -- and, among the wry humor and thoughtful perspectives of the other pieces in the "things to toss" package, his stood out as just plain mean-spirited. Sorry, but I think one-liners about a president's assassination are out of bounds, especially as we all commemorate the 50th anniversary of his passing.

Then it was Rodger Jones' turn:

Whatever Ricks is selling I'm not buying. I don't like it that he's tying his "brand" to adolescent knee-slappers that invoke someone else's loss. Not funny there, Thomas.

Make fun of Rick Perry, or Jerry Jones or some oilman somewhere. Lampoon one of the Bushes. They can take it. Or pretend everyone in Texas carries a six-shooter and laugh at that. Pretend every Texas woman has big hair and laugh at that.

Don't laugh where dead people are concerned.

In response, Ricks dashed off a three-sentence note in which Ricks nevertheless found room to compare himself to Jonathan Swift and gently suggest that Jones is an uptight moron.


It's a false construct that satirical comment is just going for a laugh. Rather, I think it is about things that can be quite painful-for example, Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal."

Which is to say, I was pretty serious about what I wrote.

Best, Tom Ricks

So the whole kick-out-Texas thing is satire. Got it. Now comes the harder question: Is it good satire?

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson