Paul Greenberg
The old editor was finishing a late supper at the bar of a restaurant near the paper, filling up page after page of a little notebook with scribblings that would prove as incomprehensible in the cold light of morning as they were even then. Much like the One and Only Vice-Presidential Debate of 2012 he was making himself watch on the supersized screen, which seemed to grow smaller and smaller as the night wore on. Like the debaters themselves.

The prelims were just starting when he eased onto a barstool. He could almost hear the barker's cry. ("Hu-rry, hu-rry, hu-rry!) The big show was about to begin. Immediate seating! Anywhere in the country -- so long as it was near a television set, the greatest soporific ever invented. Why think when you could just watch? No waiting!

The contenders on the screen wandered around each other, like wary wrestlers at the start of a match. Then the (non)action began, with one constantly interrupting the other, the other reeling off statistics out of any context the innumerate editorialist could appreciate. He wondered how the debaters could maintain any interest in what they themselves were saying, and then remembered why. They were politicians.

The editor knew which of the debaters he wanted to be the next vice president of the United States, but as the words and numbers accumulated, he began to forget why. Debate? This was more of a mutual hissy, like that of an old couple who'd said pretty much the same things to each other, or rather to the empty air, for the last 30 or 40 years, until the object of their nightly ritual now had been forgotten. If it had ever had one in the first place.

The night dragged on, and, like the debate, didn't so much end as peter out. The empty glass of Scotch beside his plate had lost its savor long ago. He thought of Harry Ashmore, the editorial page editor of the old Arkansas Gazette who'd won his Pulitzer writing about the Little Rock Crisis of 1957 in time for every day's morning edition. One night they'd announced Last Call at the Little Rock Club before Harry had any idea what he'd put in tomorrow's paper. "Make it a double," he said. "I've got an editorial to write."

There was real news back then. Politicians made it, not just debated it. Tonight the editor stuck it out at the bar only from a dull gray sense of duty, which wrapped itself around him like a shroud. A couple of other patrons passed him on their way out, for which he envied them. He could have used some fresh air himself. One of them asked who had won the debate.

"Both lost," he said.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.