Wednesday, September 17, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: Tony Auth Moves On

Fighting Bullies With Pens
Auth was a Pullitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist who spent much of his life doing great work for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he passed away this weekend at the age of 72. The following is a story of just how much impact you can have, probably without even knowing it.

Auth was invited to speak at my high school when I was 16. After a spirited hour of showing slides of some of his best work, I knew that I liked the guy, and that I really wanted to have a career working with people like him. I also was cursing, not for the first or last time, my inability to draw. The idea of making doodles for a living that infuriated people? Win.

Then stuff got real.

I was a member of the high school newspaper staff, and lucky enough to win some awards for it. I also knew that I wanted to go to school for journalism and have a career in it, and who cares that the money would be trivial at best, as I had Truth and all that on my side. So we're hanging out with Auth and he's holding court in the cafeteria as we're loosely interviewing him, telling us all to fight the good fight against our administration on the things we wanted to cover... and then an old white science teacher came over to the table and begins dominating the conversation with Auth about his views on abortion.

In a high school cafeteria, as a grown up, in front of kids.

Auth didn't flinch in the face of the meltdown, and gave as good as he got. It escalated quickly, and within a few seconds, the cafeteria was quiet as every kid in the school stared down the adult fight. Teachers began moving in to separate things, and eventually the science teacher was more or less dragged off.

At which point I looked down at the table, and realized that I had a tape recorder running for the whole thing.

This led to a six-month long fight to publish the transcript of the tape in the school paper, and a compensation trip down to the Philly Inquirer and Daily News offices as a field trip. That lead to a chance 30 minutes with Richard Aregood, the Pullitzer Prize winning editorial writer for the Daily News, who decided to take an impromptu meeting with a bunch of smart ass high school kids and curse like a sailor as we all pretty much wanted to accept him as our personal savior. And that sold me into journalism, which was pretty much one of the most meaningful half hours of my life, in that it dictated the next eight years of my life, and provided the base for the last 20 years of paychecks.

I'm not saying I wouldn't have gone to college and taken those degrees without meeting Auth. But I would say that when a smart, funny and charismatic person loves their job in front of you, and you're a teenager... it's going to leave a mark.

A bigger one, even, then anything Auth drew intentionally.

Oh, and also this... pro-life zealots suck.

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