The central timid theory underlying Bob Greene’s entire output of columns since his intellectual death 20 years ago can be simply stated: “The world is bad and steadily deteriorating.”

This tremulous credo is matched with a corollary untruth: “The only chance to detect any remaining shreds of goodness and decency is provided by Bob Greene.”

Usually, Bob serves up his tenet in such a squishy, amorphous fashion that its utter falsehood, while easily felt, cannot be coolly measured. He slipped, however, in “Some good news, some golden advice” (September 8), a column that ran the day of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s first special mass this year for couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversaries.

“It’s funny,” Bob begins in his standard cud-chewing, ruminatory opening, “the things that are considered newsworthy enough to make the papers–and the things that aren’t. Every human failing, every transgression, every piece of meanness and violence–that’s news. That gets reported.”

After restating his spurious theory for the umpteenth time, Bob turns to his corollary: “But something like what is scheduled to happen at Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday…something like this is usually considered inconsequential.”

Ummm, Bob, considered inconsequential by whom? The cynical newspapers, the Tribune and Sun-Times, which reported the cardinal’s anniversary ceremony at least a dozen times over the last decade? The TV stations, which not only covered the mass you mention, but also spotlighted a second mass the cardinal held, for more anni-versary couples, a few weeks later?

Bob has so gotten in the habit of imagining what goes on in the minds of others–women crying in airports, for instance–that he feels free to predict what assignment editors all over the city will do based on his flawed whimsy.

The very same day Bob was rocking beside the cardinal’s mass, hands clasped around his knees, Sun-Times religion writer Andy Hermann devoted an entire page to the event, though of course without Bob’s grandiose invocation of self-serving irony.

But Bob is Olympian in his badness, remember, so the golden anniversary column yields yet one more level of stunning hypocrisy. While clucking over what is and is not viewed by the media as important enough to report, Bob doesn’t even report on the mass itself. At least, not in the sense that “reporting” means going to an event and covering what happens. Both major newspapers ran stories the next day on what actually occurred at the cardinal’s mass. So did television.

And Bob? He forced out a thumb-twiddler headlined “It’s the 90’s but thankfully not much longer.” That column’s point is that the 1990s, “this most self-referential of all decades,” are almost over. I’m sure those enjoying their youth now, and not in the 1950s, would disagree with Bob’s insistence that these last seven years have shown “very little to make the claim that [the decade]’s special, or even particularly memorable.”

But he is correct that a new decade is coming up in just over three years. Hit the nail right on the head, actually. No argument here. Take a bow, Bob.

–Ed Gold

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Jeff Heller.