The most surprising fact of the entire Bob Watch experience for me has been that in this column’s 18-month history, nobody has ever written in defending Bob Greene.

Oh, they’ve suggested, many times, that criticizing him is somehow unnecessary or unfair–“beating a dead horse” is the common metaphor. They’ve said that Bob’s utter inadequacy is so apparent that drawing attention to it is too easy.

I beg to differ. That Bob is bad in a way both fascinating and complex is aptly illustrated–once again–by his approach to the recent political conventions. Think this through with me.

For the Republican convention, Bob hies himself across the country, tut-tutting those people on the plane wearing tank tops on the way. Once in San Diego, he ignores the convention, outside of watching a sound check. Instead he eulogizes the speech as a literary form. He sits in a coffeehouse–Ricky’s–finding it the source of “the most significant news coming out” of the convention (“Twenty minutes and a million miles away,” August 18). Bob is shocked to find people don’t care. They aren’t heatedly discussing speeches. Talk is of sports, weather, and freeway traffic.

He ends with a typical journalist’s preen–himself and Bob Dole, years earlier, in a booth at a similar coffee shop, just a pair of Bobs talking politics. If only Dole could figure out “what the people in here are thinking right now” he might have a chance, Bob suggests.

But Bob has just said they’re thinking about the weather and sports. Is that what politics should address? Vote for Dole and we’ll have four clement winters? Bob doesn’t say.

Then the Democratic convention comes roaring into Chicago–falls right into Bob’s lap. All he has to do is pay his tab and toddle out into the street, and boom, it’s right there.

And what does he do? Baby Richard. The Dickensian tyke he has already noodled about for an incredible three score and ten columns. He reprises the story–twice, at least, at press time–with absolutely no news whatsoever, other than that time has passed, and Richard and his adoptive brother haven’t been allowed to hang out.

“I have been writing a newspaper column for 25 years,” he says in “You’ll never see it…” (August 25). “What the five prevailing justices did to those two boys is the single most brutal act I have ever seen a branch of government commit against totally helpless and voiceless people.”

Bob must have missed the bombing of Cambodia. We can only speculate how many more times Bob will dredge up the Baby Richard story, all the while ignoring the fact that Richard could be the happiest, most well-adjusted boy in the world. Bob just doesn’t know, and either doesn’t care to–or can’t–find out.

See what I mean? Applying thought to Bob Greene can be very restorative, like planting a tree. Bringing something to a place where there was nothing before. Anyone who ever felt a slight shiver of pleasure opening a can–a tiny thrill when the vacuum breaks and the air rushes in–can relate to the joy of applying adult discernment to Bob Greene’s writing. God knows he’ll never do it.

–Ed Gold

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration of baby Uncle Sam, by Jeff Heller.