WAR HAS COME to the post office, and some East Coast media operators are hiding from the carrier the way they formerly hid from bill collectors. But the post office is going to war itself; this week it broke speed and press-run records to release nearly 7 billion copies of a new “patriotic stamp” with Old Glory rippling behind the motto, United We Stand. According to Linn’s Stamp News, which watchdogs such arcana, Postmaster General Jack E. Potter urged Americans to use this 34-cent “ballot for freedom” to “spread our message of unity and resolve with every letter we send.” Translation: Don’t let the bastards scare you away from the mailbox. This is a handy message for the U.S. Postal Service, which is losing billions in the terror scare. But Potter has a point. Terrorists who poison the mail attack not just domestic but international trust and cooperation; the Universal Postal Union is the oldest and probably most successful global compact.
Linn’s notes that postal stamp advisors “met via e-mail” to speed through the new design—a sign of the times. By contrast, the U.S. didn’t commemorate World War I till it ended, with a peace stamp. It didn’t note the Korean and Vietnam wars until 32 and six years, respectively, after their ends—following pressure from veterans and their families.
Today’s postal patriots still lag behind President Franklin Roosevelt, who plastered the mails and stoked home-front spirits with “Win the War” issues. But they’ve just started; a New York congressman has proposed another stamp with an 11-cent surcharge to benefit the families of emergency workers killed in the World Trade Center attack.
The Postal Service meanwhile airbrushed the WTC towers out of a nostalgic “Greetings From New York” design to be issued next year. But it’s missed one other potential sore point, and a chance to remind the world that the United States has nothing against Islam. It’s now winding up a five-year series of “Holiday Celebrations” stamps, issued to compensate for its annual Christmas stamps. This included three Hanukkah, three Kwanzaa, and two Cinco de Mayo stamps—and, in an omission that suddenly seems conspicuous, none for Ramadan.
Another era ended at The Seattle Times last week with the departure of president and chief operating officer Mason Sizemore after 36 years with the company. Sizemore was installed as president and Frank Blethen as publisher in 1985, days after publisher/president Jerry Pennington’s drowning death. They presided over the fat years of Pulitzer Prizes and bumper joint-operating profits in the 1980s and 1990s and the recent agonies of an industry depression, a destructive strike, and the ensuing rancor and payback.
Through it all, Sizemore won credit as a straight shooter, even from adversaries. Times journalists were glad to have one of their own heading the business side at a paper that’s traditionally maintained an unusually high newsroom deployment (though poststrike downsizing has lately reduced that). Sizemore started as a copy editor and rose to managing editor before crossing over. That may be why he was readier than most media executives to speak to the press (present instance excepted) and, at the same time, always knew when to say “No comment.” He gave a calm, rational face to an operation whose publisher could seem otherwise.
I don’t know what finally passed between Blethen and Sizemore. In-house, the rumors are inevitably buzzing: that the two had a terrific showdown, that the paper’s about to be sold. Buzz they would even if the official story is the whole story: that an eventual handover to a well-groomed successor had long been planned and that Sizemore, at 60, decided the time was right and offered to do his bit for downsizing. He announced his retirement “effective immediately,” like an irate reporter stomping out of the newsroom, but Times spokesperson Kerry Coughlin says that’s just Sizemore’s style; he’s not one for “cakes and parties.”
That well-groomed successor is Carolyn Kelly, who, unlike Sizemore, came up on the business side the paper. She started at the Times as a financial analyst in 1977, rose to chief financial officer, and in 1997 assumed the newly created next- in-succession position of general manager. That position has now been eliminated.
Where there’s fear, someone’s trying to make a buck off it—and where there isn’t, someone’s trying to incite it and make a buck. Spam from the “Terrorism Alert Service” offers “IMMEDIATE e-mail alerts of genuine credible threats of terrorism affecting Americans, domestic and abroad, as well as daily e-mail briefs of ongoing threats to our citizenry. . . . We watch, listen & worry so you don’t have to!” Just $10 a month, unless you’d rather check the State Department’s Web site for free. Meanwhile, every other e-mail and direct-mail solicitation now begins, “All our thoughts, prayers, and love go out to the families and friends of the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy.” Then, marvel of marvels, they spare one more thought for your credit-card interest rate.