In case anyone wants to know the relative historical importance of showbiz celebrity Johnny
Carson and Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, a revered World War II hero of the Polish underground who
devoted his life to the cause of an independent Poland, the size of their obituaries in this morning’s
New York Times ought to make it clear: Carson was by far the more significant figure.
Carson’s obit, beginning on the
front page, runs to 3,700 words (more than 10 times the length of Nowak-Jezioranski’s) and takes
up a full inside page. It is accompanied by a 663-word appreciation and a 553-word report on Carson’s
inability to quit writing jokes even in retirement. Over all, the Times print edition devoted 4,916
words and nine photos to his life and career.
Which, according to the Times’s ranking, makes Nowak-Jezioranski about twice as
unimportant as Woods and 10 times less important than Carson.
Nowak-Jezioranski’s “most famous achievement,” according to his obit, “was as the ‘Courier
from Warsaw,’ making death-defying trips to London from Warsaw to bring news of the Polish
resistance’s activities to the government in exile and the Allies.” Among other activities, he “took
part in the failed 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which 150,000 civilians were killed” and later
campaigned “for improved Polish-Jewish relations,” repeatedly calling “for Poland to apologize
for the 1941 massacre of hundreds of Jews in a northern town, Jedwabne.”
Not incidentally, for the first time in its history, the U.N. marks the liberation of the Nazi death camps with
today’s special session of the General Assembly commemorating the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of Auschwitz (in Poland) by Soviet troops on Jan. 27, 1945.
The greatest achievement of Woods’s career was to “accidentally” erase a key portion of a
secret Oval Office audiotape that recorded a June 20, 1972, conversation between Nixon and his
White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, three days after the Watergate break-in. But Woods
was modest about that accomplishment. She claimed she was responsible for “only about five
minutes” of the infamous 18-1/2 minute gap in the tape, according to her obit.
Carson’s achievements were so many, it would be tedious to list them all. But according to his
obit, they included comedy sketches for “a variety of characters” such as “Art Fern, an
untrustworthy salesman; Floyd R. Turbo, an opinionated bumpkin; Carnac the Magnificent, an
all-knowing seer; and Aunt Blabby, a gossipy old woman” [and] foils to which Mr. Carson
returned time and time again … his doctor, Al Bendova; his accountants, H&R Goniff; and his
lawyer, Bombastic Bushkin.”
The Washington Post was even less moderate about Carson. It ran a total of 5,030 words
between his obit
and an appreciation by Tom Shales.
As might have been expected, the D.C. daily considered Woods almost twice as important as the
Times did, giving her 1,016 words. But as far as the
Post is concerned, both were less important than Nowak-Jezioranski, whose death was smartly
singled out in an editorial.