No doubt, Liebling would chronicle old-line print publications like The New York Times, Washington Post and his own New Yorker as they uncover the Trump administration's assaults on American democracy while seeking to survive in the online world of Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Today marks Liebling's 113th birthday, as Garrison Keillor noted in his Writer's Almanac. Born in 1904 in New York City, Liebling died on Dec. 28, 1963, a little over a month after the John F. Kennedy assassination and the beginning of wrenching changes in American society.
Liebling, who pioneered media criticism beginning in the 1940s with his Wayward Press columns in the New Yorker, focused on newspapers, which dominated the news landscape. New York City had seven or more newspapers, and television had not yet become the main source of information. In analyzing New York City's newspapers, Liebling exposed sensationalism, inaccurate and politically slanted reporting and corporate censorship.
Part of the second generation of writers who defined the New Yorker, Liebling had a varied career that seems unimaginable today. Besides his press criticism, Liebling wrote authoritatively about boxing, food and politics. He also rivaled New Yorker colleague Joseph Mitchell with his features on New York City characters.
Despite his girth, Liebling covered the Normandy invasion in World War II and the allies' liberation of Europe. The French government honored his work as a war correspondent.
Connoisseurs of Louisiana politics like me revere Liebling's portrait of Gov. Earl K. Long in a series of New Yorker articles. Collected in the book "The Earl of Louisiana," the articles vividly portray "Uncle Earl's" heroic political battle in 1959 against Louisiana segregationists, which led to an emotional collapse and Long's death in 1960. Published in 1961, the political classic is a brilliant finale to both men's careers.
Out of many memorable quotes, Liebling's statement "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better" endures as a credo for old-time newspaper reporters.
Liebling is among writers whose work has been entombed by the Library of America. The New Yorker anthology "Just Enough Liebling" reflects his diversity.
Some of his writing is dated, heavy-handed and overly ornate. At his best, Liebling fashioned sentences that flow like a rushing stream and glitter like a sun-lit mountain pool. His words cast light in the darkness.