Why has the New York Times ignored the passing of author Jack Williamson?



If the New York Times is justifiably famous for one thing, it’s for their in-depth obituaries on famous and not-so-famous people. While the paper has been criticized by people on both the left and right—most recently for revealing classified secrets during a time of war—few people say anything disrespectful about the paper's wonderful obituaries. The reason for this reverence comes, in part, from the paper's attempt to profile not only the world’s great leaders but also the less-known people who influence society. For example, in today's paper is a profile of George B. Thomas Jr., who wrote an influential college calculus textbook. While few people have heard of Thomas, he is now immortalized with a NY Times obit.

Now, though, I wonder if the New York Time's remaining reputation is about to take an even bigger hit. I speak about their lack of an obituary for science-fiction great Jack Williamson.

For what it's worth, the entire mainstream media has missed the ball on this, with Williamson's death being mentioned by only a handful of media outlets (most notably the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Newsday). While this lack of notice by the entire media is wrong, the New York Times' pride on being so comprehensive with their obits makes their lack of mention of Williamson even more appalling.

For those who don't know him, Jack Williamson's writing career spans the complete history of science fiction. Not only did he write some of the genres most famous novels, he also won all of the genres top awards, including being named a grandmaster by the SFWA. In addition, he was the first person to write about genetic engineering and antimatter and he coined the term “terraforming.” For those last items alone, his passing should have been mentioned by the Times.

To see what type of obituary Williamson should have been given, read the glowing words the English newspaper The Independent gave him. Their headline says it all: " Jack Williamson: Father of American science fiction."

It's a shame the media in this country, and especially our so-called paper of record (which with each passing day becomes less worthy of that claim), forces this country's readers to go overseas to learn about such an important American.

Update on Nov. 14, 2006

The New Yorks Times finally did a short obit on Williamson, as did the Los Angeles Times. I honestly wasn't impressed with the NY Times obit, finding it to be a bare bones summary of Williamson's extraordinary life. I wonder if the New York Times threw something together at the last minute because of criticism they received at not doing anything on Williamson (which is not how they usually do obits--for famous and influential people, they often write the copy years in advance).

The LA Times obit was much better but the best, by far, remains the The Independent's coverage of his passing. This is still a case where the American media dropped the ball.