I missed this one when The New Yorker arrived a week ago, but this morning, while on vacation and desperate for something to read with my Shredded Wheat, I returned to an old issue and found something that nearly made the coffee come out my nose: a full-age advertorial on page 17 with the kicker, “The [not just “a,” but “the”] American Story: No Stimulus Dollars. No Corporate Greed.”
Headline: “May 17th was a great day, a great day to be Jim Justice.” To underline the greatness of the day, and the man, the headline is captioned with his signature — one that’s only slightly more modest than John Hancock’s.
Now, if you’ve ever attended one of my workshops, you know that I’m a big believer in telling stories. But this is one story that has gone very wrong. Essentially, it’s about a guy buying a resort hotel that’s about to hit the skids. So far, so good.
But the opening subhead tells us that even if the hotel is saved from the skids, this story is about to run off the rails: “Chapter One: Hometown Boy Makes Good.”
Then it gets better. Allow me to allow you to drink deeply from the copy. This is the part when the hotel president announces the new ownership:
Immediately, the tension of the moment turned to smiles, tears and jubilation. Because they all knew this man. All 6’7″ of him. He coaches their girls in basketball at Greenbriar East High. He’s the president of the Beckley Little League. And his reputation as entrepreneur and businessman is legend in this state, thanks to a stunning history of success in everything from coal to agriculture to golf courses.
“Coach Justice,” one woman whispered aloud, incredulously, just before the entire room erupted in cheers, applause and a surge of affection.
What next? The hemorrhaging woman but touches the hem of Jim Justice’s suit jacket and is healed?
Obviously, the self-serving focus of this piece is no way to tell a successful story. But what really slays me is the context. Maybe, just maybe, this advertorial could’ve worked in the Sunday supplement of West Virginia’s morning paper. (Though I doubt it.)
But in The New Yorker? You can hear the guffaws rising from wine bars all over Manhattan. And for once, a snide, derisive chortle would be on the side of all that’s good and wholesome in the world.