the front of the new york times office in nyc
Reading Time: 10 minutes (Stéphan Valentin.)
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Hi and welcome back to our off-topic chat series, Lord Snow Presides (LSP)! Hope nobody imbibed too much on Saturday! Today, let’s have a brief colon cleanser by returning to Frank Peretti’s 1986 blockbuster novel, This Present Darkness. In this installment, we witness an extended exposition dump in two scenes. Today, Lord Snow Presides over Frank Peretti’s total lack of understanding of journalism.

the front of the new york times office in nyc
(Stéphan Valentin.)

(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book. All quoted material — in blockquotes or in the post itself — come from actual sources; I don’t use scare quotes without telling you I’m doing it.)

The Quick Recap.

This chapter consists of two scenes. In the first scene, Bernice Krueger (a junior reporter with the Clarion) interviews Kevin Weed with Marshall Hogan, her boss and the owner of the paper. Kevin Weed spills the tea about a bunch of stuff to the journalists, but he’s ultimately not a huge help. He provides hints more than anything else.

He tells them about Susan Jacobson, his ex-girlfriend who now works for the Almost-Big-Bad villain Alexander Kaseph. In addition, Kevin talks about Bernice’s dead sister Pat. (Pat apparently died by suicide in her dorm room, but Bernice doesn’t believe that story.) Pat roomed with Susan at the time of her death; Susan dated Kevin Weed at the time. Consequently, Bernice wants to chat with both Susan and Kevin.

As the interview winds up, Ted Harmel calls the office. He offers Marshall Hogan an interview. Hooray! (Ted Harmel ran the Clarion before Marshall bought it. The villains destroyed his reputation and his career with totally trumped-up child molestation charges.)

Meanwhile, Carmen, fully installed at the Clarion now, eavesdrops on everything.

In the next scene, Bernice visits a Realtor’s office. She hopes to find information about Kaseph, who did business with them at some point. The sales manager there runs her off. Nothing of note happens.

Wow! A picture of this chapter’s pages just materialized in the dictionary under its entry for nothingburger.

Showing His Math.

Frank Peretti chooses some strange places to suddenly decide to show his math. Often, I encounter scenes or even (as in this case) entire chapters that feel like they’re only there to get his cardboard cutout characters from Plot Point A to Plot Point WTF. This chapter reads like he simply couldn’t be arsed to make them interesting.

But more than that even, he also shows a strange lack of interest in the actual nuts and bolts of journalism.

I’m not a journalist, but I’m pretty sure journalists don’t behave like these two numnuts do. Every time I see them in action, I remember that Peretti’s never held any kind of journalism job that I’ve ever heard about (if he did, it either happened as part of his grade-school education or very briefly as an adult; he bombed at everything he tried to do). However, he constantly hammers at the point that Marshall Hogan not only has spent his whole career in journalism, but he even got as far as the New York Times (NYT).

You’d just think that a real author would at least try to figure out what journalism entails if he’s going to position a main character in his story as a big-town, big-time journalist and newspaper editor who’s been suddenly transplanted to a tiny town that turns out to sit right at the center of a vast, global conspiracy by the Forces of Eeeeeevil.

Instead, everything we see about journalists and journalism seems to have come straight from Spider-Man and the Daily Bugle, right down to Marshall’s glass-walled office.

(See endnotes for my theory about the office.)

Carmen, the New Office Clerk.

A Clarion employee, “Tom the paste-up man,” hired Carmen upon first meeting her and without even a glimpse at her credentials. Tom also chose not to consult with Marshall before making this hiring decision.

However, Marshall doesn’t even question Tom’s wisdom. Nor does he investigate Carmen’s credentials for himself. Considering how much work the last office secretary did that was journalism-based, you’d think he’d want someone, I don’t know, with at least a passing familiarity with the profession’s skillset. (I can easily forgive the Clarion for not finding out that she recently tried to seduce Hank Busche, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ pastor. But this? I cannot forgive such sloppiness in Marshall’s character.)

Marshall is thrilled that Carmen has located the cord to the coffeemaker. However, she’s made one odd request (p. 181):

The location of her desk had been her only request on the job. She had asked if it could be moved to a location right outside Marshall’s office door, and Marshall was happy to comply. Now all he had to do was turn and holler, and she would spring into action to do his bidding.

She isn’t actually Marshall’s very own dedicated personal secretary. In fact, her job title is “secretary and general office manager,” according to her brief sorta-interview on page 161. However, Marshall acts like he’s a very rude version of Don Draper, while she’s the personal secretary who exists purely to dote on him and serve his every single need, personal or professional.

Strategic Failure.

Slowly, the reporters get Kevin Weed’s story out of him. And here I found myself marveling again at just how ridiculously uninformed Marshall really is about his very own town. He literally knows nothing about Ashton and its power structures.

Authors often choose to include a character who is extremely young, brand-new to town, etc. That way, they can relay needed information to readers in a slightly more natural way. Thus, much of Marshall’s ignorance derives from Peretti’s need to use this character as an infodump source — as Marshall learns about stuff, the readers do.

But Peretti chose the wrong, wrong, wrong character to use for that purpose.

Marshall’s been here for some months now, we learn on p. 14. And he owns the town’s only newspaper and edits it, as well as doing reporting for it. So he really should know more than he does about the local citizens of note. Instead, he knows nothing about Alexander Kaseph or Kaseph’s huge secretarial pool just outside of Ashton. He only finds out when Susan’s stoner ex-boyfriend tells him about it all.

Bernice, who’s been in town even longer, doesn’t know about Kaseph or the compound either. When Kevin reveals that Kaseph has connections “back east, maybe New York,” Marshall’s ignorance becomes even more marked — not only about Ashton, but just about journalism in general.

OpSec Failure.

Bear in mind, Kevin’s abundance of caution in this scene ain’t unjustified. And Bernice and Marshall know it isn’t.

Indeed, both reporters already know that there’s some kind of huge conspiracy afloat in Ashton. They done bin told already that their reputations and careers might be on the line — and that their lives and those of their loved ones might be as well — because of this exact investigation.

Kevin flat-out tells them that he came in personally to talk to them because Susan insisted, and she insisted because she feared their phone was bugged. And this is the reaction of two professional journalists (p. 183):

Marshall and Bernice were silent for a moment. That was a comment they didn’t know how seriously to take.

Let me help them out.

Keven just presented a big, major, super-serious allegation.

And he trotted it out out in front of a guy who recently worked for the New York Times.

Why It’s A Fail.

Journalists aren’t just people barking at and chasing the next big celebrity-gossip scoop.

Well, some are, sure. Maybe even a lot are.

But that’s not their real value to society.

They are nothing less than the defenders of democracy itself.

Their function as watchdogs cannot be overstated in importance. Wiretapping, leaks, and all that stuff destroy public confidence in the integrity of journalists as well as undermining their mission.

Kevin didn’t come to the Clarion until now. Why not? We don’t know exactly. But we do know why Susan didn’t: she fears being exposed as a whistleblower and facing retaliation from her employer as a result. We saw her warn Kevin earlier, but he’d already decided not to talk to the journalists about what he knew when Pat died and Susan got seduced into the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).

Frank Peretti reminds us of that fact every chance he gets that Marshall Hogan is a trained journalist. And yet Marshall seems to have no idea in the world how to respond to Kevin’s concern.

No. He should know exactly how to respond. In the real world, that kind of surveillance is a big concern for real journalists.

For a start, I reckon he’d immediately move this interview somewhere else besides his potentially-compromised office.

And if Marshall had even half the sense of a drunken goose, I’d also fully expect him to suddenly remember the weird circumstances of Carmen’s hiring and her odd request. 

What They Learned.

At the scene’s end, here is what Bernice and Marshall learn from Kevin:

  • Susan’s new boyfriend, Kaseph, seems to be buying a lot of real estate around Ashton. Kevin thinks the name might be “Alex–Alan–Alexander. . . something like that” or that it starts with an A at least. And Kaseph is from “back east, maybe New York.”
  • At one point, Kaseph helped Juleen Langstrat teach New Age classes at the college.
  • Moreover, Kaseph is way into that New Age stuff, which Bernice summarizes as “Eastern mysticism.” Kevin calls him a “far-out ooga-booga man” and “a witch doctor.” Cuz that’s not offensive at all. (/s)
  • Kevin also thinks that Kaseph was “the heavy” while Langstrat was “his puppy dog.” He provides no reasons for thinking so, and the trained NYT reporter doesn’t inquire further.
  • Pat acted very strangely before her death. At first, she really objected to Susan’s involvement with Kaseph. She even began an investigation into the matter. Then, suddenly, she said she didn’t care anymore and acted “dopey” and “lost-in-space,” like Susan. Then Pat complained about someone named “Thomas” bothering her. And then she died. Kevin dropped out of college not long afterward.
  • Despite “Thomas” being a common name in the 80s, absolutely nobody on the office’s Ashton College “roster” had it as a first or last name.
  • (Kevin never describes his breakup with Susan. She just “ran off with this Kaseph guy.” The journalists don’t ask about it.)

For journalists, they seem very curiously incurious about stuff that you’d think they’d want to know more about. What real estate? How did Kevin get the impression Kaseph was from “back east?” Why did he think Kaseph commanded Langstrat or that he wants to take over Ashton? How often and when did Kevin interact with Kaseph? How’d that breakup go? What other names did Kevin have who were involved in this stuff?

It’s like they can’t wait to get him out of that glass-walled office.

The Fundagelical Panopticon.

This scene consists of dry, by-the-book plodding. No question about that. It’s a contrivance allowing Frank Peretti to get to the stuff he really wants to describe.

However, it still bears quite a bit of interest for me.

See, fundagelicals themselves really do not respect boundaries. At all. And if they want to overhear a conversation, then they will very happily invade others’ privacy to do so.

As we learned in their culture war against abortion rights, they genuinely don’t believe that anybody deserves privacy. Not from them, anyway. Indeed, a common fundagelical parenting tip I’ve heard involves removing a child’s door from their room as a retaliatory or spirit-crushing move, like if the child slammed it in anger at the parent or got caught masturbating.

But the problem goes much further than a cruelty done to a vulnerable and helpless child with no recourse.

When people fear to seek help and redress for the wrongs done to them, those people are truly ground and crushed underfoot at heart. They are without hope of anything about their situation improving. If they dare to talk about their plight, then they may well face even greater pain if they pick the wrong person to confide in — or that person uses their newfound information unwisely or maliciously.

It’s impossible to see that atmosphere of fear and that grinding-away of a person’s spirit as anything but an authoritarian’s wet dream. And I know exactly who I think about when the word authoritarian comes to my mind.

The Projection of Flaws.

I’ve been in a situation where I suffered a great wrong, as a Christian, and had nobody I could tell without fear of them making matters even worse. It’s incredibly hard to know who to trust in fundagelicalism in particular:

Fundagelicals know only the language of control-lust and power-envy. People admitting that they’re in distress is tantamount to them announcing they face a period of greater vulnerability than usual. It’s like blood in the water for sharks.

In fundagelicalism, admissions of vulnerability get punished brutally hard by the tribe. They accuse such people of Jesus-ing wrong, of having too little faith, of provoking their tormentors. If the tormentor enjoys a position of power over the torment-ee, as is often the case, the torment-ee will be accused of not submitting to that tormentor well enough or often enough or with enough Jesus-y gestures. There’s really not a way to win for the person of lesser power. Might makes right in fundagelicalism. It always has and it always will.

Those being tormented have ZERO expectation of privacy about the matter, even from pastors. The gossip mill operates 24/7 and at 150% peak efficiency in fundagelical groups. Once someone’s “sin” is uncovered, that person may find their personal business being aired everywhere — even from the pulpit. Years of friendly history with those gossiping won’t matter.

Once the torment begins, it does not end. Years and years later, the torment-ee will still be on guard for a sideswipe attack regarding the matter — even if, on the surface, it resolved ages ago.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over a writer who weaponized his own willful ignorance to write characters that bear no resemblance whatsoever to any actual persons, living or dead — except for those in his own tribe.

NEXT UP: Let’s meet the “experts” of The Secret! One has done time for homicide! See you tomorrow! <3


My theory: We learned on page 14 that Marshall specifically renovated the newspaper’s headquarters to get that office. It wasn’t glass-walled in Ted Harmel’s day. And Marshall did it specifically to feel like a Big Hustlin’ Newspaper Editor. Peretti tells us that having a glass-walled office was “one of his life’s dreams.” Marshall obviously realized at some point that he’d never achieve his dream at the Times. So he spent a lot of money making it happen in Ashton instead. I theorize that he did something really bad at his previous job, leading to him relocating to Ashton. There, at last, he could cosplay as J. Jonah Jameson and roar instructions to his reporters and demand coffee of secretaries and generally just run things to his preference and specification.

I think there’s a lot of author self-insert in this character, as with Hank Busche. Both men are authoritarians, sure, but the similarities run a lot deeper than that. Frank Peretti attended university briefly (UCLA) for English and screenwriting. I’m betting he ached for a glass-walled office of his very own.

That is my theory. It is mine, and belongs to me and I own it, and what it is too. (Back to the post!)

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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.

Final Note: The Atlantic offers us an article about how to tell if someone bugged your room.

Bride of Final Note: Make sure you wash your hands and no touchie da facie.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...