Gordon Monson: How wrong can a columnist be? Thiiiiiiiiiis wrong

The anniversary of Paul Jones panning the Beatles helps put a critic’s job in perspective.

(AP Photo) In this Feb. 8, 1964 file photo, Ed Sullivan, center, stands with The Beatles, from left, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, during a rehearsal for the British group's first American appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," in New York.

As a person who has written thousands of columns through the years, and adds to that total still, expressing opinions about this, that, and darn near everything in between, what Paul Jones wrote about the Beatles when they first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964, scares me.

Six decades later, to the day on Feb. 11, his commentary hits me over the head like a hammer.

Not because Jones was wrong. And we’ll get to the specifics there in a minute. Everyone who delivers commentary for a living swings at and misses a pitch or two or three or … 400. If you’re brave/stupid enough to step into the batter’s box again and again, you’re going to draw some erroneous conclusions.

Forgive the mixed metaphor, but if you’ve ever strongly offered up your personal points of view on politics or religion or sports or music or movies or any other sort of pop culture, say, while plowing through Mom’s chicken pot pie at family dinner, and any of your family members have steel-trap memories, you know what I’m talking about here.

I’ve been wrong about some sports questions and issues, especially when it comes to guessing what will happen in the future. Who’s going to win the Utah-BYU game? Will the Jazz beat the Bulls in the Finals? Who will win the Super Bowl? Experience has taught me the only people who can accurately foretell the future when it comes to specific sports outcomes are barbers. Ask them.

Sometimes people come up with the most ridiculous notions, too often embarrassing notions that harm others, such as what Utah school board member Natalie Cline recently threw out on social media, questioning the gender of a high school athlete.

That’s ignorant and frightening. You can toss pathetic into those descriptions as well.

What’s frightening about what Jones wrote wasn’t as far gone, as severe and damaging, as what Cline popped off with, but it is related in a much less serious way. It was the degree to which he was in error, how outrageously wrong he was. And in his particular case, he whiffed badly.

It’d be easy to call him an idiot. Instead, we’ll simply call into question his judgment, fully admitting we’ve got the advantage of hindsight to rip at this pitch and to rip him, too.

Here’s part of what the critic infamously wrote about the greatest band of all time, under the headline, “Sullivan wasted Time With Beatles,” in the Philadelphia Bulletin:

“If Ed Sullivan can find no better use for the time allotted him on Sunday night than to devote it to such exhibitions as he presented last Sunday night I suggest that CBS-TV find something else to put in this hour of prime time.

“Why Sullivan found it necessary to aid in the phony promotion of four rock ‘n’ roll exponents, all of whom resemble Moe of the Three Stooges is beyond comprehension. And why he felt it necessary to “load” the theater with screaming teen-age girls when he normally restricts his audience to grownups, is also a mystery.

“It was obvious to those who saw the Beatles, four young fellows from Great Britain, that they have not attained their present notoriety on the basis of their musical talents, for the sounds emanating from their mouths were anything but melodic.

“Shorn of their mop-like hairdos, they would look and sound like many other inferior rock ‘n’ roll groups which are still attempting to keep alive the fad which died when Elvis Presley entered the armed forces.

“There is nothing attractive about the looks and sounds of the Beatles. There is no reason why Sullivan should take part in the absurd campaign to make this group appear to be important.”

OK, folks, as mentioned, I admit to having been wrong on occasion. But not like this. Not in a way that includes willingly putting on the Bozo nose and extended clown feet, applying the makeup, stuffing the suit, and waddling about while juggling fruits and vegetables.

Normally I wouldn’t ridicule or laugh at anyone courageous enough to conjure an opinion, not one who does so professionally, because we all can learn from varying points of view, whether we agree with them or not. I’ve always thought agreement is overrated and not always useful.

But I watched that same live performance on Ed’s show as Paul Jones did, sitting in the TV den of my family’s home about 20 miles south of the city where Jones worked. And I walked away with a completely different opinion, as I thought anyone with ears to hear would, being not just mesmerized by John, Paul, George and Ringo, but being eager to hear a whole lot more. He was 67 years old when he came to his conclusion. I was 7.

So, that haunts me still. Not being wrong … no, we all are that, at least here and there … but being that wrong.

Scares the mud off a shovel and the ink out of a pen.