Media Mensch of Year

Who is the 2003 Media Man of the Year?

This year, in an era devoted to idea distortion and digital degradation, we cite the exception: a 55-year-old comedian cross-referenced in the Indiana Biography Index under “wise guy,” and they weren’t wrong; whose idea was that TV should be better; who, fueled by a driven work ethic, implanted his own determined responsibility into his product; who succeeded with no apology for, but rather exaltation of, human flaws; a broadcaster-the inheritor of the industry built by William Paley, Dr. Frank Stanton, Edward Murrow, David Sarnoff, Pat Weaver, Roone Arledge, Jack Paar-who is faithful to the idea that New York broadcasts to the U.S.; who hates crap, cant, condescension; who came out of the box first after 9/11, showing leadership and intelligence; who opened his heart after his heart was opened; who flew to Kandahar for Christmas Eve with cigars, 5,000 T-shirts, Paul Schaffer and Biff Henderson (and no video cameras!); who refused to suck up around George W. Bush or Bill Clinton; who grew on the air from boyhood to A-1 manliness without the least sacrifice of his particular hard edge; who redefined American humor on the level of Mark Twain, Booth Tarkington, Fred Allen; who stepped into the smooth loafers of his own personal hero, Johnny Carson, not by emulating the older comedian’s mentholated humor, but by sharing his stance of personal integrity; who has aged into the crazy uncle you’d most want to be like, a pioneer without platitude; who has become the gold standard for TV in our age.

David Letterman, who works at 1697 Broadway, is The Observer ‘s 2003 Media Man of the Year. We congratulate him, thank him, and inform him that he is entitled to a $100 cash award and a one-week pass from harsh criticism, expiration date 1/8/03.