But the coverage of the “old conservative lion” stopped being quite such a fuzzy delight on Sept. 11. That was the day that The N&O ran not one but two book reviews on Helms’ memoir. It made the book review section look like a mutant version of Doctor Dolittle’s pushme-pullyou: “Debating Jesse: Does Sen. Helms’ memoir whitewash his past … Or remind readers of his powerful principles?”

The first review was commissioned from prominent North Carolina historian Timothy B. Tyson. It was simultaneously elucidating and blistering–doing everything a book review should do. Tyson carefully read the book. Then he critiqued the book, using the historical record to show where Helms dissembled. Lied. The other review was a reprint–a badly written piece of far-right-wing cant from The American Spectator magazine’s editor, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. Originally titled “Our Jesse” in the Spectator, it simultaneously fawned over Helms, then buzzed off like an angry yellow jacket as it lit off after liberals. Then it lovingly returned to its bit of Southern-fried Jesse.

Here’s the problem. Newspapers don’t run competing book reviews. I can’t say it’s never happened, but I’ve never seen it. Nobody I’ve talked to has seen it. And J. Peder Zane, the N&O book editor, says it’s never happened in the eight years he’s been the book editor. He does keep repeating, somewhat like a mantra, that “it was a paperwide decision.” Exactly which particular “paperwide” made this decision isn’t clear, but I’d lay odds that Zane’s fingerprints aren’t on this one. If it had been his decision, he would have at the very least run an intelligent conservative voice–not Tyrrell’s ill-informed rant.

N&O Executive Editor Melanie Sill wouldn’t say exactly who made the decision either but said, “I would say we had conversations.” Paperwide. She called the newspaper’s decision to run competing book reviews “a fresh approach.”

“We’re not a newspaper that stands still,” Sill says. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of more of this in The N&O.”

Oh, goody gumdrops.