News came Wednesday that the blogger known as Jon Swift had died suddenly at the age of 46. His real name, it turns out, was Al Weisel and he lived in New York City and worked as a writer. He died while traveling to his father's funeral in Virginia. En route, he suffered two aortic aneurysms, reports his friend, and fellow-blogger, Tom Watson.
'Jon Swift' wasn't famous (more B-list than A-list, he would have agreed), and he didn't blog that often. (Sometimes it seemed like weeks between efforts.) But when those wordy, detailed 'Jon Swift' posts finally materialized they were often priceless. He punctured the Beltway press in ways that were smart, eloquent, and funny as hell. I don't think I've ever laughed as often reading a blog the way I did reading the Jon Swift site. He had me in stitches and he wrote about the news media. No easy task.
Actually, that's not true. 'Jon Swift' wrote about lots of things, not just the news media. But it was his brand of necessary truth-telling about the press that made him a small, but important star, of the liberal blogosphere. His 2007 meditation on Mark Halperin's hair still makes me laugh. His "Journalism 101" post remains one for the ages. And his takedown of the right-wing blogosphere's performance during the 2008 campaign represented a brilliant, invaluable, and uproarious piece of media analysis.
'Jon Swift' was a talented and droll satirist, with a keen eye for the absurd, who lovingly adopted the persona of a faux, well-intentioned conservative who did not take kindly to folks besmirching Fox News. (Think Stephen Colbert, but without all the manic yelling.) And yes, I'm sure lots of readers, and especially first-timers, didn't catch onto the joke and took the site at face value. But that was the genius part; Jon Swift blog posts worked whether you were in on the joke or not.
While I was researching and writing my book, Bloggers on the Bus, I came to appreciate the extraordinary number of deeply talented people who contribute to make the liberal blogosphere such an the alluring, educational and rousing place. It's filled with previously overlooked bystanders (like Al Weisel) who, thanks to the power of the Internet, were allowed to showcase their immense talents and make a contribution to the public discourse, in ways that were both quirky and profound.
Jon Swift will be missed.