Elvis's Army Fatigues Survive the Malibu Wildfires

10/22/2007 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I offer a small, telling example of the phummphy, self-censorship of The New York Times.

I see this phenomenon when researching old newspapers for books I write.

First, quick background:

On October 22, the Times featured an horrific but beautiful photo of the yellow and red wildfires raging in California and fueled by Santa Ana winds from the high desert. Two hundred fifty thousand people had been, by that point, forced to evacuate.

In Malibu, the fires completely destroyed the ridiculously over-the-top Castle Kashan, a reproduction of a 13th century Scottish castle used in TV shows such as the Rockford Files.

The castle was the home of the rich daughter of a former Iranian oil minister and had been on the market for 17 million dollars.

Here's the point-- I think the middle-brow decorousness of Times editors gets in the way of cultural truths.

I suspect that because the fire is a growing tragedy, the newspaper of record omitted the fact that the Castle Kashan's female owner fled carrying Elvis Presley's army fatigues. (The fact was reported by Jacob Adelman of the Associated Press.)

I think the Times editors omitted the Elvis Presley army fatigues fearing they'd be accused of reporting something risible in the midst of tragedy.

To me, the raging fires are a total horror, but the cultural fact that the woman so values Elvis Presley's stuff fascinates.

Women of a certain age -- indeed people of all ages love Elvis -- still.

This is a likely continuation of the phenomenon of Elvis sightings that were reported a few years back.

In an interview, not so long ago, the then Duchess of Devonshire, a Mitford sister, remarked (and I paraphrase) that Elvis Presley is probably one of her most favorite things about our culture.

Tragedy comes and tragedy goes -- but somehow the King lives.

The late great I.F. Stone said his superb career of independent journalism was based on finding the buried or omitted fact in mainstream newspaper stories..