The Tulsa Frontier published a story Sunday titled: Doerflinger member of secret, ‘luxury’ social club since 2010.
I found the headline ironic because I casually refer to the Frontier as a “luxury” website.
Short of a subhead and a lede introducing the Royal Order of Jesters’ pledge of confidentiality, readers like myself could not gain further information from the piece unless we possessed a $30 monthly Frontier membership or paid $5 to access that particular article.
I didn’t know what to make of the piece from its preview, and I didn’t know anyone with a Frontier subscription off the top of my head.
But what I did know was that Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger is a high-ranking freemason. He proudly appeared at the fraternity’s Nov. 17 ceremony commemorating the State Capitol’s cornerstone, which I used as an opportunity to write about masons and masonry:
“In my father’s day, masons just didn’t talk to anybody about how to join. Now, we’ve become somewhat more open,” (Oklahoma Masonic Grand Lodge grand master Dudley Ridge Smith) said. “It’s just like any fraternity — we have secrets in our fraternity. But we are very, very open as far as membership. I’ve got masonic symbols on my car. We are not really a secret order, but like any fraternity, our meetings are secret.”
I also knew that I know a fair number of masons, because I once looked into petitioning a lodge for membership. And I knew I was told I could have a lifetime membership for something like $850.
Put another way, I knew a lifetime membership in at least one lodge of freemasonry — to which the Shriners and the Royal Order of Jesters are advanced elements — was worth about 28 months of Frontier subscriptions.
I can’t remember if the masons promised a coffee mug, but I decided against petitioning my raising either way.
‘News for the 1 percent’
The Tulsa Frontier began only a few months before NonDoc did in 2015. Owned by former Tulsa World publisher Bobby Lorton and edited in chief by Tulsa reporting legend Ziva Branstetter, the Frontier, its experienced staff and its high-price subscription model were written up early by NiemanLab.org as an experiment in the evolving journalism industry.
Since I was plugging my nose and plunging back into journalism’s fetid waters, people often asked my opinion on the Tulsa Frontier’s concept. They could tell I was stressed about the financial viability of a digital operation. Had NonDoc considered subscription models? Will the Frontier make money? Who will pay?
My response was always honest but delicate. I didn’t know what would happen, and I didn’t want to criticize a fellow journalism startup, but I didn’t like the high-price subscription model on principle.
For one thing, I personally couldn’t afford it, and I figured if I couldn’t justify a recurring extra expense for news content, the vast majority of the public couldn’t either. To quote Sawyer Brown, I ain’t first class, but I ain’t white trash.
In my mind, I couldn’t imagine many public school teachers, janitors or parents being able to foot the bill for $30-per-month news, and I had flashbacks to covering the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net, a site subscribed to only by powerful political insiders, primarily for bill-tracking services.
“It’ll be news for the 1 percent,” I said I feared of The Frontier. “I’d have a hard time wanting to do that.”
Grand master: Masons are ‘good men trying to make good men better’ by William W. Savage III
Fast-forward to Sunday, and I found myself simultaneously finalizing my anemic 2015 taxes and wanting to read Branstetter’s article on Doerflinger. I had written my own report on the secretary of finance’s controversial ways, and I’d realized after publication that I’d completely forgotten to mention the time $43 million got lost in a revolving fund under Doerflinger’s watch.
I was hoping to learn whatever The Frontier had learned and Filter some further perspective on the matter concerning the masons, Doerflinger or even just the mood at the Capitol.
Alas, the paywall glared at me and demanded $5. I flipped it the bird and went to bed.
A ‘luxurious leer’
Monday morning, I awoke to find a friend had emailed a pasted version of the Frontier piece. His accompanying message made me laugh as I read an uneventful 1,900 words:
“I can get a beer and shot for the same price as that story and be smarter after drinking it.”
That was a good reminder of the Royal Order of Jesters’ slogan, “mirth is king,” and it represented my own feelings after digesting the verbiage, much of which is a summary of Google search results for the jocular masonic brood. (Spoiler: A few bloggers have covered prostitution scandals related to jester groups outside of Oklahoma.)
In all, the piece wasn’t worth $5, as it simply made allusions to potentially nefarious activities without proof of Doerflinger — or Oklahoma jesters as a whole — being involved in anything scandalous beyond Shakespearean theatrics.
Some people might have the financial capacity to pay for a luxurious leer at boring white men, but I don’t.
Preston Doerflinger: ‘I don’t whitewash things’ by William W. Savage III