Media postsSaturday February 14, 2015
David Carr (1956-2015)
Carr: The alt-weekly guy from Minneapolis that made it big. Earl Wilson/The New York Times
What a shitty week for journalism: Brian Williams, Bob Simon, Jon Stewart. But this one hurts the most.
Patricia and I had just finished the second-to-last episode of the first season of “Fargo” when she got the news via iPhone. That seems fitting. We were immersed in Minnesota, where David Carr began his career, then read all about it via digital technology, which was the great, last battle of Carr's career: how to keep the news relevant despite our tendencies toward the free and easy within this technology.
The 19 David Carr links on this blog are indicative. The majority are from the first years, 2008 and '09, when I read Carr, and The New York Times, regularly. Here's how I kept introducing him:
- One of my favorite New York Times writers ...
- Carr, whom I love ...
- Leave it to David Carr ...
- One of the best journalists working ...
And then it stopped. In the Social Media age, I got directed to places and went. I got complacent. Somehow I kept bypassing him.
I was probably most admiring in this March 2012 intro to the 2011 documentary, “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which featured Carr:
I was talking about this documentary with Evan, the friend who recommended it, and admitted it made me realize why I never became a true journalist. ...
In the doc you watch David Carr, media columnist forThe New York Times, take on various bombastic elements and shut them up. He stares them down, calls them on their bullshit, then moves on. Even when I’m able to do the first two things, I don’t move on. I allow the first two actions to linger and infect the surroundings. Carr, who looks like nothing much, Bilbo Baggins’ after a bad night, with a hoarse voice and a skinny neck and a wide middle and a face that seems permanently bent toward the ground, is able to cut so surgically through situations that there’s little bleeding. It’s like those scenes where Zorro takes a swipe at a candle and it doesn’t move, causing the villain to laugh at Zorro’s ineptitude and anticipate his demise. Which is when Zorro holds up the tip of the candle, or pushes the tip off with his sword, or stomps on the ground and the candle crumbles to bits.
That’s what Carr is like. The other guy laughs at his ineptitude and then David stomps on the ground and the dude’s argument crumbles to bits.
As both Evan and I admired this ability of Carr’s, and lamented our own ability to cry bullshit in social situations, he added, “You know what I could use? A David-Carr-in-the-box. So when I get in those situations, I can take out my David-Carr-in-the-box, and just, you know, pop. Let him loose.”
I agreed. We could all use a David-Carr-in-the-box.
This scene from the doc, “David Carr vs. Some guys from VICE,” has been making the rounds again since Carr's death:
Visually it's a no-brainer: Carr, balding and dimunitive and typing away, engaging hipster-douches who seem to be trying on journalism like ironic fedoras. I have a visceral reaction to these guys. And they don't disappoint. But that's not the point. I think the key to Carr's strength, as journalist and man, is his ability to both engage them, call them on bullshit, and then keep engaging them. He doesn't dismiss them as I do. Even when Shane Smith, the founder and CEO of VICE, talks about the cannibalism in Liberia, then takes the Times to task for not covering the war “properly,” Carr simply interrupts:
Before you ever went there? We've had reporters there reporting on genocide after genocide. Just because you put on a fucking safari helmet, doesn't give you the right to insult what we do. So continue, continue.
“So continue, continue,” should be the mantra for journalists everywhere.
I never met Carr but I knew tons of people who knew him well. We were on different paths. While I was living in Taiwan and studying Chinese, he was in a north Minneapolis crackhouse. He aspired to the journalistic, I aspired to the literary. Jelani Cobb, in his New Yorker tribute, writes about how Carr, editor of the D.C. alt-weekly City Paper, gave him his first job, adding, “I started at the paper very much afflicted with the insufferable omniscience of many twenty-something writers.” That was me, too. Cobb also has this line about Carr: “ ... he didn’t confuse his unwillingness to judge with an absence of standards,” which is something like what I'm trying to describe above. Carr doesn't judge the VICE guys by their beards and homburgs, but he doesn't let them get away with shit, either.
In her tribute, Sasha Stone calls Carr, her friend and mentor, “Journalism's True North.” I don't think that's hyperbole.
Stop the Press! The Downward Spiral of Journalism from Watergate to the UK Hacking Scandal
These lines in Nick Davies' book about the hacking scandal of England, “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch,” caught my attention:
I thought back to the 1970s and 80s, when the secret state routinely invaded the privacy of its targets, and a network of lawyers and politicians and journalists had worked hard to try to make the police and security agencies accountable. Finally, those agencies had been forced to accept strict guidelines for the use of surveillance on citizens. Yet now, tabloid journalists had pulled on the secret policeman’s boots and started to engage in wanton surveillance, without any kind of accountability or due process: simply, they spied where they wanted.
I've been thinking about this kind of thing for a while.
I began to think about it when comparing and contrasting two movies, “All the President's Men” and “The Insider.” In each, you have two men working together to uncover something illegal or unethical. In each movie, their initials are W and B (Woodward and Bernstein; Wigand and Bergman). In the first, it's two journalists, in the second a journalist and a corporate insider. The two men struggle, are besmirched by the powers that be, but ultimately, in each case, they get the truth out.
The next movie about a real-life scandal that I compared and contrasted with these two is “Fair Game” from 2010. If this film isn't as good as the other two (and it isn't, nearly), it's partly because its two heroes, Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, a CIA operative and a career diplomat, are at odds with each other for the last third of the film. The latter is working to uncover the Bush-era scandal, the former to keep it covered up. As for the press? It's helping spread misinformation rather than information. It clouds rather than clarifies. This was true of the Iraq War in general. (See: Judith Miller.)
In other words, we've gone from “All the President's Men,” with its two journalist heroes, to “The Insider,” with its one journalist hero, to “Fair Game,” with not only zero journalist heroes, but with a press corps more interested in sensationalism than accuracy.
And with “Hack Attack”? The press—or its Murdoch variation—is the scandal.
At least we still have Nick Davies and The Guardian. We still have a journalist hero. But what a downward cycle. The press has gone from uncovering governmental or corporate scandals, to clouding governmental or corporate scandals, to being the scandal.
I look forward to the movie. And to better journalism.
Good ol' days. The press, uncovering the scandal. Today, it often is the scandal.
Mass Resignations at The New Republic: Journalists Attempt to Disrupt 'Disruptive Innovation' Yahoo
I first came across this story last night via Dylan Byer's piece, “Implosion of a Washington Institution,” on the Politico site. It was a trickle then. Aujourd'hui? Le deluge.
Background: In March 2012, Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook (played by Patrick Mapel in the movie), bought The New Republic, a venerable, left-leaning, DC-based, long-form magazine. His plans? From The New York Times back then:
Mr. Hughes said he was motivated by an interest in “the future of high-quality long-form journalism” and by an instinct that such journalism was a natural fit for tablets. He said he would “expand the amount of rigorous reporting and solid analysis” that the magazine produces.
This September he hired Guy Vidra, the general manager of Yahoo News, as his CEO, and Vidra didn't say those things. Even in TNR's press release that day, Vidra talked up the following: “new products,” “new categories,” “new approaches.”
He kept his word. From Byer:
In meetings with staff, he spoke of the magazine as though it were a Silicon Valley startup, sources said. He talked about 'disruption' and said he wanted to 'break shit.' He referred to himself as a 'wartime CEO.' At one point, he proposed giving every employee shares in the company, suggesting that he had plans to make it public.
Sources said that Vidra also showed little regard for [editor Franklin] Foer or his writers. In a meeting held in November, he made it clear to staff that he found the magazine boring and had stopped reading longform articles. Three weeks later, at the magazine’s 100-year anniversary gala — a star-studded, black-tie affair featuring speeches from former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name while introducing him to the audience. (He pronounced “Foer” as “Foyer.”)
Yesterday, it was announced that both Foer and longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier were leaving.
Also this, per Ryan Lizza.
Will be interesting to see where it all goes. I wouldn't mind it going further. I wouldn't mind it disrupting the disruptive innovators in more industries.
- Friday, 11 AM: Update from Andrew Sullivan.
Pointless: Jon Stewart Weighs In on #Pointergate
Finally, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show take on, and get the story behind, the idiocy of #Pointergate.
Here's my take from last week. In the comments field, you'll notice that Tim has anticipated Jon Stewart's reaction ... but with an even better photo.
Known Southside gangbangers Minnesota Nice and Vanilla Nice, flashing gang signs in 2010.
My Pointergate Scandal
Daily Kos called it “may be the most racist news story of 2014.” Former mayor R.T. Rybak said on Facebook that he had to “reread this article three times before I could be convinced this wasn't a joke.”
What is it? It's called Pointergate or #Pointergate. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was helping volunteers with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a Get Out The Vote campaign in Minneapolis, and took a photo with a young volunteer. They were arm in arm but pointing fingers at each other. The mayor is white, the young man is black. Then local news reporter Jay Kolls of KSTP-TV filed a report that the Mayor was flashing gang signs with a gang member.
Reporter Jay Kolls said in his story that “law enforcement agencies” told him it was a sign used by a north Minneapolis gang. ... “Is she going to support gangs in the city or cops?” John Delmonico, president of the city’s police union, said in an on-camera interview.
Here's the photo:
Here's another one, taken four years ago, which didn't make the news:
It's sort of a well-known gesture: You the man; no, you the man. It's something people do when posing for the zillionth photo.
It's hardly worth talking about, to be honest. It's a distraction. Even if there's comeuppance for Kroll and Delmonico, they'll find a place. If KSTP fires Kroll he'll get hired by FOX-News. World without end. “Liberal media.”