Best journalism of 2008

Conor, over at Culture11, gives us a very solid list. But, from my personal perspective, one item there deserves special attention--the number Caitlin Flanagan did on Katie Couric, or rather Edward Klein, Couric's "biographer." You know it's good (peach cobbler after a blunt good, if I may) when you're still thinking about it months later. Flanagan's piece was a textbook example of how to review a book of some notoriety, but of questionable weight. I'm not the sort of dude who came up on Katie Couric (or the Today show), and I really only had the vaguest notion of what she meant to a certain set of women.

But Flanagan really nailed it by using her own life and the secret lives of a particular set of mothers, to put Couric, and the Today show, in context. As the piece proceeds, Flanagan basically argues that in becoming a news anchor, Couric may have actually taken a step down. And then, in Jay-Z-like fashion, she gives Klein his half-a-bar:

You're not really a huge power broker of the female variety until some bitchy man writes a nasty biography of you, a literary pap smear meant at once to diagnose and humiliate. Edward Klein, the sort of writer who prefers a book-jacket photo to show him nuzzling a tough-looking canine, would seem the man for the job. Like his earlier book about Hillary Clinton, and like Christopher Byron's book on Martha Stewart and Jerry Oppenheimer's book on Barbara Walters, Klein's Katie: The Real Story proceeds from the notion that of all the forces responsible for his subject's protean success, the least significant is actual talent. According to this logic, the star's fortunes depend entirely on how "nice" her female fans believe her to be; the idea that these famous women might have some expertise or ability of greater value to viewers than the mere force of their apparent pleasantness seems never to occur to these writers.

Anyway, I say all this to note that I was, at the time I read this, struggling to write a review of a book which I thought had little merit, but deserved some sort of response. This piece helped me find a way. I know in this new-fangled age, the young whipper-snappers no longer dream of writing long hauls in places like the Atlantic. But if a few of you are out there and you still do indeed dream, that Flanagan piece is really a great place to start.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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