John Ziegler, as David Foster Wallace Saw Him

What did the late author make of the former talk-show host?

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As noted yesterday, filmmaker John Ziegler is in the news. The political world cares because he was among Sarah Palin's most ardent supporters and now insists that she shouldn't run for president. Here at The Atlantic, the story is of special interest because this same man happens to be the main character in "The Host," which David Foster Wallace wrote for our April 2005 issue.

If you love ambitious feature articles, every excuse to reread DFW is worth seizing. Here, in this excerpt, the topic is the world of talk radio, and the profile's subject has just made a questionable remark on a controversial issue. No one objects:

It is true that no one on either side of the studio's thick window expresses or even alludes to any of these objections. But this is not because Mr. Z.'s support staff is stupid, or hateful, or even necessarily on board with sweeping jingoistic claims. It is because they understand the particular codes and imperatives of large-market talk radio. The fact of the matter is that it is not John Ziegler's job to be responsible, or nuanced, or to think about whether his on-air comments are productive or dangerous, or cogent, or even defensible. That is not to say that the host would not defend his "we're better"--strenuously--or that he does not believe it's true. It is to say that he has exactly one on-air job, and that is to be stimulating. An obvious point, but it's one that's often overlooked by people who complain about propaganda, misinformation, and irresponsibility in commercial talk radio. Whatever else they are, the above-type objections to "We're better than the Arab world" are calls to accountability. They are the sort of criticisms one might make of, say, a journalist, someone whose job description includes being responsible about what he says in public. And KFI's John Ziegler is not a journalist--he is an entertainer. Or maybe it's better to say that he is part of a peculiar, modern, and very popular type of news industry, one that manages to enjoy the authority and influence of journalism without the stodgy constraints of fairness, objectivity, and responsibility that make trying to tell the truth such a drag for everyone involved. It is a frightening industry, though not for any of the simple reasons most critics give.

Read the full story here.


Image credit: Flickr user AleBonvini
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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