I find it hard to be as cutting, or even as critical, as I really feel about people who allow me to enter their zone of privacy. I blame my parents for teaching me manners—the best investigative journalists don't have the best manners. The best investigative reporters might be called "sociopaths for truth." I think you know the type I'm talking about. And the very best of these are often good at faking empathy and then coldly eviscerating the empathized-with one.
Some writers are built this way, happy to sacrifice the person for the story. But not enough anymore! Janet Malcolm famously wrote (in the opening of The Journalist and the Murderer) about the way writers gain the trust of their subjects and end up “betraying them without remorse.” It may have been true when she published the book, in 1990, but is it now? It sounds cold, but not enough reporters and writers are willing to betray or even alienate their subjects. If they do, they risk being denied access to other subjects. They’re no longer part of the club.
Writing about policy and business from 30,000 feet, I'm largely protected from this, but certainly not immune. I find it hard to say even the obvious things about people I've interviewed who are clearly odious media whores, self-destructive louts, or merely deeply silly. And the closer you get to people, the harder it gets . . . which is why most journalists lean farther left the closer they get to on the ground reporting. This does not make them right, mind you; there is a tendency to ignore any costs to their policy prescriptions that are not personified right in front of them, which often means advocating policies that would make society in aggregate worse off. But it's certainly understandable.
I'd say another emerging problem in journalism is that journalists and the people they cover are becoming more and more concentrated in a few cities. And that means that they're all each other's friends. Which means that it's harder to say mean things about each other.
Luckily for me, all the journalists I know were quite comfortable saying nasty things about me before I met them in person--and vice versa. But as a general phenomenon, I think it's important.
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