Manners And Opinion Journalism
Mom and Dad are fighting (a little). In one corner of the living room, we have Jim Fallows, whose combined facility for penetrating analysis and scrupulous journalistic manners has always left me slack-jawed. In the other, we have Mike Kinsley, who parented me into journalism (although I hasten to add bears no responsibility for my subsequent provocations) and is the funniest, rudest columnist I know. Fallows' rule of journalistic etiquette is as follows:
Write as if you might run into the person afterwards. And when you run into people, be comfortable owning up to what you've said and where you disagree.
Oh God. Do I really have to be that nice to Bill Kristol? What happens if I bump into John Yoo? Kinsley mercifully comes to my rescue:
Write about what you think is important. Write the truth. And if you see someone coming you’d just as soon not run into, feel free to run away instead.
I do, I do. Kinsmo hedges this a little today, saying he meant no implicit criticism of Fallows' uber-mensch standard and hazards that there might be some journalistic advantage to knowing the powerful. (I have to say that if refusing to write a bad review of a book is integral to not being a "bully-coward", then count me out. I much prefer reading negative reviews to positive ones, and I've written plenty of both.)
My own general view has, over the years, become I.F. Stone's: just make sure you never run into the people you cover or have much to do with them socially. I am one of the more feral Washingtonians, allergic to parties, incapable of schmoozing (without total nervous exhaustion afterwards), bored by acquaintances, and addicted to my real friends, who have nothing whatever to do with what I do for a living. I know this makes me seem terribly rude and/or arrogant by the Village's standards. But it seems to me more important to remain in good graces with my readers than with the objects of my criticism. I really would rather hang with my beagles than with the president.
And so, I am not in Aspen this week - which is better for Aspen as well as for me. And at those secret media elite dinner parties, my role as the turd in the punchbowl is now almost a tradition. And yes, I did attend one with Karl Rove. And no, it wasn't pretty. There are some low-lifes to whom it is almost an ethical requirement to be rude.