In Defense Of Buck-Raking

Back in the day when Jake Weisberg and I were fellows in the intern pit at Mike Kinsley's TNR, Jake set up a little bell on the edge of a cubicle with a newspaper photo of Bob Novak taped on it. Every time we saw Fred Barnes or Mort Kondracke head out in a rush for a big-bucks speech, we'd get up and ring it. Yep, my authoritah issues go back a way. But Jake, now the esteemed editor of a zillion things at once, was actually more subversive than me.

Mike Kinsley, having loved this practice at the time, subsequently wrote a classic counter-intuitive defense of the shenanigans, with one of the most persuasive two sentences I have ever read:

Let's face it--the demand for disclosure derives in large part from a prurient interest in other people's income that is actually quite similar to the prurient interest in other people's private parts. I, for one, would far rather see George Will's income tax returns than his naked body.

What really bothers some Puritans is the very idea of journalists making a lot of money, however they manage to do it.

It seems like an inversion of the natural order, and perhaps it is. No one sensible goes into journalism for the money, and no sensible journalist believes he or she is "worth" a fat lecture fee. It's important not to get complacent, and to remember to credit serendipity. But our economy pays many folks--ball-players, business executives, symphony conductors--more than they're worth. Being paid more than you're worth is the American dream. I see a day when we'll all be paid more than we're worth. Meanwhile, though, there's no requirement for journalists, alone among humanity, to deny themselves the occasional fortuitous tastes of this bliss.