Let me make this clear: I did not say bullshit to Bill Keller. Not that I couldn’t, wouldn’t, or haven’t, but I didn’t. Nor did he to me.
I said bullshit to the reporter (and, I suspect, his editors) who were trying to pit Times Executive Editor Keller against me and me against him as I refused to play into the us-v-them narrative of stories about news media today, whether the “us” and “them” are bloggers and MSM or “traditionalists” – the reporter’s word – and whatever the opposite is. The Observer’s John Koblin kept trying to pit me and I kept refusing to be pitted: The fucking pit bull just wags his tail. Gas him.
At the end of a few hours at a Lindy’s – not a place where I hang out but a convenient place he picked – he came to the point, as reporters do at the end (I know the tricks; I teach them). He wanted to set me against traditionalists and them against me. Later, I emailed him:
One thing gnawed at me after leaving you last night: “traditionalists.” I think it’s a false dichotomy and false drama to try to pit traditionalists against whatever one calls their supposed opposites. That’s what I meant when I made reference to bloggers. It’s just like the tired, old bloggers-v-MSM matches I refuse to join anymore….
I’m a traditionalist. I come from and respect the tradition of journalism. I teach journalism, including and especially its eternal verities. Last week, I met with the editor of a newspaper … who, as I said to his colleague afterwards, is far more radical than I am as he reinvents and even rejects the old value of a newspaper. Isn’t the editor of a newspaper the definition of a traditionalist? So what’s a traditionalist? How can these views be reduced – like silly red and blue states – to two camps? I won’t willingly join that fight.
On the last “fact-checking” call, the reporter again got to the point, telling me that Keller says I have inched closer to him than he to me. The reporter asked my reaction. I said it’s a bullshit question. But the Observer says I said bullshit to Keller. Not true. Indeed, it appears that Keller didn’t say that either. Keller said we’ve inched closer together. That’s true and it’s also true that we were never that far apart. That was my point in my kumbaya exchange with Keller long ago. But after quoting Keller, the Observer creates one fuck of an antecedent problem – fact-checking aside – when it says:
“That is bullshit,” Mr. Jarvis said when we told him what Mr. Keller had said. [No, the antecedent was the reporter's question, not Keller's statement -jj] But, it seemed, he was directing the charge at us. [Damned straight -jj] “That is journalistic cliché. That’s what every story tries to do: create a conflict. That conflict doesn’t exist. We’re all trying to figure what to do about it, and we all should have different answers and experiment with those answers. To say it’s traditional[ists] against something else is bullshit. And you can quote me on that. That’s dangerous.
“I’ve been forced into this blogger-versus-MSM thing for a while and I refuse to play the game anymore. I don’t give a damn if Bill Keller is closer to me or I’m closer to him. The question is: What are we all doing to advance this? I am delighted to see The New York Times advance in many, many ways. I think they’re brilliant.”
Hey, Bill, let’s hug.
The story is fine and I’m glad that, at the end – when journalists make their points – it made clear that I believe journalists are trying to pull together. I just don’t see much of a story here, especially not a cover story. But it’s fine.
What really pisses me off is that they couldn’t bother to mention my book – the only good reason to talk with a reporter – even after the reporter visited the recording of the audiobook. Now that’s bullshit.
* My glasses are too damned expensive to be unfashionable.
* I always remind reporters that I was not shown the door at Time Inc. If I had been, I would have received three years’ salary, bonus, and benefits. I didn’t. Instead, I walked out that door for good reason. Just for the record.
* I made it clear that I’ve not consulted for the Washington Post. I helped with one small task but I told the reporter specifically that I had not done consulting of note.
* I’m honored that The Times’ Jon Landman thinks I’m a Maoist and then the reporter says that to “most” newspaper editors – survey results, please – I’m a Marxist. And I thought I was too far right for Daily Kos because I voted for Hillary.
Koblin’s a nice guy to spend a couple hours with, even in Lindy’s. But what really struck me in this process – and it is always good for a journalist to endure journalism – is that the interview itself is becoming outmoded.
I’ve noted before that Dave Winer (who, ironically, is beating me up for being too much the journalistic traditionalist) wisely refuses interviews, telling journalists that everything he has to say he has said online. True for me as well. I didn’t say a single new thing to the Observer; everything I said I’d written already on my blog, so I was only drawn to repeat myself (and after four days of recording an audiobook, even I was sick of the sound of my own voice – yes, it finally happened).
The process of the interview has the reporter hold all the cards in his hand: who he talks with and what he will reveal to each and what he will say in the end, without links to what any of the parties has said. Then the reporter gets to toss it all on the table. A process of links and discovery and conversation and correction would be far more illuminating of the ideas and issues than this old process of control through the sieve (and efforts to trump up conflict and drama). That, you see, is the real moral to the story: It’s the form that’s bullshit. Keller isn’t. I leave it to you to decide whether I am.