Profiled writers hit back on the web

In the past week or so, we’ve seen David Kirkpatrick of the New York

Times profile

Dave Eggers, and Michael Wolff of New York magazine profile

Andrew Sullivan. Both pieces were, rightly or wrongly, perceived as

hatchet-jobs by their subjects, who both hit back by airing their grievances

on their websites.

The Eggers/Kirkpatrick spat not only ran to more than 10,000 words


Eggers’s site alone, but also

prompted weighings-in from the likes of Slate,

the New

York Post, and, of course, the collected readership of Plastic.

Naturally, the main clearing house for links such as these (as well

as letters

from Kirkpatrick, his friends and his enemies) is Jim Romenesko’s

Media News, which

has a permanent link to

on its home page.

The knee-jerk reaction to all this is to say that it’s a good thing,

that the internet has democratised the media to the point where it’s

become much easier to find rebuttals and alternative views.

Yet virtually everybody involved has emerged from these skirmishes

dimished. David Kirkpatrick comes across as a toadying hack who is

more or less willing to email his entire article to its subject in

advance; Dave Eggers shows himself to be a solipsistic thin-skinned

whiner; Michael Wolff turns out to be the sort of person who would

rather be tendentious than accurate; and Andrew Sullivan only confirms

Wolff’s thesis about his self-obsession. The New York Times, of course,

is revealed once again to be staffed by human beings, rather than

the empyrean creatures of its own lore.

Of course, we can’t turn the clock back, and there is something incredibly

compelling, in a car-crash sort of way, about watching Eggers air

his own and David Kirkpatrick’s dirty laundry in public. But once

again the internet has proved itself best at the cheaply sensationalist,

rather than the genuinely useful or informative. I’m sure that Dave

Eggers would hate to be called the Matt Drudge of the New York Meejah

Community, but in a way that’s what he turned his website into: the

place to go for off-the-record email exchanges and other such jetsam

of the journalistic craft.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that Dave Eggers

has done a lot more damage to his own reputation with his petualant

posting than David Kirkpatrick may or may not have inflicted with

his piece on the paperback publication of Eggers’ book. Certainly

Eggers’ complaints hugely increased the number of people who read

the original piece. But Eggers isn’t stupid. Could that have been

his plan all along? Is this whole thing just a stunt to keep his name

in the headlines? Sounds unlikely, but stranger things have happened

over lunch at Michael’s.

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