In the past week or so, we’ve seen David Kirkpatrick of the New York
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,
York Post, and, of course, the collected readership of Plastic.
Naturally, the main clearing house for links such as these (as well
from Kirkpatrick, his friends and his enemies) is Jim Romenesko’s
Media News, which
has a permanent link to andrewsullivan.com
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.