Journalism has taken a lot of hits in recent years, but this week has been weirder and sadder than most. Respected television journalist Bob Simon died Wednesday– not in one of the many wars he covered, but in that most mundane American way, a car crash. Two days earlier, even more popular (though less talented) journalist Brian Williams shot down his own career with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Frankly, though I liked Williams as an entertainer on “Saturday Night Live” and while “slow jamming the news,” I haven’t considered most television “news” people to be journalists since they began parading through “Murphy Brown” more than two decades ago. Identifying “real journalism vs. fake journalism” has become increasingly difficult.
This week we must also face the loss of two people who in recent years have done far more than most to keep journalists honest. On Monday, Jon Stewart (not a journalist, but for many of us a source for more news than Williams ever was), announced that he would leave Comedy Central’s most important program, “The Daily Show.” And tonight the New York Times’ David Carr, probably the best media critic in the business, died in the newsroom shortly after moderating a discussion involving Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.
Though I thought Carr was sometimes overly crabby in his public persona, I admired his work and liked him for more than his writing. Several years ago, he interviewed me for more than a half hour — then apologized after the story ran without my quotes because an editor apparently decided “one historian was enough.” I thanked him, and, as a recovering alcoholic, congratulated him on his successful fight with drug addiction. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve always suspected that he had a hand in my later being interviewed by another Times reporter for a story about Andrew Breitbart.
Interestingly, part of my quote about Breitbart in that story might apply to Brian Williams: “I think his actions show that if he’s not willing to distort, he is at least careless with the facts. … But there are no standards of fact anymore for some people.”
One of the few positive notes this week somewhat related to journalism is that WorldNutsDaily managed to tie Barack Obama’s birth certificate to the Williams story. That piece quotes Alan Jones, apparently no relation to the Jones whom I have previously called “perhaps the most bat-shit crazy conspiracy theorist in America.”
But for those of us who care about journalism, a dose of birther lunacy can’t come close to making up for how much the rest of the week sucked. A world without Jon Stewart, Bob Simon and David Carr is a meaner, dumber world.