Longform’s Guide to Takedowns: Thomas Friedman, Jay Mariotti, and TED

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 18 2012 8:07 AM

The Longform Guide to Takedowns

In which Thomas Friedman, Jay Mariotti, and TED are eviscerated.

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Our reaction to stories in which the subject gets strafed by flying adjectives is mostly There but for.... A good takedown is tricky because you’ve got to believe, ultimately, that he/she/it totally deserved it, too. This is certainly true of the following pieces, whose eviscerated subjects include Thomas Friedman, Jay Mariotti, and TED talks. (Incidentally, Spy’s roast of Ivana Trump isn’t in a downloadable format, but it’s too good not to note.)

The unpleasant, impossible task of the dealing with the infamous former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

“As we sat down at a midtown restaurant (The Dream Hotel, a second choice after the Carnegie Deli), Jay Mariotti was introduced to me by his then-agent, Reed Bergman of Playbook Inc., who struck me not so much as a person but a bad toupee with a human attached. Reed sat next to me the whole time, so I presume the whispering occurred while I was in the bathroom. I now know what Mariotti was thinking at the time, or at least what he claims to have been thinking. He was thinking, or he claims to have been thinking, that he'd rather ‘eat alien vomit‘ (as he put it in an email to me) than write for Deadspin; that he'd rather ‘slurp blood from a rotted snake carcass‘ (as he put it in his e-book); that he'd rather ‘eat snail snot‘ (as he put it on Twitter). If he was thinking any of this when we met, it didn't show. All I saw was a guy dressed in a blazer and jeans, the standard uniform of the middle-aged white guy in transition, though on him the effect was more ‘hungover community-college theater instructor. ‘ ”

Hollywood’s Information Man
Amy Wallace • Los Angeles • September 2001

As editor-in-chief of Variety, Peter Bart was one of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry. This piece got him suspended.

“I call Bart and arrange for a final interview. Over several months I had come to know many Peters, but when he welcomes me to his office I don’t know which one to expect. I tell Bart I have a copy of the 1996 script he wrote. ‘The script I wrote, ‘ he repeats, neither confirming nor denying. I look into the face of the man with the incredible memory. It is blank. But one knee starts jiggling, and he fiddles idly with the band of his watch.

“‘Boy, you got me. Did I write a script? Now I’m facing memory loss,’ he says, as I pull a copy of Crossroaders out of my bag. He looks it over. ‘Let’s just say this is a script that has Leslie’s name on it. What does that indicate? Therefore—therefore, what?’ ”

The Buzz Factory
Joseph Nocera and Peter Elkind • Fortune • July 1998

A profile of Steven T. Florio, then-president and CEO of Condé Nast Publications.

“Lots of chief executives are loud, egotistical, and profane. But there is another dimension to Florio's way of doing business that raises eyebrows. Even his supporters acknowledge that in Florio's hands, truth is a fungible commodity. Inside the company it is well known, as a former executive puts it, that ‘anytime Florio tells you a number, you should cut it in half. ‘ Virtually everyone interviewed for this story--whether friend of Florio or foe, current Condé Nast employee or former employee--agrees that Florio has a compulsion to exaggerate and even to make things up. Florio once told Interview magazine about taking a year after college to counsel underprivileged kids in New York: ‘Esquire hired me to work in the research department, but I never actually showed up for my first day of work at Esquire until a year later, after I'd worked as a career counselor in some of the tougher neighborhoods in New York, convincing kids with backgrounds similar to mine to stay in school.’ The story isn't true; Florio went straight to work at Esquire after graduating from NYU.”

Flathead
Matt Taibbi • New York Press • April 2005

Taibbi goes after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for both his politics and his prose.

“Predictably, Friedman spends ... his huge book piling one insane image on top of the other, so that by the end—and I'm not joking here—we are meant to understand that the flat world is a giant ice-cream sundae that is more beef than sizzle, in which everyone can fit his hose into his fire hydrant, and in which most but not all of us are covered with a mostly good special sauce. Moreover, Friedman's book is the first I have encountered, anywhere, in which the reader needs a calculator to figure the value of the author's metaphors.”

The Naked and the TED
Evgeny Morozov • New Republic • August 2012

Ostensibly a review of several releases on the TED Books imprint, this becomes an evisceration of the entire TED-talk culture of pop intellectualism.

“The Khannas are typical of the TED crowd in that they do not express much doubt about anything. Their pronouncements about political structures are as firm and arrogant as some scientists’ pronouncements about the cognitive structures of the brain. Whatever problems lurk on the horizon are imagined primarily as problems of technology, which, given enough money, brain power, and nutritional supplements, someone in Silicon Valley should be in a position to solve.”

Microsoft's Lost Decade
Kurt Eichenwald • Vanity Fair • August 2012

A look at the internal culture at Microsoft under Steve Ballmer.

“The story of Microsoft’s lost decade could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success. For what began as a lean competition machine led by young visionaries of unparalleled talent has mutated into something bloated and bureaucracy-laden, with an internal culture that unintentionally rewards managers who strangle innovative ideas that might threaten the established order of things.”

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @longform. For more great writing, check out Longform’s complete archive.

Jody Avirgan is an associate producer at The Brian Lehrer Show.

Elon Green is a contributor to Longform.org.

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