If I Had a Blog
I'd write more columns like this one.
Journalist-publisher James Atlas describes getting sacked at age 50 in a New York magazine excerpt of his forthcoming book, My Life in the Middle Ages. The piece boils over with specificity about Atlas' life—he writes of sobbing in front of his children at a showing of the treacly Mr. Holland's Opus; he notes that he once worked at the New York Times; he names his son, Will; he names the scotch he drinks at a New York Rangers game (Dewar's); he names the soda his editor drinks as he dumps him (Diet Coke); he names Saul Bellow's sad-sack best friend (Isaac Rosenfeld).
But he never names the magazine editor who sacked him or the magazine itself, an odd oversight seeing as the episode takes up 1,200 words of his 3,900-word piece.
That's not to say the episode is blind: We learn that the editor, 10 years younger than Atlas, is handsome, "tall, vigorous, with tousled black hair." The editor's predecessor burned money on parties, consultants, and writers' contracts like it was kindling. Noises from 42nd Street bubble up to the office where Atlas is getting fired. This description contains so many dots that they connect themselves: The editor is David Remnick of The New Yorker.
So why not come out and name names? I put the question to Atlas, who responded in a brief e-mail: "Because it's irrelevant. The piece is about a universal subject, and I didn't want to distract the reader with gossip."
Oh, tommyrot! Far from universalizing the story, blotting out Remnick's name and that of The New Yorker only increase the gossip factor. Talk about distracting the reader! You can easily imagine folks who read the story approaching those who know a little more about the magazine business and asking, "Who's the handsome dude firing Atlas?"
Why is Atlas being so coy about it? Because he didn't respond to my second set of questions, I feel justified in putting him on the couch. The scene is about Atlas, Atlas' ego, Atlas' pretty little world coming all undone, Atlas' star turn as Willy Loman ("It was time to get up and leave, but I wasn't ready. I thought of Willy Loman refusing to leave his boss's office the day he's fired.") Selectively spraying the scene with an anonymizer prevents Remnick from upstaging him, and blinding his boss and magazine telegraphs his latent hostility for both.
How's that for dime-store psychiatry?
How liberal is the press? Recentlyloosedfrom the objectivity collar that newspaper reporters and editors are issued by their bosses, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson comes out of the closet today in his column about Wal-Mart. The former assistant managing editor of the "Style" section and Post foreign correspondent writes, "Liberals like me are perpetually queasy about globalization. …"
Now he tells us.
My friend Bill Powers dismisses our current infatuation with bloggers as a fad in his new National Journal column, "Why Blogs Are Like Tulips." Powers doesn't disparage these lowly but mighty scriveners, writing that their greatest attributes are bird-dogging factual errors in the press, speaking in a vernacular, and having fun. But he says they "don't have resources or, in most cases, the skills to do the heavy journalistic lifting that the big American outlets still do better than anyone, and will continue to do for a very long time."