A Defense for "Journalistic Assholery": Stalking Sarah Palin

Oh, Slate: where the writing is endlessly contrarian, in extents ranging from the hysterically absurd to the spot-on to the shamelessly loony. Which is why Slate editor Jack Shafer's defense of mortal Sarah Palin press enemy, Joe McGinniss - who has employed every tactic of what Shafer refers to as "journalistic assholery" under the sun to get his stories - doesn't come as much of a surprise. That doesn't make it any less wonderful.

If you don't remember McGinniss, he was the one who bid $60,101 to get into a charity dinner with Sarah Palin (his bid was rejected). He recently rented the house next door to Palin (who has now accused him of snooping on her daughters). In closing, Shafer notes that he can't imagine McGinniss' new locale is going to turn up "much beyond atmosphere" for McGinniss' upcoming book on Palin (besides, of course, great publicity). But this is the closer, and it is quite wonderful, and details the insanity some journalists will go through in order to get the truth, for better or for worse:

...There's a long journalistic tradition of wearing sources and subjects down until they surrender ... of knocking on the door of a grieving family to ask them, "How do you feel?" ... of feigning friendliness to gain access ... of crossing police lines in a brisk manner that implies a right to be there ... of charming sources' families, friends, or colleagues in order to get closer to them ... of frequenting a subject's favorite bar, place of worship, and subway stop until he cracks.

Shafer's not wrong, and of course, there's a line (there always is). Question, though: Will consumers ever not pick up a piece of news to take in based on the methods a reporter took to get it to them? Historically, no. Then again, consumers never had the information on how those stories came to them like they do now. Think of torture methods: We want the information to protect our government, but at what cost? The public wants the truth, but are they willing to create uglier truths in order to get what they desired in the first place?

In a casual estimation: Yeah, probably.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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