Matthew Creamer

Stewart as a D-bag, the Un-Googleable Man and a Journalist Apologizes

It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

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There is a broad spectrum of consequences facing a writer guilty of journalistic wrong-doings. On one end, you have the Jayson Blair affair, so spectacular that it collapsed the newsroom's top management at The New York Times. On the other you have James Frey, who remained -- remains! -- front-and-center at Barnes & Noble tables and retains enough credibility to be some sort of talent broker. In between, the trade's penal code affords great variability in sentencing. Accountability is by no means guaranteed.

Which is why Johann Hari's story is somewhat remarkable. You might not have heard of this fast-riser (until this week) at the U.K. paper The Independent, but you will be forgiven for now skipping right to his apology. Basically, he admits to a history of fudging quotes and creating a Wikipedia user account so he could invisibly "correct" his entry while launching attacks on his enemies, including calling "one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk." What's the punishment for this sort of thing? Mr. Hari has himself decided that 's he taking leave with no pay until 2012 and enrolling in the journalism education he skipped during his fast rise from the university to high-profile columnist. It's a laughable notion that J-school will bequeath upon you a set of ethics and common sense that you wouldn't have gotten from working for several years in a newsroom, but, whatever.

It's sort of refreshing to see someone actually taking some responsibility for his journalistic screw-ups. At least he's not starting a venture fund.

I did two wrong and stupid things. The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don't translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead. At the time, I justified this to myself by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought, in their most considered and clear words.

While Mr. Hari won lots of plaudits for his contrition, The Economist's nameless Bagehot columnist came at him with a lead pipe. Referring to the passage above, he/she wrote:

Read it quickly, and it sounds terrifically contrite. Read it carefully, and Mr. Hari is actually blaming his interviewees for their lack of verbal polish. It is a nifty defence: there he was, traveling the world to meet all these famous and brilliant people, conducting all these excellent interviews, only to find, on returning to his hotel room to transcribes his tapes, that time and again his subjects had garbled their lines.

I do not recognise the phenomenon Mr. Hari is describing. Some interviews go well, others less well. But in the midst of each conversation, as I write my notes, I am aware (sometimes heart-sinkingly aware) whether my subjects are saying interesting things or not. I also know something else: if you go to interview someone who is famous or important or witty or wise (as opposed to a member of the public swept up in a news event) and they say only boring or incoherent things, it is mostly your fault.

Vivi Nevo is a major shareholder in Time Warner , Jack Dorsey's Square and other companies great and small, new and old. Vivi Nevo has a sprawling house in Malibu, on a bluff. Vivi Nevo has jeans made there at his house. Vivi Nevo has Lenny Kravitz there, too. Vivi Nevo was, until recently, "un-Googleable." Vivi Nevo has feelings, as Vanity Fair's Vicky Ward, a friend of Vivi Nevo, relates:

"I have everything and I have nothing," Vivi once said to me. "Sometimes I feel like the loneliest man on the planet. All this 'stuff' and no one to share it with. And then when women come along, I wonder if they like the stuff more than me."

He is expressing every rich man's anxiety. But he is more careful than most and has never married. In 2008, he was engaged to the Chinese actor Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), but that relationship ended around 2010.

"I would like to get married, actually," he says. "I've done everything else in my life now except that , but where do I find the real thing? The non-phony? In Los Angeles? I am not so sure.

"Other than Lilly I have no family anymore. So my friends really are my family. There's no bullshit. I don't need anything from any of them. All I want is good, honest, loyal friends."

The company for which Nikki Finke labors is suing the company for which Janice Min works. And we can only dream this makes its way into court. The complaint is slightly delicious, with Penske Media lawyers taking aim at Ms. Min's efforts to turn around Prometheus Global Media's The Hollywood Reporter, describing it as "an aged brand" and "incompetent and careless" in its attempts to plagiarize, steal employees from and, basically, pillage Ms. Finke's Deadline. They even tried to pitch some woo to Ms. Finke, allegedly:

Ms. Finke was offered a $450,000 base salary, plus a $1 million Malibu home ("which you can keep whether you stay 5 minutes or 5 years"), plus a percentage of cable TV revenue [The Hollywood Reporter] was expecting.

It's sort of a shame Ms. Finke wouldn't meet with the Prometheus guy. A move to Malibu could have placed the un-Googleable one next to the un-photographable one.

The Hollywood Reporter countered that Deadline's suit was "replete with examples of stories that originated from widely-released press releases from publicists, or widespread confirmations from publicists to numerous outlets," the kind of news that can hardly be stolen even if Deadline writes it up first. It called allegations that it tried to poach Prometheus employees "untrue."

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart Credit: Tim O' Brien / Esquire

We end with a Tom Junod-penned broadside against Jon Stewart that , while well-written, is not easy to grok. Instinct tells me Mr. Junod is on to something when he says that the Daily Show host is less funny in a post-Bush world. More problematic are the thin attempts to find meaning in Mr. Stewart's graying hair and sallow complexion and the argument that Mr. Stewart, who rose to prominence by slaying "dicks" and "douchebags," has become one or both himself. This is a tough point to prove, and even if it's proven you could write it off as irrelevant. After all, the man's cultural potency is tied not to niceness as a human being or his age but to the salience of and humor in his nightly criticisms of our world. It does, however, strike me that Mr. Stewart takes himself seriously in a way that sort of undercuts his project at times. If these sorts of issues tickle your fancy, Mr. Junod and Esquire have 8,000 words for you:

It's just that when you're talking about Jon Stewart, you're never just talking about Jon Stewart. You're invoking the Jon Stewart narrative -- the collective fantasy about Jon Stewart -- and it leads to all sorts of inappropriate historical comparisons. You can even play the Jon Stewart Game, in which you start telling his story and see how long it takes you to compare him to someone he should feel really uncomfortable being compared to. See, he really is just a man, and a man from New Jersey at that . The township he's from, Lawrence, is right between Princeton and Trenton -- right at the intersection of smart and tough. He's always been a ballsy little guy, with a feeling for the little guy. Before he started doing stand-up, he used to tend bar at a joint with a steel door and no windows, in the back of a liquor store on the Trenton side; you see that place, you know that here's a guy used to living by his wits. So he moved to New York -- where else is a guy like that gonna go? Now he's a real New Yorker, which means he doesn't take any bullshit and at the same time bullshit doesn't bother him, depending on the circumstance. But when Congress started jacking those 9/11 first responders around, stalling on the bill that promised them benefits: That bothered him. So he found his opportunity and took his shot, started telling preposterous old biddies like Mitch McConnell to just pass the fucking thing. And they passed it, last December. And you know what he got in return, from all the grateful firemen in New York? A birthday party for one of his kids in the firehouse in his neighborhood in New York, with a birthday cake in the shape of a fire truck. And you know what else he got? A story in The New York Times that compared him to Edward R. Murrow...

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