Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Fiction as truth

I've got a ton of books lying around that I haven't read yet. Stacks and stacks of them. Pete Dexter's "The Paperboy" has been sitting on a shelf, staring at me for years, and I finally grabbed it this morning. On page 14, he writes:
It had occured to me a long time before 1969, though, that there was something else behind my father's admiration of Ralph McGill.

He was famous.

I had been around reporters all my life -- my father had been one once, and he often brought his favorites home for cocktails -- and I saw early on that they were hungry in a way I was not.

His favorites were the most aggressive, but for all their scrambling to the scene, for all the research and investigations and prodding and cajoling and lying they did to get to their stories -- they would brag about these things later -- what they hated most was not to be wrong, but to be silent.

What moved them was not to know things, but to tell them. For a little while, it made them as important as the news itself.

Which is more or less the same point I was trying to make yesterday about reporters getting a scrap of information from the Bush administration and racing off to tell it, with no thought to the agenda behind it or a skeptical inquiry into the facts it contained or was based upon.

For a real-life example, check out the CJR Campaign desk account of CNN's decision to offer continual coverage of the imminent capture of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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